Officials getting to work on ‘heckuva’ budget document

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By Damon Lawrence


Vastness is one of the things that still sticks out about last year’s budget process for Commissioner Ron Berry.
“That’s a heckuva document when you look at the total budget,” he said.
Roane County Executive Ron Woody said the size of the budget can be attributed to numbers.
“There’s a whole lot here,” he said. “Once you throw the capital items in, it’s about $130 million.”
Berry, Woody and other members of the county’s budget committee will began discussions about the next county budget this month.
“A lot of us think that this year will be one of the toughest budget years for local governments,” Woody said. “It wasn’t last year and it wasn’t the year before. It could be this year.”
Woody said it’s too early in the process to say whether cuts or tax increases will be needed to balance the budget.   
“I wouldn’t care to see it cut a little bit,” Berry said.
Woody said mandating cuts is not the way he likes to operate.
“My philosophy of managing budgets is you don’t tell people that we’re going to cut your budget,” he said. “When you tell them you’re going to cut their budget, they’re inclined to spend everything in there.”
“My promise to them is if you don’t spend it, I’m not going to cut it,”  he added, “because if they think I’m going to cut it, it’s a good possibility they may want to spend it.”   
Berry was outspoken during the last budget process about county-funded cellphones. He said policies Woody has put in place since taking office in September has probably saved the county some money, but he’s still not completely satisfied with the issue.
“I’m sure there’s probably some other cellphone-type issues out there that we just need to look at,” Berry said.
Woody said waste comes with the territory.
“There are waste in all budgets,” he said. “There’s waste in your household budgets. I’m sure that you and your wife and your children spend things that you could have not spent or made a different choice. The question is, is there abuse?”
Officials said it’s also too early to tell whether raises will be in store for county employees.    
“You’d always like to see them get a raise, but with the economic times like they are, I don’t know that this year is going to be that year,” Berry said.
County employees haven’t received a pay raise for the past two fiscal years.
“We’ve not cut a lot of jobs, either,” Berry said. “We’ve taken the approach, I think, that we’re better to not cut jobs and not give raises than we are to give a raise and have to look at the possibility of cutting some jobs.”
Roane County Trustee Wilma Eblen said she’d like to see employees get a raise.
“I think they’re due,” she said.