​Maintaining FC Property Tax Rate Approved

by Bailey Basham, Messenger Staff Writer

During a specially-called meeting of the county commission last month, the commissioners voted 10–3 in favor of an $800,000 increase in the general education budget. Prior to the vote, the school board fund balance was sitting at $5 million. The $800,000 includes covering an increase in medical insurance and half of the 2 percent salary increase for certified teachers and support employees.
The commission also voted unanimously to approve that the current 2.67 property tax rate be maintained.
Stanley Bean, director of schools and former commissioner, thanked the commission for what he said was a vote for the future of students in Franklin County.
“There’s two groups of people in FC we need to take care of—senior citizens and children. This vote was not a school budget vote. It was a children’s future vote. No matter how you think about it, what you voted on affects children’s futures. This money is going to be used for the futures of the children in Franklin County,” said Bean.
County Mayor Richard Stewart spoke to the commission in favor of the tax rate remaining the same.
“If you remember 2008 and thereafter, we got in a pickle. There are several projects that the county has already committed to. I don’t want to see any budget cuts, and I’d hate to see these projects tossed aside. The school needs their budget. When a middle school student has to be bussed to the high school to take algebra, that needs to be fixed. When a middle school athletic team can’t get to a football game because they can’t get a bus, that needs to be corrected. I’m all in favor of leaving the tax rate where it is,” he said.
“The thing we need to do with education is to expand to surrounding counties for different types of arts, music and cultural enrichment. There will be no growth if we go to the certified rate. We’ll be in trouble again.”
David Eldridge, seat A for the seventh district and member of the finance committee, said he has worked on eight different budgets for the county, but this year’s is the one he has thought most about. Eldridge said the general education budget is going to have to be increased every year, and that the approval of the additional $800,000 is just a first step.
David Van Buskirk, seat A in the third district, disagreed.
“The word from people in district three is they’re upset that we have an unassigned fund balance of $5 million. We need to see some results for the money you have. People are not happy about it in my district for the amount of money we have on hand and the lack of programming we have,” he said.
Iris Rudder of the first district agreed with Van Buskirk, saying she could not vote in favor of the increase.
“I look at this fund balance of $5 million, and I see an excess of $346,000. We know every budget is inflated—that’s to be expected. I can’t in good conscience vote to increase the budget by $800,000. It is a maintenance of effort situation we’ll be faced with year after year. I would like to see, in the next year, if some of the programs, like more advanced placement classes, could be implemented with that fund balance,” said Rudder.
Eldridge said the approval of the budget just makes sense when maintaining the current tax rate.
“If we retain the tax rate at 2.67 percent, the school, for the last appraisal period, has basically been held at $1.04 out of that 2.67 for their property. This $800,000 is less than what they would have gotten if that share had been maintained. They have, in essence, asked for less than their share of their value of the property,” he said.
The Franklin County School Board projected a total of $43.5 million in expected revenue for 2017–18. Estimated expenses for the 2017–18 school year are $45.5 million. By law, the school board has to keep 3 percent of its expected revenue as a reserve, which is maintained in case of unexpected expenses or lack of revenue. The fund balance for the 2017–18 school year is now at $2.8 million.
The next county commission meeting will be Sept. 18 at 7 p.m.