Wednesday, October 20, 2010

October 20, 2010 Morristown Budget Mess: $116,000 Due for 2010 Appraisal Costs But ZERO Is in the Budget To Pay This

During the City Council work session yesterday, another city budget shoe dropped, putting the City Administrator, Mayor Barile, and Council in a pickle as they try to find $116,000 to pay for the 2010 re-appraisal costs!! 

The Hamblen County Assessor completed re-appraisal of all property in the City and County in early 2010. On July 30, 2010, Hamblen County billed the City of Morristown $116,000+ for the city's share of the re-appraisal costs. Yesterday, the City Council was told that the City budget that they passed in June 2010 contained exactly ZERO to pay this bill.

No one asked and no one offered an explanation as to why City Administrator Tony Cox and (former) Budget Director Brian Janish put ZERO in the 2010-2011 budget to pay for 2010 re-appraisal costs. No one asked why there was a delay of nearly three months (late July to mid-October) in bringing a bill for unbudgeted costs of $116,000 to council's attention!

Tony Cox was not at yesterday's meeting. He apparently took or was getting ready to take a trip to  California to attend a meeting. Hopefully, it is a meeting that tells City Administrators how to make unbudgeted bills go away! In fairness to Cox, he came here from Virginia in early 2010--maybe he didn't understand, didn't ask, and wasn't told that the City would get a bill from the County for the re-appraisal costs.

Everyone else involved in the budget process, however, knows how the re-appraisal process goes. Budget Director Brian Janish was around during the last appraisal cycle in 2005 and knew that the City would get a bill. Of course, Janish was not at yesterday's meeting. He resigned or was "let go" by the City a few months ago, taking his vacation days and officially leaving in August after coming under fire for harassing Finance head Dynise Robertson and for numerous budgeting errors through the years.

Buddy Fielder, assistant City Administrator, was present yesterday but said nothing about the failure to include re-appraisal costs in the budget. His major "job" seems to revolve around the local airport.

According to Finance head Dynise Robertson, failing to budget for re-appraisal costs is not exactly new around here. Former City Administrator Jim Crumley and his buddy Brian Janish apparently didn't put anything in previous budgets to pay for the 2005 re-appraisal costs.  Robertson said that when the bill for the 2005 re-appraisal costs came in, Crumley just miraculously "found" money to pay the bill in the Finance Department's budget. Of course, Crumley was always finding money or shifting money around and making illegal transfers between funds.

The Mayor, City Council, and City Administrator Tony Cox may have trouble  "finding" $116,000 to pay for the re-appraisal in the current budget. To make it easier, I know where some money--maybe as much as $80,000--can be "found" in the current budget.  Take $30,000 from the City Administrator's new slush/contingency fund (or whatever is left in that line item) and take approximately $50,000 from the Council's new $100,000 slush/contingency fund (or whatever is left in that line item) and put that money toward the City's re-appraisal bill. 

Then eliminate retreats and travel by the Administrator, Mayor, and Council for the rest of the year and apply that to the bill, too. These are the people who forgot to budget anything to pay the re-appraisal bill, so most or all of the money to pay for the re-appraisal ought to come out of their budget before they make other departments pay for their mistake.

MORE BACKGROUND: Re-appraisals in Hamblen County generally take place every five years. The previous re-appraisal year was 2005.  Back then, Hamblen County billed the City for its share of the 2005 re-appraisal costs (approximately $71,000) just like Hamblen County billed the City for 2010 re-appraisal costs ($116,000). If it's a re-appraisal year, everyone at the City knows this and knows that a bill will be coming! Yesterday, no one could explain why ZERO is budgeted to pay this bill.

Election years present the same situation. In election years, Hamblen County pays the election costs and bills the City for the costs of the City election. The City knows which years are election years and the City DOES put money in the budget to pay those costs. 

Why do you budget for elections in election years, but you don't budget for re-appraisals in re-appraisal years?

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