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'Difficult' budget times looming in Washington County

Robert Houk • May 10, 2018 at 12:00 AM

Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge said Wednesday putting together a new county budget will be a “difficult” process this year. Eldridge, who is not seeking re-election in August, told members of the county’s Budget Committee that this budget cycle might be one of the most daunting he has seen during his two terms in office.

“This is going to be a very challenging process, particularly for county schools,” he said. “School officials will either have to cut expenses by $2 million or find new revenue.”

The county mayor said there has been little growth in tax revenues. He said property tax assessments for Washington County are significantly lower than those found in other areas, such as neighboring Sullivan County.

“The growth in our tax base is decreasing, not increasing,” Eldridge said.

Members of the Budget Committee are set to begin work on drafting a new county budget next week. The new fiscal year begins July 1.

Meanwhile, Eldridge said recent calculations by the county trustee’s office show the county’s tax increment financing deal with the Johnson City Development Authority has resulted in “dramatic growth” in downtown Johnson City.

“That’s a good thing,“ the mayor said. “It shows the TIF is working.”

According to the agreement, the county is obligated to provide funding to the JCDA for increases in the property tax attributable to growth in the TIF district. The trustee has determined the amount of taxes collected in the TIF district is slightly more than that budgeted for the current fiscal year.

The county’s TIF contribution will now be $448,782, as compared to the $435,219 paid in the previous budget year.

In other business Wednesday, the Budget Committee voted to take $291,230 out of the capital projects fund to cover the county’s portion of right-of-way acquisition for the Knob Creek Road overpass project. That will be paid to the city of Johnson City, which is the lead local agency on the $5.8 million state project.

As a result of a federal matching grant, the city and county will each contribute 10 percent to the total cost of the project.

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