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County, school budgets passed

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Jim Vaughn
Scott Langford
Moe Taylor
Paul Goode

County commissioners on Monday night passed a $343.1 million budget - $243 million for schools, and $100.1 million for county general. The measure passed by a vote of 19 to 4.

The 2017-18 county and school budgets, which start July 1, do not call for a property tax increase for homeowners or any new issuance of debt for the coming fiscal year.

Casting 'no' votes for the budgets were commissioners Jim Vaughn of Gallatin, Merrol Hyde of Hendersonville, and Mike Akins and Moe Taylor; both of Westmoreland.

Within minutes, a photo of the four commissioners with the slogan 'Voted against funding schools' was circulating on social media.

On Tuesday, Taylor explained the reason behind his vote.

"I voted against the school budget basically because they did the same thing they did in 2014," he said. "They had the reserves up over $20 million and they went back in and spent (nearly) $14 million. That's how they funded their budget - through their reserve fund. The last time that was done, we got a tax increase."

Taylor said despite what some are saying, he is not against funding schools.

"I'm not voting against the schools - we are conservatively voting on spending taxpayer money," he said. "We weren't cutting the schools by voting no on the budget - we can't by state law."

Taylor is referring the state required maintenance of effort which mandates that no county can fund less to schools than the previous year.

In the end, Taylor said he couldn't vote yes for either of the budgets presented Monday.

"We are growing revenue streams, but we are spending as fast as we grow it and you know what that leads to - a tax increase," he said.

Taylor said he was against commissioners taking nearly 24-cents (per each $2.50) from the county's debt service fund and putting it into the capital projects fund for what he called "pet projects" and named the proposed new health department for Hendersonville as one of those.

"We have never done that before; we have never taken that big of a chunk out of debt service," Taylor said.

County Finance Director David Lawing said the move to shift the funds was for a one-year fiscal period only to allow the county to finish several projects without borrowing any new money.

Commissioner agrees - tax increase is imminent

Vaughn cast a vote against the budgets, saying the school system has cumulatively spent $48 million more over the past four budget cycles.

"We required our general budget department heads to come in at a 3.5 increase - no more than that above last year's budget," he said. "The school board came in greater than that and it was rationalized by saying only 3.1 percent of it was local funding. That means they were taking into consideration other revenue streams.

"A lot of departments have revenue streams; EMS, the sheriff's office, Bill Kemp's office, John Isbell's office - they all have revenue streams, but we asked all of them not to come in over 3.5 percent. A balanced budget means your expenditures are not greater that your revenues and they (school system) are more than $12 million out of balance and they are tapping into their reserves to balance their budget.

Vaughn worries this trend will lead to a hefty tax increase

"If our revenues stay the same, and there is not enough money in their reserves next year, we are going to have to make up $12 million through maintenance of effort and that equates to a 30-cent tax increase. They have raised their budget an average of $12 million a year for the past four years; when does it stop? That's the reason I couldn't vote for it - it's out-of-control spending and we can't withstand that without another tax increase."

Commissioner Paul R. Goode, one of the 19 county leaders who voted to pass the budgets, said he disagrees.

"Once again, for the third year in a row, the county along with Dr. Phillips and the school board, for weeks conducted numerous public meetings for the budgets to be review and scrutinized and with ample due diligence," Goode said. "Both were balanced budgets with no tax increases and the county and the schools are in the best shape ever."

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