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Budget hearings continue in Washington County

Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge reiterated his opposition to padding the budgets during the first hearing with department heads held July 5.
“We have a history of maintaining an excellent fund balance in Washington County, and we will close this year with an excellent fund balance,” he said. “There is no need for fluff in the budgets.”
Eldridge said the fund balance is available to meet unexpected expenses.
“Excess in the department budgets will only prompt a tax increase that is not needed,” he said.
In addition, departments must be willing to use their reserve funds and keep their spending in check, he said.
County Library Director Pat Beard came to the hearing with a revised budget requesting $30,000 more than her original budget because she deemed her earlier submission inadequate.
Beard said the library’s two branches in Jonesborough and Gray have 160 machines running on six different networks, and are desperately behind in replacing and updating equipment.
She would like to purchase 12 new computers for each branch to add computer labs and offer classes.
“People come in but leave when they see signs that the computers are down,” she said.
Beard would also like to increase the library’s electronic collection so their customers do not have to go on the waiting list for items from the state’s collection.
When Eldridge asked why the library can’t use the $75,000 bequest being held in reserve to meet the needs, Beard said the gift was restricted to the Jonesborough branch and the board wants to save it for a new building.
Eldridge said the library became part of the General Fund last year, and a new facility would come from the county’s capital outlay.
“It doesn’t make sense to make a request from the General Fund when you have that reserve that’s been there for several years,” Eldridge said, adding he is familiar with the restrictions accompanying the bequest.
He also took issue with the 10 percent increase in Beard’s revised budget.
“Quite frankly, that’s not realistic. We’re not projecting an increase in (county) revenue, and you have reserve funds not being used,” Eldridge said. “I think tapping that reserve has a lot of potential for taking care of these issues.”
During a discussion of the County Clerk’s budget, Commissioner Ethan Flynn asked how to determine the number of citizens who go through the Jonesborough and Johnson City offices.
Kathy Storey said during the last year the offices issued 830 marriage licenses, and more than 36,000 titles for the approximately 124,000 registered vehicles in Washington County.
“I think it would behoove commissioners to show the (separate) activity between the two offices; we’ve had questions,” Commissioner Mitch Meredith said.
The Jonesborough office has eight full-time employees, and the Johnson City office has seven.
Storey said 97 percent of titles are issued from her offices even though the envelopes indicate the State of Tennessee is the sender. In addition, she said 95 percent of the car dealers come to the Johnson City office.
Commissioner Joe Grandy asked if the dealers could make their requests online, but Storey said the clerk’s office must have the original forms.
Eldridge said the county clerk is the only office with expenses trending downward and revenue trending upward.
A new revenue stream will be added in the fall when the clerk’s office begins issuing driver’s license renewals.
Storey said the state asked the counties to become involved in order to reduce the waiting time. The state will provide the equipment, and Washington County will receive $4 per renewal.
Grandy asked for an update on the proposed administrative reorganization, which would include the creation of several new positions.
Eldridge said he is finalizing his budget requests regarding human resources, risk management and safety positions.
“We don’t have a lot of choice, many of these are from the auditors,” he said.
All of the issues will be addressed through the reorganization, though it will have to be done in a different way, according to Eldridge.
Meredith said the Budget Committee needs the numbers for the county attorney position.
“The county attorney is now out of my control, (the position) reports to the county commission,” Eldridge said. “(Commissioners) will have to figure out how they will budget.”
Meredith made a motion, seconded by Grandy, to ask Commission Chair Greg Matherly to present the commission budget, including the county attorney, at the next Budget Committee meeting.
As of July 5, Matherly said no candidates have expressed interest in the attorney position, including current County Attorney John Rambo.
Presentations from the Highway Department, the Solid Waste Department, and the Sheriff’s Office are also expected at the July 12 meeting of the Budget Committee.