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Commission approves budget, water projects

By ALLEN RAU

Special to the H&T

Washington County commissioners approve the upcoming fiscal year budget Monday night by an 8-4 vote. Commissioners Steven Light, Larry Cate and Jodi Jones were not in attendance. 

In the new budget, the county will use existing capital funds to cover any operational shortfalls for the upcoming year to avoid a property tax increase. 

“(The budget) does utilize some of our existing funds in capital projects and in some unassigned fund balances to make that balance. This is a balanced budget,” Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy said. 

The 2021-2022 Fiscal Year day-to-day operating budget includes $73 million for the Washington County Government and $83.9 million for Washington County Schools. 

Commissioner Freddie Malone questioned whether capital projects would be affected. Capital projects included such items as HVAC upgrades, water heaters for the Washington County Courthouse Detention Center and

IT hardware for the county Sheriff’s office. Non-recurring expenses are generally considered capital projects.

“By making this transfer we’re not using the capital projects fund as I think it was intended when that was established a long time ago,” Malone said. “We’re essentially going to use those pennies that have been allocated to that (capital) fund … to essentially cover ongoing operating expenses, as opposed to capital projects.” 

Washington County Finance Director Mitch Meredith did not believe upcoming capital projects would be affected due to additional government funding.

 “Because of the availability of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds,” Meredith said. “We’ve got some one-time funds that are coming in that this body may very well allocate to some capital projects.” 

ARPA federal funding amounts to $25.5 million to the county.

 Commissioner Kent Harris voiced his concerns that the budget will lead to tax increases in the future. 

“We’re going to be back in this same mess again next year probably,” said Harris, who along with Commissioners Danny Edens, Robbie Tester and Mike Ford voted against the budget. “And what are we going to do then? We’re creating more positions, we’re not cutting anything, and what’s going to happen then? There’s going to be a tax increase. 

“I’ll just be the first to say I can’t vote for it unless we make cuts because I see a tax increase coming next year.” 

School system budgets will not be affected nor will services be impacted, according to Budget Committee documents. 

Salary increases and bonuses for county employees are also included in the budget, pending approval by department heads.

Following the meeting, Commissioner Bryan Davenport, also the Water Task

Force chairman, addressed the water projects approved by the commission.

 “Number one, it’s a first step,” Davenport said. “A huge portion of this will be the Jonesborough Aldermen voting on extending a crew that the county will pay for. They will run the projects with crew that the county will be paying for (to extend the water lines) in Jonesborough. A lot of the roads that do not have water lay in the Jonesborough water district.” The next step, pending approval by the Jonesborough BMA, will be hiring crews and equipment. 

According to county documents, the Water Task Force identified Greenwood Drive (East and West), Dry Creek Road, portions of Highway 81 South, Ralph Hoss Road, Treadway Trail, Malone Hollow and Bill Cox Roads, as well as the

East end of Saylor Hill Road. 

ARPA funds could potentially pay for the projects, but exact funding details will be determined in the future. 

The project could be beneficial to the Town of Jonesborough, as the county would fund the extension of water lines while the town would fund the maintenance of water lines.

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In other Washington County Commission news: Engineers from BrightRidge are tentatively scheduled to attend next month’s commission meeting on July 26 at 6 p.m. to address concerns over Bitcoin mining operations in the area. It is unknown at this time whether Red Dog Technologies representatives will attend.