Budget won't be set until September

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

As Marshall County works to get its fiscal house in order, it's become clear that its next budget won't be adopted until some time in September even though the fiscal year has already started.

State, county and municipal budgets run from July 1 of one year through June 30th of the next year. Businesses may use any 12-month period, but they usually use a calendar year for tax purposes. The federal budget starts in October.

Like Congress, the Marshall County Commission has adopted a continuing resolution to maintain spending - and the operation of the government - at a level that was set in August last year.

It's not unusual for a county to adopt a budget two weeks after the fiscal year starts. Reasons vary. Some are lost to antiquity. Some are attributed to the old County Quarterly Court system when commissioners were squires and the mayor was called the county court judge. Budgets have been late because state lawmakers hadn't passed their budget and a huge part of every public school system budget in Tennessee comes from the state.

That's also the reason for the deadline faced by Marshall County commissioners.

Tennessee's Basic Education Program funding starts Oct. 1 and it's not distributed unless there's a current budget in place, according to Freda Terry, director of accounts and budget for the county.

"If you don't have the budget passed by Oct. 1, the state holds your BEP money," Terry explained during a county budget committee meeting last week.

Also that Friday morning, Commission Chairwoman Mary Ann Neill explained why this year's budget might be adopted as much as six weeks late.

"We've spent an extraordinary amount of time on workers comp and insurance," Neill said. "Normally, we shoot for August" for when the budget is adopted.

"It may be September this year," she said.

She and others on the budget committee then calculated time needed for publishing a legal notice announcing the next spending plan and what work is needed before that advertisement could be purchased to state a time and place for a public hearing on the budget.

The conclusion: Mid to late September.

Meanwhile, the Budget Committee released a chart that displays the decisions on county employee pay raises since 2000. Step raises are usually unaffected by decisions on the annual budget. This year, it appears that the schedule for pay grade changes will be affected.

If approved by the commissioners as recommended by the committee, this will be the first year there will be no step raises, or raises for all employees working under the general fund budget. The school budget is separate.