TN comptroller threatens to take over Hawkins County budget


HAWKINS COUNTY, Tenn. - The Hawkins County budget deadline is looming with a major estimated deficit. Now the Tennessee Comptroller's Office will step in to assist, with a threat to possibly take over. The visit comes after county commissioners have spent months trying to balance the budget with cuts and failed resolutions to raise the wheel tax.

Commission budget committee vice chair Eugene Christian said commissioners can't come to an agreement while some continue to argue constituents shouldn't pay for the past commission's failure to balance the budget.

"People in their district who say they don't want a wheel tax, and they really press on these commissioners," Christian said. "As an elected official, you have to listen to them."

After combing through and adjusting budget numbers from all the offices, Christian said a first draft is still more than $300,000 short, but the county is required to have a balance of unassigned funds.

Now the state comptroller's office has been invited to the budget committee meeting on Monday. Chief of Staff Jason Mumpower said it's a rare situation, unprecedented in Hawkins County.

"The adoption of a balanced budget is the most fundamental, the most important duty they have as county commissioners," Mumpower said, "and it is well past time for them to come together and make good decisions for the people of Hawkins County and pass a balanced budget."

If they can't come up with a balanced budget by July 1, the state comptroller's office will come in and take control. It's something Mumpower said he's heard some commissioners may be hoping for to avoid making a tough decision themselves.

"That would be a complete abdication of their responsibility," Mumpower said. "It would be a loss of their sovereignty as an individual local government, and I assure you that if they think that now, they probably won't think that once it's over."

Mumpower didn't divulge details about how the state comptroller's office would balance the budget but he said it would likely make unwanted cuts.

"We are certainly more oriented towards making reductions in expenditures than we are raising revenue," Mumpower said.

Christian said he hopes the commission can prevent that.

"That would be telling people that we're incapable of passing a budget," Christian said, "and we should be able to comply with the law."

Jason Mumpower will be at the budget committee meeting that meets Monday at 9 a.m.

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