The Bradley County Finance Committee began discussing plans for the 2014-15 fiscal year and approved a tentative schedule for creating the county’s next budget during its meeting on Wednesday.
At a meeting on March 6, all county department heads and bookkeepers will be given the paperwork they need to complete to request allocations in the county’s budget. After months of meetings, the Bradley County Commission is tentatively set to approve the new year’s budget on July 7.
Most county departments are expected to take part in budget hearings with the finance committee to explain their individual budgets and “give them the opportunity to sell” their requests, said Committee Chairman Ed Elkins. An exception to that would be the Bradley County Schools system, which will likely present its case during a regular meeting of the county commission.
Elkins said he believes all those hearings will go smoothly if all the departments have all their budgets balanced ahead of time.
After the discussion turned to attempting to predict how the upcoming budget process will go, Elkins asked County Mayor D. Gary Davis if he had any thoughts on how “tight” this year’s budget might be.
Davis said predictions based on the county’s long-range plan have suggested that it will have seen 2 percent increases in both property tax and sales taxes by the end of the current fiscal year. However, he said it was too soon to tell what other changes there might be.
Elkins said the county has often ended up with either a budget that is balanced or had a surplus of funds.
“I’m thankful that Bradley County has the economy we have here,” Elkins said.
As the finance committee may receive requests for county employee pay increases, committee member Adam Lowe said he would like to see the county reconsidering how it disburses funds for raises.
He suggested the county begin disbursing those funds to department heads to award to their employees based on merit rather than the committee just approving the same percentage raises for everyone. While Lowe said he did not want to create “a scenario where people start playing favorites,” he saw the value in awarding those who have done especially well at their jobs. Another idea would be creating provisions for more one-time bonuses.
Davis said the finance committee’s recommendation would be needed to do that because that kind of change had not been in the works. However, he said the idea of approving one-time bonuses for high-performing employees “is a lot less scary.”
Elkins said the concept of giving performance-based has worked well in the private sector, and it is “something that Bradley County might want to look at.”
During Wednesday’s meeting, the committee also approved several requests for amendments to the current year’s budget.
Those included accepting $176.18 in donations private residents made to Bradley County Fire-Rescue and a $500 donation SkyRidge Medical Center made to the Bradley County Emergency Management Agency.
The committee also approved the acceptance of $48,568 that was sent to the county as reciprocal revenue from the sale of the Bradley Memorial Hospital. Keeping in line with a previous court order that dictated how those funds should be divided, the money was split evenly between Bradley County’s fund for public health and welfare and local nonprofit group the United Way.
A couple of changes to the county’s employee credit card policy were also approved. The changes specified that county-issued credit cards were only to be used for food and lodging expenses incurred while traveling and staying out of town overnight on official business. Davis said some employees had in the past used cards to do things like purchase lunch in Chattanooga, which did not constitute overnight travel.