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Washington County Commission sets its sights on a 40-cent tax increase

Budget
Budget

By COLLIN BROOKS

Staff Writer

[email protected]

Many capital questions came before the Washington County Commission during their specially called meeting on June 6 and still many questions remain.

While the commission committed no monies to any projects on Monday night, they did give the budget committee $0.40 worth of capital projects to sift through. That did not account for pennies that are needed for operational costs for general government and school needs, which could come in anywhere between $0.02 and $0.04.

“These items, if they are approved in the final budget, and if they are funded the way they are noted in the format, than those are the pennies it would require,” Budget Committee Chairman Joe Grandy said  “There are different funding structures and other ways to look at it. So the commission is not bound by anything, they won’t be bound until the final budget is in front of them.”

The biggest project, which also garnered the most discussion from the commission, was the approval of a new Boones Creek School.

Commissioner Danny Edens, who was one of the five members that voted no, said that he wasn’t against having a new school built, but he simply wanted a site chosen by the Washington County Board of Education before he gave his stamp of approval.

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“I think we must certainly do need that school, but the when, the where and the how is what concerns me,” Edens said. “I too, like Dr. (Paul) Stanton, was surprised to see that the school board was as divided as they were on a site. When, we build it, I think that needs to come. I think we may be putting the cart before the horse. I want the school board to decide where the school goes first. I don’t want to make that decision for the school board.”

Even though the okay was given to pursue the funding possibilities for a new school, that does not mean that there is a clear road to construction. The site must still be selected by the Washington County Board of Education — which had a voting deadlock on a possible site 4-4 — and  the funding must still be approved by the commission.

Washington County Chairman Greg Matherly and county attorney Tom Seeley were forced to remind the commission multiple times that a vote for any project did not set the project in stone, it simply made a priority list for the budget committee to refer to.

“If you approve theses items this evening, it will be a recommendation to the budget committee to consider placing these items in the 2016-2017 FY budget,” Matherly said. “This is just part of the process, gaining a better idea of what the commission is interested in funding for next year.”

The only project that was voted down by the commission was the new Jonesborough School project, which was failed 16-8.

Jonesborough Mayor Kelly Wolfe spoke during the public comment session to start the meeting and asked the commission to vote for a new Jonesborough school, saying that building a school or any building for that matter boils down to a perception of quality of life.

“I think we have a great quality of life here in Washington County and we in Jonesborough try to help with that… but the quality of education is an important factor in quality of life too,” he said. “And it has been my experience, as a consumer — both for my kids and as I was growing up — that perception is reality.

“Perception of your education system can come from intangibles, it can come from things that are very up front and obvious. And I think the condition of your schools, the physical condition of your facilities speaks to the importance placed on education in the community.”

His plea was not enough to get the commission to decide on a new school, which came in with a price tag of $0.13. Instead, renovations were voted on 17-8 for the school, with a price tag of $0.05.

Other school projects that were voted for were the school bus funding for seven years, 23-1, and funding the school’s blended learning technology, 24-0. The final item to be voted on for the schools was the other capital project items, which include roof replacements and other various items at a cost of $0.06, which was voted for 24-0.

The other three items — public safety communication system ($0.01), other general government ($0.08) and highway and bridge infrastructure ($0.01) —  were heavily voted for.

Something that was brought up in the meeting by Washington County Finance Director Mitch Meredith is that the county does not have any funding that currently goes towards a purse for the county to save.

“The pennies that we addressed tonight would be allocated to the capital projects fund, not the general fund, not the debt fund, not the schools, but to a capital projects fund,” Meredith said. “As that fund grows, the commission can decide that we can use cash to fund the projects or with a big project like a school, we will have to borrow the money and use some of the cash in the capital projects fund to pay the debt service.”

Depending on when the tax is started and being collected and when the projects start, the county could begin to save money to use for those projects. Currently a penny added to the tax rate is worth close to $282,000 per year. That means adding $0.44 to the tax rate would turn into $12.4 million in the first year of collection. If the county was to raise the tax by $0.44, it would make the price 2.42 cents and it would make Washington County  the 49th county in Tennessee to have a property tax over $2.40.

The budget committee has a meeting scheduled for Wednesday, June 8 and Monday, June 13, in hopes to have the final budget ready by the June 23 meeting.