published Thursday, May 10th, 2012

Bradley County belt-tightening on budget

CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- Bradley County is expected to have another year of belt-tightening in the coming fiscal year.

On Wednesday, the Bradley County Finance Committee met with law enforcement officials to discuss priorities and challenges facing departmental budgets until new income streams from industrial and commercial growth kick in a few years from now.

"The recession that has hit the national economy in the last few years has continued to affect Bradley County's revenues, leaving them flat in the upcoming year," said County Mayor D. Gary Davis. "After looking at revenues received so far in 2011-2012 and projections for 2013, it will be necessary to make cuts to requests."

The problem with the submitted budgets is that they exceed the county's revenue by about $3 million, according to statements made by Davis on prior occasions.

Department officials will be asked to resubmit budgets whose bottom lines closely match those of the current fiscal year, according to a letter that Davis plans to issue as soon as possible. The deadline is May 15.

A likely casualty of the budget request cuts will be a merit pay program for the Bradley County Sheriff's Office.

"I am sympathetic to the sheriff's merit pay plan, and I think in all fairness we need look for one for all the regular county employees," said Commissioner Jeff Morelock. "I would hope in the next year we begin the process to do that."

Morelock said the county had some of the best 911 boards, law enforcement agencies and school districts in the state, but to maintain high quality staffing requires more money.

In other business, a motion made by Morelock to provide major funding to Bradley County 911 failed to gain a supporting motion.

Previously, 911 Director Joe Wilson had requested $173,745 from the county, part of a $351,000 request made by the emergency center to local governments, including Cleveland and Charleston.

The requested funding is intended to keep Bradley County 911 out of the red for the third straight year, Wilson said, which could trigger a "distressed district" classification in which state oversight might occur.

The reasons for the shortfall, which Wilson said was caused by equipment depreciation expenses and revenue imbalances between landline and cellphone 911 fees, were not really accurate, said Commissioner Ed Elkins.

Even with increased revenues, Elkins said he believes Bradley County 911 will still have financial problems.

"I think maybe it's not a bad idea for the state to come in and deal with it," said Elkins. "If Bradley County was the only 911 district that had this issue, I'd say we've got to fund it, but we know there's 30-something other districts that have the same problem."

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