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UPDATE: Commissioners override Mayor Coppinger's budget veto

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UPDATE: Two days after Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger vetoed the budget that includes discretionary funds, County Commissioners are sticking by their original amendment.

Commissioners voted Wednesday to override the mayor's veto, ignoring Mayor Coppinger's claims that the budget is financially irresponsible.

Commissioners voted 6 to 3 in favor of overriding the Mayor's veto. This means, as of now, $900,000 in discretionary funding will be included in next year's budget.

"If someone wants to recommend how these very important projects would get funded otherwise, I'm very open to having those discussions," said District 7 Commissioner Sabrena Smedley.

Smedley is one of 6 who voted to override the mayor's veto and to include discretionary funding in next year's county budget.
    
$900,000 will be taken out of the county's rainy day fund.

"Well I think it did set a precedence," said Mayor Coppinger.

Coppinger says it was his first time using his veto power to try and change a county budget.

"I'm disappointed but I'm not surprised," Coppinger said, "And now I think we need to be mature and go back to work."

Since 2008, commissioners have each received $100,000 annually to spend on community projects in their district.
    
Recent projects have included playgrounds, soccer fields, i-Pads for schools and equipment for volunteer fire and EMS.

"Those things just do not get funded through the regular budget, they have no means of getting funded," said District 1 Commissioner Randy Fairbanks.

Three of the nine commissioners voted no on discretionary spending, Commissioner Joe Graham says he was in favor of the mayor's original budget.

"I don't rely on that money for my district," Graham said, "It's a valuable tool if we can use it, if it's not there, it's not there."

But commissioners and the Mayor did agree on one thing, they are all hoping for more communication when preparing next year's budget and with the public on why some say discretionary funding is necessary.

"When the general public understands how the process works, almost all the time, at least in my instance, they agree with the process," Fairbanks said.

After the vote, a member of the audience asked commissioners if there was a way to improve the process of using discretionary funding to restore confidence in the public, and to perhaps avoid another veto from happening next year.

Every project that uses discretionary funds has to be announced at a commission meeting.
    
There is a commission discretionary spending report on the county's website. It's under the Commission Discretionary Spending Reports on the main page. It is a detailed list for the public of how the funds are being used.


PREVIOUS STORY: Hamilton County commissioners are expected to present a resolution Wednesday morning to override Mayor Jim Coppinger's veto of the amended budget.

Last week, commissioners voted 6 to 3 in favor of amending the proposed budget to include $900,000 in discretionary funding.

Since 2008, each commissioner has received $100,000 to use for public projects in their district.

But this year, discretionary funds were left out of the proposed budget.

In a statement issued earlier this week, Coppinger said, "I firmly believe it is fiscally irresponsible to withdraw almost a million dollars in funds from the county's rainy day fund to be used for discretionary spending by each commissioner."

The meeting is expected to start at 9:30 a.m. in the historic Hamilton County Courthouse.

PREVIOUS STORY: For the first time in his tenure, Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger vetoed a fiscal budget approved by county commissioners.

In a press conference at the courthouse, Coppinger explained why he used his veto power. He says commissioners giving themselves $900,000 in discretionary funding is financially irresponsible.

"This is something where they just reached out and took it, and it should concern every citizen in this county," Coppinger said. 

The Hamilton County Commission voted last week, 6 to 3, in favor of amending the proposed budget to include $900,000 in discretionary funding.
   
The majority of commissioners want to take the money from the county's rainy day fund to make it possible.

Since 2008, each commissioner has received $100,000 to use for public projects in their district.
   
But this year, discretionary funds were left out of the proposed budget."It belongs to the taxpayers, this dollars we're talking about, it doesn't belong to me, it doesn't belong to anybody but the taxpayers," Coppinger said.
   
He says it was one of several difficult decisions made in a effort to balance the budget.

"Millions of dollars, that were cut out of that budget, that were really important to us, it was important to the public," Coppinger said, "But we went in and cut those things because we did not have the revenues to be able to support that."

Discretionary funds have been used for things like little league jerseys, school projects, and funding the needs of volunteer fire departments.
   
Without the funding, groups would have to approach the full commission for consideration.

Commissioners have 20 days to either accept or override the veto with a majority vote.

"There's other measures but we'll stop there," Coppinger said, "We'll go back to work, I mean, it's not going to change anything. I hope everyone is mature enough to go back to work and to continue to move this county forward."

Several commissioners said, after the mayor's announcement, they will vote to override the veto at Wednesday's regular meeting.
   
If commissioners vote the way they did the first time, discretionary funds will stay intact.
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ORIGINAL STORY: Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger has vetoed the 2015-16 FY budget.

Coppinger issued a statement Monday, which read:

This morning I notified the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners that I am vetoing the fiscal year 2015-2016 budget they passed by Resolution 615-35 as amended on Wednesday, June 17, 2015.

I firmly believe it is fiscally irresponsible to withdraw almost a million dollars in funds from the county's rainy day fund to be used for discretionary spending by each commissioner.

This was a difficult budget for myself and the staff to prepare. There were millions of requested dollars cut from public safety, public education, public works, emergency medical services and others in order to balance this budget without a proposed tax increase. In addition to these cuts, we also eliminated $900,000 in spending from the commission's budget request. We did so because we did not have the revenues to fund these expenditure requests, and never gave consideration to including funds from the rainy day fund to do so.

The commission's decision to amend the budget and add $900,000 in discretionary funding is a disappointment to myself and the financial staff who worked for months to put together and present a balanced budget. Hamilton County is the model for the State of Tennessee and communities across the nation for being fiscally responsible, and that is reflected by our Triple A bond rating by the three top rating agencies in the country.

In closing, I want to thank Commissioners Greg Beck, Joe Graham and Marty Haynes for their support of my budget as presented. These commissioners have consistently supported the sound responsible financial principles of our county. I committed to the citizens of this county that I would oversee good government they can be proud of and I intend to continue to do so in a responsible manner.

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