By Scott Robertson
Generally, it is the committees that provide recommendations and guidance to the full Washington County Commission, not the other way around. But with a potential property tax hike looming and memories of last year’s “do we have to vote for it to find out what’s in it?” budget process still fresh, the Budget Committee asked the full commission at a called meeting Monday night for feedback on what potential expenditures it would and would not consider supporting.
“We got clear direction from the commission in terms of how they’d like to see this budget prepared and the proposed tax increase,” said Commissioner Joe Grandy, chair of the committee.
When the totals had been tallied, the commission voted to tell the committee it would support the building of a replacement school in Boones Creek but only renovations and remodeling for the schools in Jonesborough. The committee also heard commission support for school bus replacement funding, school technology expenditures, HVAC and other physical upgrades at schools and public buildings, highway and bridge infrastructure projects and a public safety communications system.
Should the budget committee choose to fund all those items at the requested levels with recommended property tax increases, taxpayers would end up with a 40-cent hike. Potential operational expenditures could drive that total higher. Those expenditures could add two to four pennies more to the hike, according to Greg Matherly, commission chairman.
“The Budget Committee certainly has its work cut out for it,” Matherly said. “I don’t know that there is support for an increase of that size. I would hope that perhaps some of the items that got grouped together for consideration tonight might be split apart so that some get funded and others don’t.” Matherly voted against item 6h on the agenda. That item was a conglomeration of roof replacements, parking lot paving projects, office windows, county vehicles, waterline extensions and other capital project expenditures.
Most of the discussion Monday centered around the Boones Creek replacement K-8 school funding, which received 19 positive votes of a possible 24. “Unquestionably the commission sees the value to the county of the Boones Creek school,” Grandy said.
Several commissioners expressed dismay that the Board of Education failed to pick a site for the school at its last meeting, forcing the commission to support raising taxes to fund a school which has yet to be located. Commissioner Tom Krieger said he felt the commission should move forward even without a specific site, simply because the students can’t afford another year’s delay. “We’ll be very fortunate to have this school open by 2019 now,” Krieger said.
Commissioner Lynn Hodge added, “I can’t tell you how disappointed I was the other night when I attended the Board of Education meeting when four members voted for one site and four members voted for another site. The school board has been talking about these schools for three years or more now. The commission has been talking about them for that length of time or longer. I just can’t understand that.”
Grandy said the vote by the commission puts the Board of Education on notice that the county has no interest in waiting. “The commission stepped up and reached out to the school board to say, ‘You’ve had three years to put this together. It’s time to get on the move and get this project started for the students of Washington County.’”
None of the commission’s votes Monday were binding, but rather were taken to provide guidance for the Budget Committee in its deliberations. That committee is scheduled to meet today at 9 a.m.
NOTES: The commission used its electronic voting system for the first time Monday night. The accompanying audio system still had kinks to work out, as feedback echoed through the chamber several times.