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County commissioners still divided on borrowing funds

Washington County Commissioners voted to issue bonds to reimburse the school system for capital expenses and provide funding for facilities improvements during their July 22 meeting, but plan to meet again in two weeks to make a decision on school safety improvements and projects for the rest of the county.
Mayor Dan Eldridge said discussions with Director of Schools Ron Dykes regarding initial information from the school assessments led the two of them to propose a figure of $500,000 be included in the debt offering for school security improvements. The required match to the Johnson City schools increases that figure to $940,000.
Commissioner Mitch Meredith made a motion, seconded by Commissioner Lee Chase, to approve the revised proposal for capital outlay notes which has grown from $5.2 million to $6 million.
Commissioner David Shanks again voiced his request for a budget. “It looks like we’re trying to pass the budget one piece at a time,” he said. “We’re borrowing money just because it’s cheap, but I would like to see a whole budget.”
Eldridge said the proposed budget was included in the meeting packet of information, but a decision first has to be made on how the needed capital projects will be funded.
Commissioner Mark Ferguson offered an amendment to the resolution, which deferred action on $1.4 million of projects.
“I agree money is as cheap as it’s going to be, but I’ve reduced the terms on several of the items because I think it was stretching it out too long,” he said, distributing a spreadsheet that assigned the proposed projects to one of the following categories: include in the 2013-14 budget; finance; or defer action.
Among the items Ferguson recommended be deferred are courthouse security improvements, trucks and equipment for the Highway Department, and bridge replacement and repair.
Meredith wondered how the deferred projects would be funded. “Are you not going to fix bridges and roads?” he asked Ferguson.
The votes for the amendment and the revised list of capital projects that would be funded by multiple departments each failed 11-to-12, marking the current divide that is hindering commissioners from moving forward.
Commissioner Phyllis Corso said the Budget Committee needs to make a distinction between whether the projects are wants or needs before bringing the proposal back to the commission.
When Eldridge reminded her the Budget Committee has already reviewed the list twice, Commissioner Joe Grandy made a motion to discuss the proposed projects one by one during the meeting. Speropulos seconded the motion.
Ferguson said the motion was out of order, but County Attorney John Rambo said the full commission is allowed to make recommendations to the Budget Committee and the process Grandy proposed is allowed.
The motion to go through the list of capital projects for separate discussion and decision on each failed in a voice vote.
“This is the role of the Budget Committee,” Corso said. “If it takes them 27 meetings, they need to do it. It’s a difficult process, but I don’t think that’s our job.”
The Budget Committee will meet in a called session on Friday, July 26, and a called meeting of the full commission was scheduled for Monday, Aug. 5.