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County needs money

Sixteen years without a tax increase has left Warren County government with dwindling funds to make annual debt service payments on projects.

According to Finance Department director Justin Cotten, the county’s debt payments are exceeding total debt service revenue at this time.

“We have almost $3.1 million in debt payments this year,” Cotten said. “Our total revenues for debt service is $2.8. That’s a $300,000 shortfall this year. Next year, it’s worse. We’ll have a $394,000 shortfall. In 2022, when we have to pay the jail off, it gets event worse. The shortfall will be close to $900,000 in 2022.”

Warren County’s Debt Service Fund currently has a balance of almost $8.8 million. Each annual shortfall will reduce that amount.

The information was presented to members of the county Budget and Finance Committee with members Richard Grissom, Carlene Brown, Daniel Owens, Christy Ross and Tommy Savage.

“So, we are going to lose around $2 million over the next four years?” asked Commissioner Daniel Owens.

Cotten replied, “Yes.”

County Executive Jimmy Haley says the county needs a property tax increase if it wants to pursue additional projects, such as a renovation/ expansion of its jail.  

Brown says she remembers former finance director Linda Hillis also saying the county needs additional revenue and a property tax increase would be necessary to fund debt service on a jail project.

Cotten said, “We need more money. I’ll say that. We need more money.”

“This means we can’t build anything and have to hope nothing breaks down,” said Savage.

Cotten stated, “Exactly.”

Cotten and Haley have been working on understanding the county’s current financial situation and estimating future projections.

“Justin is learning rather quickly the budget is a challenge,” said Haley. “Linda did an excellent job. We want to commend her for that. We’ve done alright for a few years, but it’s coming to the point we cannot sustain ourselves very much longer because recurring costs are greater than recurring revenue. The downward trend is alarming. Our resources are not going to meet our expenditures very soon.”

The county’s 2018-19 General Fund beginning balance as of July 1, 2018 was $5.1 million. It’s ending balance on June 30, 2019 is estimated at $1.8 million.

The discussion was information only.