But property tax hike likely if new school (or schools) built
By Scott Robertson
When the Washington County Commission adjourns its called meeting Monday night, it is expected to have approved a balanced operating budget with no new property tax increase.
The only hint of public controversy in the budget process to date came at the July 8 Budget Committee meeting, when the committee voted to fund a 3.7 percent pay increase for sheriff’s department employees above and beyond the 2 percent cost of living increase being funded for all other full-time county employees.
At that meeting, Circuit Court Clerk Karen Guinn objected to one department being singled out for a bigger raise. “I respect the fact that you are giving this increase to the sheriff’s department. I think they deserve it. But I feel all offices deserve that much respect too. All the employees deserve more than 2 percent.”
Sheriff Ed Graybeal responded to Guinn’s statement, telling the committee, “I agree totally on all the employees deserving the raise, but I would ask you to take one consideration. When holiday comes, everybody else is safe at home but us. Half my department works 365 days a year, seven days a week, 24 hours a day. We don’t have the privilege of going home and shutting down and not doing things. We do different things than any other county department.”
Without commenting on either Guinn or Graybeal’s statements, the budget committee approved a motion sending the request for additional funds for the sheriff’s department on to the full commission as part of the operating budget.
Before the full commission meets to approve the operating budget, two other meeetings will occur that could have an impact on the final proceedings. The budget committee is slated to meet at 9 a.m. today in the first floor meeting room of the Washington County Courthouse in Jonesborough. Then, an hour before the commission begins its called meeting July 20, there will be a public hearing regarding the budget. That hearing begins at 5 p.m. at the George Jaynes Justice Center in Jonesborough.
Because the meeting in which the county commission plans to approve the operating budget is a called meeting, no other business will be discussed. But at its next regularly scheduled meeting July 27, the commission is expected to take up the question of funding capital projects, which are not part of the operating budget. The key question is whether to build one, two, or no new K-8 school buildings, and if so, how to fund construction.
County Mayor Dan Eldridge said building a new school in Boones Creek is an investment that will grow the county tax base. He has referred to calls to build a new K-8 school in Jonesborough at the same time as, “a distraction.” Eldridge said the best approach is to build Boones Creek now, with a probable property tax increase of 25 to 40 cents.
Jonesborough Mayor Kelly Wolfe, however, has presented the county with a plan for a new school in his town that he says would also grow the tax base by opening up the land in front of the existing schools for commercial development. At least a few commissioners have expressed openness to considering the Jonesborough plan. “How you fund one school will have an impact on whether you can fund the second,” Wolfe told News & Neighbor.
“We just want the commission to be mentally and fiscally willing to consider what the best options really are.”