​County Commissioners Change Votes, Budget Approved

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

At the Aug. 19 special called meeting, the Franklin County Commission approved the 2019-20 budget and the 20.5 cent property tax increase needed to support county expenses. Three weeks before, at the July 29 special called meeting, the commission rejected the same budget. Three commissioners changed their votes, giving the proposed budget the majority needed to pass.

On July 29, the commission voted to reduce expenses by $358,000. This reduced the tax increase needed from 24 cents to 20.5 cents. The budget still failed to receive enough votes.

On Aug. 5, the Finance Committee reviewed the budget and decided to return it to the commission unchanged from the July 29 version.

On Aug. 19, three commissioners who voted against the budget on July 29 changed their votes—Gene Snead, Lydia Curtis Johnson, and Carolyn Wiseman.

Prior to the vote, Snead said, “We received a letter today from the state comptroller stressing the necessity of and our responsibility to pass a budget so we can provide services to the citizens of the county.” If the county had failed to pass a budget by Aug. 31, the state would have intervened.

“The budgeting process has been arduous,” Snead said. Among controversial issues were the raises received by all county employees except school system employees. Snead suggested going forward, all county employees should receive raises. He also argued the percentage basis for allocating raises was unfair to “employees who make the least and have the most difficult time paying bills,” and he proposed the county consider not replacing employees who retired or resigned, reducing the number of employees by relying on technological efficiency.

Prefacing her vote, Wiseman said, “Because I am an employee of a Franklin County Department, I have a conflict of interest in the proposal about to be voted on. However, I declare that my argument and my vote answer only to my conscience, and to my constituents, and to the citizens this body represents.”

Commissioners Scottie Riddle and Chuck Stines, likewise county employees who voted for the budget, prefaced their votes with a similar conflict-of-interest statement.

Commissioners Johnny Hughes, Helen Stapleton, Barbara Finney, Doug Goodman, David Eldridge, and Dale Shultz also voted to approve the budget.

Commissioners Sam Hiles, Adam Casey, and Greg King voted, “no.” Commissioner Angie Fuller passed.

Before the vote on the property tax increase, Commissioner David Eldridge, who serves on the Finance Committee, said, “Many commissioners were in favor of a sales tax increase rather than a property tax increase. A sales tax increase must be approved by a referendum. It is not off the table. It just wasn’t an option we could look at.”

The same commissioners who voted to approve the budget voted in favor of the 20.5 cent property tax increase, with Hiles, Casey, and King opposed and Fuller passing.

Property is taxed at 25 percent of assessed value. For a $100,000 home, 25 percent of assessed value is $25,000. For every $100 of that $25,000 the tax will increase 20.5 cents, for a total increase of $51.25.

Following the meeting Fuller, chair pro tempore, said she would have voted if necessary to achieve a majority. She stressed her constituents for the most part supported the 11 cents of the tax increase needed for the new middle schools and would have gone along with as much as a 15 cent increase, but 20 cents was too much. Citing objections to the budget, she pointed to $2 million being allocated to complete the new jail when only $700,000 was needed.