Commissioner warns: Financial train wreck could be around bend
Posted: Tuesday, July 21, 2009 3:25 pm
By: By JOHN BRANNON Messenger Staff Reporter
The Messenger 07.21.09
By JOHN BRANNON
Messenger Staff Reporter
A new budget for Obion County government for the current fiscal year (2009-10) remains unfinished, county commissioner and budget committee chairman Danny Jowers told the Obion County Commission Monday.
Jowers said he hopes to present the new budget to the commission for an up or down vote at its next meeting. “We are going to have a (budget committee) meeting around Aug. 10. The date is not set yet,” he said. “We’ll discuss the airport budget and the indigent trust fund at that time.”
The county budget was among several items of public business addressed by the commission that met at 9 a.m. Monday in the Circuit Court courtroom at the Obion County Courthouse. County commissioner Ralph Puckett presided; 19 of the county’s 21 commissioners answered roll call.
Jowers entered a motion to defer the budget report until the commission meets on Aug. 17. The motion passed by voice vote after a vigorous discussion about finances.
The budget, Jowers said, will be “bare bones.” State revenues are down about $600 million from what it originally projected, and that will affect the ultimate county budget. “I think there’s a train wreck coming,” he said. “We are going to have to make some cuts or we are going to have to raise taxes.”
Case in point: This last fiscal year, departments of county government did not have money left over.
“We’ve always budgeted liberally. We gave them enough money to operate and, in the past, a lot of them have turned a large portion back,” Jowers said. “That didn’t happen this year. They spent it. So we’re going to have to really watch it. I’m telling you, the train wreck is coming.”
Other items on the business agenda included:
• Countywide fire protection program
It has moved a step closer to becoming a reality, according to county commissioner and fire protection committee chairman Dean Jowers. Committee members are Obion County commissioners Tim Doyle and Paul Albright, Obion mayor Wes Miller and Troy Fire Chief Mark Watson.
Dean Jowers is the brother of county commissioner Danny Jowers.
Dean Jowers said county attorney Steve Conley is writing “a rough draft” of a proposed contract between the county and the various municipalities.
“Once we get the rough draft, we’ll have a meeting of the committee,” he said. “We’ll go over the draft. Then we’ll present it to the full (commission) in August. Then we’ll meet with the cities and have them sign off on it and we’ll sign off on it, too.”
The basic terms of the proposed contract are:
1. The county will collect fire subscription fees and distribute the money back to the various fire departments except South Fulton. “We’re not going to collect theirs because they collect some (subscription fees) out of Weakley County,” Dean Jowers said.
2. The fee to subscribe to rural fire protection is $75, with the exception of Kenton, which wanted its fee set at $50.
3. There will be a 5 percent fee for County Trustee Lori Seals to collect the subscription fee.
Dean Jowers said the committee’s been working on the rural fire protection program about two years, and now “it’s going to be a go.”
“There’s no doubt in my mind, it’s going to be a go,” he said. “As soon as they sign off on it, we’ll get everything lined up and send out cards so that whether somebody wants fire subscription or not, we’ll have it on file. If they do want it, they can come to Lori Seals office at the courthouse and sign up.”
Meanwhile, the commission approved a motion Monday that the county would require an agreement or letter of commitment before the release of any appropriated funds to a city for use by its fire department. The agreement would be that they intend to participate in countywide fire protection and will contract to provide rural fire services outside their city limits.
• Litigation tax
By 18-1 vote — with only county commissioner Jerry Grady voted no — the commission approved a litigation tax of $20 on each civil and criminal case filed at the courthouse. Revenue generated by the tax is to be used solely for expenses incurred in providing courthouse security. The tax is effective Aug. 1.
• Voter Confidence Act
By unanimous vote, authorized the Obion County Election Commission to take whatever means necessary to oppose the legislation passed in 2008 by the Tennessee General Assembly.
“If it means going to court, so be it,” said Danny Jowers.
The Act requires counties to purchase optical scanner voting machines and have them in place by the next statewide election, which is in May 2010.
“Some of the machines exist, but they are not certified,” he said. “It’s just a big mess. They didn’t tell us which machines are certified. They have not even looked at the cost of it. Yet we are required to have them in place by the next election.”
Even if the machines were certified, the state would pay for only one such machine per precinct. Obion County has 14 precincts. “If we want more than one machine per precinct, we have to use local money,” he said. “And with just one machine per precinct, it’d take forever to get everybody voted.
“We are trying to join Sullivan County in a lawsuit against the state.”
• Raymond Morris
The county commission formally recognized and pesented a prominent plaque to former General Sessions Judge Raymond Morris, who retired July 1 after 30 years on the bench. Morris quipped that he had to hurry and leave, that he is retired now, and he and his wife, Lou, were going camping.
• Driver education course.
By voice vote, the commission sent back to the budget committee for further discussion a proposal authorizing Obion County Sheriff Jerry Vastbinder to operate a driver education course for certain traffic citations. Danny Jowers said Westate Corrections has the course now. “They’re giving the county $20 of the $50 they’ve been charging each ‘student.’ We don’t think that’s enough. Plus, they use the courthouse,” he said. “There’ll be a lot more discussion of this issue.”
budget, finances, Obion County Commission