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Approved budget holds no new capital projects

Washington County commissioners approved the budget for 2015-16, but a decision on any new capital projects will have to wait.
“The Capital Projects Fund will be used for only those projects previously approved and not finished in 2014-15,” Mayor Dan Eldridge said during the public hearing held Monday prior to the called commission meeting.
Eldridge said finding dollars for additional capital needs, including new schools, will be worked on over the summer with a possible vote in September. “The first Monday in October is the cutoff for changes in the tax levy,” he said.
The tax levy commissioners passed with unanimous approval currently includes no increase in property taxes.
The budget for the current fiscal year provides a 2 percent pay increase for all full-time employees. No recommendation was made to implement the new structure proposed by Director of Finance and Administration Mitch Meredith that would make the increases effective on the first payroll following final commission approval, eliminating retroactive pay, and include only those who have been employed by the county for a minimum of one year.
The Washington County Sheriff’s Office will receive additional dollars to implement a new compensation plan aimed at retaining veteran officers and increasing entry level pay.
During the public hearing, Circuit Court Clerk Karen Guinn said while she does not begrudge the sheriff’s allocation, all county departments are in the same boat as far as not being able to provide step increases, and she wished commissioners would consider the same amount for everyone.
“Last year my department collected $488,000 in old court costs,” she said. “That would pay for all the raises.”
Bob McNeil, director of Emergency 911 Communications, also asked for additional dollars to provide raises for his employees. McNeil reminded commissioners 911 is a component unit of the county and the cost for a separate county dispatch service would be more than $1 million.
No recommendations were made in response to either request.
Randy Hensley, director of Coalition for Kids, encouraged commissioners to consider the futures of the children in the community and go against the trend of reducing funding to nonprofit organizations.
While no action to restore the 10 percent cut was recommended by Budget Committee members at the end of the public hearing, Commissioner Tom Krieger made a motion for an amendment during the commission meeting that sparked discussion on the government’s role in supporting charitable organizations.
“If we let one kid fall through the cracks, what does it cost to keep him in the Detention Center for one year?” Krieger noted as justification for the funds.
Commissioner Joe Wise argued the reductions are continuing a multi-year plan. “The amount being given is not needle-moving money,” he said. “If we restore the funds are we saying that’s not our plan anymore and we want to get back into the charitable giving arena?”
Wise suggested the commission take the time to develop a program to address the needs, adding action on a last-minute amendment could be considered willy-nilly.
Commissioner David Tomita agreed a better method is needed. “It’s important that we separate what are considered special appropriations rather than services,” he said. “I have a hard time grouping fire departments with nonprofit organizations.”
The motion for an amendment failed with Meredith, Wise, Tomita and Commissioners Robbie Tester, Joe Grandy, Mike Ford, Steve Light, Todd Hensley, Forrest Boreing, Lynn Hodge and Robbie McGuire opposed.
Commissioners Lee Chase and Tom Foster abstained.
The budget was approved as presented in an 18-to-3 vote, with Tester, Krieger and Light opposed. Meredith, Chase and Foster abstained. Commissioner Sam Humphreys was absent.