HAWKINS COUNTY, TN (WJHL) – The Chief of Staff from the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office paid a visit to Hawkins County Commissioners on Monday to give them a word of warning: balance the budget, or else.
The state has been warning the county to balance its budget before July 1 since the end of March. Now, commissioners are running out of time to come up with a solution for its $2 million deficit.
Less than half of the 21 commissioners were present Monday morning when Chief of Staff, Jason Mumpower, told commissioners that Hawkins County is in the worst financial shape of any county in the state.
He told commissioners if they don’t come up with a balanced budget by the deadline, they will be the first people to face the consequences.
“I hope it was a wake-up call,” Mumpower said.
He told commissioners their only job is to balance the budget.
“If they make the choice to fail in that responsibility, then Tennessee law empowers the Comptroller of the Treasury to come and balance the county’s budget for them,” he said.
The county’s 21 commissioners have voted against a wheel tax increase several times. Now, they are running out of time to come up with another plan.
If a decision is not made by July 1, Mumpower says commissioners’ salaries and insurance would be the first cuts.
“They would be and should be among the first to experience the ramifications of that,” Mumpower said.
After that, he says the state would eliminate all discretionary expenditures in the county, funding for things such as the fire halls, public library, and animal shelters.
Budget Committee Chairman, Stacy Vaughan, says he does not want to see the state have to step in.
“If the state steps in, it’s not going to be good for Hawkins County. We’re going to lose critical services such as fire protection, it’s going to effect our EMS, it’s going to effect our senior center,” Vaughan said.
If that doesn’t balance the budget, Mumpower said the state would then remove all capitol expenditures and maintenance, then look at personnel cuts.
“If all of those things together still did not produce enough reductions to help bring the budget into balance in the long-term fashion, we would then look at increasing revenue,” Mumpower said.
He says it’s critical for the county to come up with a plan, to help Hawkins County in the future.
“What kind of company that wants to create jobs wants to locate in a community where the leaders cannot come together and make one of the most fundamental and important decisions, passing a budget? That’s not where people want to locate jobs,” he said.
But Vaughan said he has confidence commissioners will come together and make a decision.
“Doing the right thing may not be the popular thing at this point but I want to stay strong and have confidence that they will step up and do the right thing,” Vaughan said.
Jason Mumpower told commissioners that the Comptroller’s Office is happy to help them come up with a plan to balance the budget before the deadline.
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