​Commission Approves School Budget, Rejects County Budget

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

At the July 29 special called meeting, the Franklin County Commission approved the revised school budget, incorporating it into the countywide budget. The commissioners then rejected the countywide budget. The vote was 8 to 7, one vote short of the majority needed.

Presenting the revised school budget, Director of Schools Stanley Bean said the Finance Committee rejected the three previous budget drafts. The school board cut $700,000 from expenses. The budget eliminated raises for most certified employees, all noncertified employees, and all contract bus drivers.

“The budget leaves out raises for the most vulnerable employees,” objected county commissioner David Eldridge.

Eldridge made a motion to give 2 percent raises to all school system employees, cost $289,000, by taking the money from the schools’ reserve fund balance.

“It’s folly to take recurring expenses out of a savings account,” said commissioner Greg King. The school budget as presented already called for a $1.6 million draw on the fund balance, leaving just $2.4 million at the end of next year.

Bean recommended approving the budget as presented then discussing the possibility of the county funding the raises. The proposed county budget did not allocate any additional money to the schools for 2019-20.

The commission voted 12 to 3 against Eldridge’s motion to give raises to all school employees by drawing on the fund balance. Commissioners Eldridge, Angie Fuller, and Don Cofer voted in favor of the proposal. Commissioner Chuck Stines was absent.

The commission approved the school budget recommended by Bean, with only Eldridge and Fuller opposing.

Turning to the countywide budget, many commissioners spoke in opposition. The budget called for a 24 cent property tax increase and included 2.8 percent raises for solid waste and highway department employees and 2 percent raises for all other employees, excluding school system employees.

“If we’re going to be that tight on the educational system, we need to be tight everywhere else,” said commissioner Adam Casey.

Commissioner Scottie Riddle suggested all departments cut their budgets five percent.

“That’s not feasible,” said Finance Director Andrea Smith. The budgets of some departments included only wages, Smith noted.

Smith explained 11 cents of the proposed tax increase would go to fund the new middle schools and 13 cents, $1.3 million in revenue, would go to the county general fund.

“The majority of the $1.3 million will go to pay for the additional corrections officers being hired for the jail expansion and to fund the pay raises,” Smith said.

Commissioner Helen Stapleton asked if the school employee raises could be funded by increasing the property tax rate 25 cents.

Smith said that was not enough. Smith said the cuts in the county budget proposed by Eldridge at the recent workshop were sufficient to fund the pay raises.

The commission approved the proposed cuts, total $358,000. The savings reduced the necessary property tax increase to 20.5 cents.

However, even with the cuts, none of the commissioners was willing to introduce a motion to approve the revised budget.

King made a motion to eliminate raises for all county employees, cost $200,000. The additional savings would have reduced the necessary tax rate increase to 19 cents. King’s motion received no second.

Stapleton made a motion to approve the revised budget suggesting the savings could be used for the school system raises.

“We’re not there yet,” said County Clerk Phillip Custer, explaining the revised budget needed to be approved first.

The budget failed to receive the needed majority of nine. Commissioners Fuller, Sam Hiles, Gene Snead, Lydia Johnson, Casey, Carolyn Wiseman, and King voted in opposition. Commissioners Riddle, Dale Shultz, Johnny Hughes, Stapleton, Barbara Finney, Doug Goodman, Eldridge, and Coffer voted to approve.

“Most of my constituents are okay with 11 cents to fund the middle schools,” said King, “but they’re not okay with 13 cents for everything else.”

Fuller said she couldn’t approve the budget without all school employees receiving a two percent raise.

The finance committee took up the budget again Aug. 5. The Franklin County Commission will have a special called meeting at 7 p.m., Monday, Aug. 19, at the courthouse. If the county cannot approve a budget by Aug. 31, the state will intervene.