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Commissioner wants Sullivan funding shifted from schools

J. H. Osborne • Sep 9, 2007 at 12:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — A proposal to change how revenue from Sullivan County’s property tax is divided could cost local school systems more than $1.1 million.

County Commissioner Wayne McConnell has said he plans to call for the change before a vote on the county’s proposed budget for this fiscal year next week.

His proposal: take four cents of the tax rate from school spending and redirect it to the highway department and general fund.

Most county departments have been told they’ll have to operate at the same spending level as last year, with the exception of an across-the-board 5.25 percent increase for employee pay.

That meant several departments’ requests for new money for new hires fell by the wayside. The county highway department, which also sought money for five new dump trucks in its original budget request, was among those seeking new employees.

The county school system’s spending this year will increase about $6 million, based on the proposed county budget set for a vote next week. That figure includes new state dollars, some projected growth in local dollars, and planned use of some of the system’s multimillion-dollar fund balance.

At a budget committee meeting last week, McConnell questioned why the school system’s budget is being allowed to increase that much while other departments are being told no new spending — and no new employees.

McConnell specifically questioned what he said is inclusion of money in the school system’s budget for a new food service employee.

Commissioner Eddie Williams, chairman of the budget committee, said the 5.25 percent pay hike accounts for about $5.2 million of the proposed new $6 million in spending for the county school system this year.

Schools currently get $1.587 of the county’s $2.53 tax rate.

A proposed county budget for this year keeps the same tax rate and the same split of the revenue generated:

• General Fund — 67.3 cents.

• Solid Waste — 2.4 cents.

• Health — 3.8 cents.

• Highway — 4.7 cents.

• School General (shared with city school systems based on average attendance) — $1.587.

• School Capital Projects (also shared with city systems based on average attendance) — 8 cents.

• Debt Service — 8.1 cents.

Money directed to schools from the county’s property tax rate is shared with city school systems because city residents also pay county property taxes.

Contacted by the Times-News on Friday, Sullivan County Accounts and Budgets Director Larry Bailey said four cents on the tax rate would equal about $1,106,000.

Bailey said the current split on school funding is: Sullivan County, 55.39 percent; Kingsport City Schools, 26.98 percent; and Bristol Tennessee City Schools, 17.63 percent.

If McConnell goes through with his proposal to shift four cents of the tax rate away from school spending, it would decrease the county school system’s projected revenue by $612,403 this year, Bailey said.

Based on the figures above, it would mean a decrease in projected revenue of more than $298,000 for Kingsport City Schools this year and a decrease of about $195,000 for Bristol Tennessee City Schools.

Bailey said McConnell’s proposal to split the four cents equally between the highway department and the general fund would mean each of those funds would see an increase of about $553,000.

If McConnell is successful in getting at least 13 of the commission’s 24 members to support shifting the four cents, that amount of money could fund some departmental requests that were cut earlier in the budget process.

Some of those items include:

• Circuit Court Clerk Tommy Kerns is seeking $202,200 for five new employees and new off-site storage.

• Register of Deeds Mary Lou Duncan is seeking about $49,250 to cover the cost of two new employees.

• Highway Commissioner Allan Pope is seeking more than $253,000 to hire five new employees.

• Pope is seeking another $500,000 to buy six dump trucks.

The Sullivan County Commission is scheduled to meet at 9 a.m. Sept. 17 on the second floor of the historic Sullivan County Courthouse.

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