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County forced to dip into reserves, make cuts

Because of its own precarious fiscal situation, Washington County will only be able to provide $564,500 to the county schools budget, which will still be $1.3 million out of balance.
“There’s no way we could give you the whole amount of money,” Mayor George Jaynes told Director of Schools Ron Dykes at a budget meeting last week. “It’s just impossible to do what we’d like to do.”
The county’s general fund was out of balance by about $3 million, Jaynes told commissioners on Wednesday. Auditors said the county could take $2 million from its reserve fund, leaving it with $1.5 million to cut to balance the budget.
As a result of that, Jaynes has asked all departments to cut their budgets to exactly what they spent last year. In fact, he had just come out of a meeting with Sheriff Ed Graybeal, where he trimmed $500,000 from the sheriff’s office budget.
“This is probably one of the toughest ones I’ve had to deal with,” Jaynes said. “I don’t know what else to do. You don’t raise taxes in a time like this.”
The county only received $339,803 in new money, and “that hurts,” said Jaynes.
Dykes acknowledged the funds, but asked for more help from the committee.
“We can absolutely use it, and I’m deeply appreciative,” Dykes said. “But sadly, that will not even cover our expenses along from the state to pay health insurance and retirement, much less address the shortfall.”
Dykes suggested a reallocation of some sort, perhaps from county unappropriated surplus money, to help the schools with the remaining $1.3 million.
Jaynes said the county has to keep a certain amount of funds in its reserve, and is already tapping into that to help itself out.
County residents would have to face an 11- to 12-cent property tax increase to properly fund the schools, commissioners said.
Jaynes said he did not think anyone would go for a tax increase in dire economic times. He also said county mayor-elect Dan Eldridge has been in on budget discussions and also agrees that the commission should not raise taxes.
“See if you can balance it with that,” Jaynes said. “We’re in the same boat. The general public would hang us all [over a tax increase] with times the way they are.”
Dykes again emphasized that the schools are functioning on the same amount of funds even after opening two new schools, and that new funds are the only way to support the schools budget. He now faces cutting positions, including nurses, athletic directors and assistant principals, as well as programs, some athletics, and purchases of new textbooks and buses.