7¢ property tax increase proposed for Sullivan

J. H. Osborne • Jun 14, 2019 at 8:01 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County’s property tax rate will rise seven cents to $2.62 per $100 of assessed value under a proposed 2019-2020 budget presented on first reading Thursday to the full Sullivan County Commission.

The seven-cent increase is being proposed to fund four initiatives: two cents to pay for new school resource officers in county schools; two cents to pay for 20 new employees at the overcrowded Sullivan County Jail; two cents to give county employees a pay raise; and one cent to pay debt service on a plan to relocate Sullivan County Emergency Medical Service stations to better match call volumes and reduce response times.

A seven-cent property tax increase would equal: $17.50 in new taxes on a residence valued at $100,000; $26.25 in new taxes on a residence valued at $150,000; $35.00 on  a residence valued at $200,000; and $43.75 on a residence valued at $250,000.

In addition to the proposed tax increase, the draft budget relies on use of fund balances from various accounts.

But that doesn’t mean those fund balances will necessarily be depleted. Last fiscal year, for example, the budget projected fund balances would decline by $3.3 million. But according to the budget document for the current fiscal year (which ends June 30) fund balances grew by more than $8 million between June 30, 2017, and the same date in 2018.

In all, this year’s nearly $188.9 million budget is balanced with about $5 million in fund balances, including: about $1.6 million for the general fund; about $500,000 for the solid waste fund; about $700,000 for the highway fund; about $3 million for the general purpose school fund; about $140,000 from the school cafeteria fund; and $1.62 million from the school capital renovations fund.

Property taxes are projected to generate nearly $96.78 million in revenue for the county, based on a collection rate of 96 percent. That’s up from $94.97 million for the current budget.

School systems in the county get the lion’s share of property tax dollars — $49.98 million of the revenue goes to general school funding, which is split between the county school system and city systems in Bristol and Kingsport because city residents pay county property taxes. The split is based on the number of students in each system. Another $3.44 million goes to “County Capital Outlay - Renovation,” an account previously designated as for schools. Two years ago, the county stopped sharing that money with the city school systems. The money no longer goes directly to the county school system, but instead will go toward paying off debt for the new schools being built.

The county’s general fund — which includes the budgets for such services as law enforcement, courts, elections, the health department, emergency medical service and county government — accounts for the next biggest chunk from property tax revenue, at about $31.4 million, up from $29.42 million this year.

County property taxes are estimated to generate about $2.77 million for the Sullivan County Highway Department, which performs no work inside the cities.

A public hearing on the budget will be held at 3 p.m. Tuesday, June 25, on the second floor of the historic Sullivan County Courthouse. The Sullivan County Commission will meet in called session to vote on the budget at 4 p.m., same date, same place.