Rutherford County is facing another tax increase this year as revenues have waned during the current economy crisis, Finance Director Lisa Nolen told the Budget and Finance Committee Thursday night when they presented the county’s preliminary budget for fiscal year 2009-2010.
County Mayor Ernest Burgess recommended as much as 20.5 cents on the property tax rate to balance to plug a more than $10.8 million gap in next year’s budget.
The proposed increase means another $76.88 per year for a home valued at $150,000.
“This is not surprising,” Commissioner Robert Peay said. “The Budget Committee has recommended higher increases for the past three years.”
But those increases have either been voted down or, as in the case of last year, the recommendation was reduced from 27 cents to 17 cents.
“The 17 cents we didn’t raise it last year is what we’re asking for this year,” Commissioner Will Jordan said.
Last year the county faced an $18 million shortfall and balanced the budget with a smaller tax hike and money from the rainy day fund, but this year the rainy day fund has run dry.
Also in previous years the county as had money left over at the end of the year, but not so this year with the recession.
“We are not finding the savings in this budget like we have in previous years,” Burgess said.
The proposed budget remains flat over last year with little increases, like county policy-mandated raises for most employees except teachers.
“There’s no furniture, fixtures, equipment. No ambulances. There are only a few cars for the sheriff’s department,” Burgess said, adding the county isn’t even planning on building much next year, excluding two new middle schools.
“There are very, very limited capital expenditures in this budget,” he said.
The county has few options to balance the budget, outside of a property tax increase tax increase.
Nolen said in the preliminary budget 15 jobs have been eliminated.
“We’re not talking about empty positions staying empty,” Peay said. “We’re talking about sending someone home.”
The jobs are mostly unfilled and five supervisor spots in the Ambulance Service will be reduced by attrition. But one job in the planning department will be cut.
The county can also furlough employees paid through the General Fund (excluding teachers).
If all general fund employees were furloughed for 10 days, the county would save more than $1.4 million in salaries and wages. The savings would reduce the needed tax increase by 2.8 cents to 17.6 cents.
The county could also close one ambulance station, which results in six fired employees and $308,010 in savings.
As a last-ditch option, the county could reduce wages for general fund employees by 5 percent, which would save more than $1.8 million or 3.65 cents on the proposed tax rate.
“I won’t consider that unless we talk about teacher pay,” Jordan said.
Burgess said they tried to come up with a buy-out plan, but it wasn’t feasible and wouldn’t save the county money in the short term.
Michelle Willard can be contacted at 615-869-0816 or firstname.lastname@example.org.