Monday night the Hawkins County Commission agreed to table the county’s overall proposed $97.475 million 2013-14 fiscal year budget, which covers all county departments, including the school system.
The commission agreed to bring the budget back up for consideration at the Sept. 23 meeting, presumably after several questions posed Monday have been answered. In the meantime, the county is operating on a “continuing budget resolution,” which fixes numbers at 2012-13 levels.
Two minor amendments to the proposed 2013-14 budget were approved Monday, and commissioners would have heard more proposed amendments, but the panel’s rules prohibit consideration of more than two budget amendments in the same meeting.
There was a motion to suspend that rule, which must be approved unanimously. One loud “no” from Commissioner Virgil Mallett shot down the motion and put an end to the amendments after the first two, however.
At that point the proposed budget was still up for a vote.
That’s when Commissioner John Metz began asking questions about proposed changes in property tax allocations within the county school system which increase the county school transportation department’s property tax revenue by $2.15 million.
Hawkins County’s tax rate is $2.345 per $100 of taxable property. Last year’s school allocation of those funds included 90 cents to the school system’s general purpose fund, and 15 cents to the school transportation fund.
The 2013-14 proposed budget reduces the school’s general purpose allocation to 68 cents, and increases the school’s transportation allocation to 37 cents.
By law, property tax generated for the county’s general purpose school fund must be shared with any other city school systems whose taxpayers are inside the county. The school transportation fund does not have to be shared.
“Decreasing the general purpose fund by $2.15 million takes a portion of those funds paid in county property taxes by city residents away from them,” Metz said. “By making this shift the City of Rogersville will lose $164,177 in funding and Kingsport City will lose $ 86,994.”
Metz added, “This transition of funding is equivalent to a 21 cent property tax increase for my district just to get us back to past funding allocations. ... That’s $52.50 (increased property tax bill) for every $100,000 valued on a residential property, and $84 per $100,000 value on a commercial property. I think that’s excessive for my district.”
Metz asked school Central Office officials who attended Monday’s meeting to correct him if his math was wrong, but no one spoke up.
He also asked why the school transportation fund needed $2.15 million extra this year, but didn’t receive an answer.
Following a lengthy discussion, the commission voted 15-6 to table the budget until the September meeting.
The two amendments approved Monday included:
• Increasing the property assessor’s budget by $10,000 to pay for part-time help only if either or both of two senior deputies retire.
• “Swapping” the $28,000 salary of veterans service officer Danny Breeding with the proposed $30,600 salary of the yet-to-be hired, newly created full-time solid waste director. Budget Committee Chairman Gary Hicks said he believed Breeding would come out better if he waited for his position to be adjusted in an upcoming salary scale study, but the amendment removes Breeding from the salary scale.