Hawkins County warned of state takeover unless budget deficit is fixed

Tennessee Comptroller Chief of Staff Jason Mumpower said Monday that Hawkins County’s budget situation is currently the worst in the state and there’s a possibility that the state would take over county finances, cutting funding to many agencies, reports the Kingsport Times News.

Mumpower addressed the Hawkins County Commission Budget Committee to warn of looming dire consequences.

If there is a state takeover of Hawkins County’s budget, Mumpower noted that on top of a property tax increase there would also be the elimination of 100 percent of all contributions, affecting funding for all volunteer fire departments, both rescue squads, Hawkins County EMS, the Hawkins County Humane Society and the Red Cross.

Other non-mandated spending on the block would be veterans services, industrial recruitment, the county’s agricultural extension agency, senior centers, libraries, Of One Accord, the Chip Hale Center and many others.

But those cuts wouldn’t be enough to balance Hawkins County’s budget. As of Monday, Hawkins County still faced a $1.6 million revenue deficit in the proposed 2017-18 budget. Even after all non-mandated spending was cut, the state would also likely impose a property tax rate increase, Mumpower said.

A wheel tax increase has been touted by commissioners and citizens alike as the preferred mode of generating new revenue because it spreads the burden to more of the population and not just property owners.

(A proposed wheel tax has been defeated seven times by the county commission and it’s not on the agenda for the next meeting May 22)… But after hearing Mumpower’s presentation Monday, Budget Committee Chairman Stacy Vaughan said he will introduce an out-of-order resolution on May 22. Out-of-order resolutions require 100 percent approval from the commission to be added to the agenda, and a single no vote can shoot it down.

… “If July 1 comes and goes, we will have no choice but to act very quickly,” Mumpower told the Budget Committee. “We will work to get you back into compliance with state law very, very quickly.”

Mumpower added, “I’ve heard from many of you that the contributions that you make are very important to you. I will also tell you that they’re the easiest thing to eliminate, and we will eliminate 100 percent of them because they’re 100 percent discretionary. I understand why you like them and why you would want to keep them, and what I would tell you is, if you think they’re important and you want to do them, then fund them … whether it’s the fire halls, or the animal shelter or the libraries.”

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