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Commission passes budget, no more funds given to schools

It was a different scene on Aug. 23 than at most other Washington County Commission meetings.
The usually sparsely populated old courtroom was packed, loud, and stuffy. There was not a seat in the house left, with spectators lining the walls and spilling out into the hallway.
Most county residents came out to urge the commission to further fund the Washington County School System. One woman even waved a bright pink placard detailing what Washington County spends on each student and what the state of Tennessee average is.
The county had so far provided an extra $800,000 to the school system, which still remained $1 million out of balance on its almost $62 million budget. That resulted in the school board having to cut five personnel positions, new textbooks, half of all field trip expenses, travel budgets, and new buses.
But despite the overwhelming crowd support, and an effort by Commissioner Frank Bolus to send some more pennies the schools’ way, the Washington County Commissioners approved the $34.2 million general fund that night without building in any more money for the schools.
Bolus suggested the commission move pennies from the general fund budget, as well as from the highway department, to give the schools a boost.
Other commissioners said they hated to see the support positions such as instructional assistants and school nurses being cut.
But he was told by Mayor George Jaynes that county auditors had said no more should be taken from the county’s general fund.
“I think we’ve taken about all we can out of them according to the auditors,” Jaynes said.
Auditor Charles Steagall confirmed that he had previously told county officials the county should not dig any deeper into its general fund or unappropriated surplus.
A little later in the meeting, the commission allocated $135,000 from its general fund to other projects at its meeting, including $55,000 to purchase a building for the highway department, $30,000 to purchase radios for county constables, and $50,000 to support the capital campaign of the Johnson City Veterans Memorial Park.
Commissioner Mark Ferguson questioned the logic of telling Dykes the county can’t afford to give him any more money, while doling out $50,000 to Johnson City, who “brags about its surplus,” he said.
Dykes said in a phone interview after the meeting that while he appreciates what additional money the commission did provide, he sometimes “sits in disbelief” at that the commissioners choose to fund.
One additional expense the commissioners did vote down at their meeting was a more than $7,000 pay raise for Clerk and Master Brenda Sneyd. Officeholders are in charge of their own budgets, and were told by Jaynes to submit the same budget as the last year’s.
Commissioner Sam Humphreys brought up the raise and said he did not think it was fair to give Sneyd the money.
Sneyd, who was in the audience, stood up to defend her raise.
“I work nights and weekends,” she said. “I’m only asking for what the other county clerk gets.”
Assessor of Property Scott Buckingham said he submitted a scaled-down budget and didn’t think officeholders should be building in raises in a time when money is tight for the county.
“I don’t want a raise if the county employees don’t get one,” Buckingham said.
Commissioners Pete Speropulos and Paul Woodby put forward the motion to pass the budget, with an amendment to change Sneyd’s pay to what it was last year.
The budget passed.