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Budget remains on ice

As the clock ticks down toward the state-mandated deadline for the county’s budget approval, the budget

A drawing of the site layout for the proposed Unaka Middle School, provided to county officials by Beeson, Lusk and Street Inc. Architects, shows the position of the school on the Watauga River. County budget deliberations will decide the proposal's fate.

A drawing of the site layout for the proposed Unaka Middle School, provided to county officials by Beeson, Lusk and Street Inc. Architects, shows the position of the school on the Watauga River. County budget deliberations will decide the proposal’s fate.

committee once again concluded a meeting without approving a proposed budget for the 2014-2015 fiscal year.
But the meeting’s end didn’t come before a warning.
As members of the committee began to conclude business and committee chairman Harry Sisk said he would entertain a motion to adjourn, Carter County Finance Director Ingrid Deloach interjected to warn committee members of the impending deadline. She reminded them that state law dictates the county’s budget must be approved by the full Commission during the body’s July meeting. And before that can happen, the budget committee must approve a proposed budget and a public hearing must be held.
“The clock is ticking,” Deloach said. “You’re going to have to make the tough decisions very soon.”
Deloach reminded members of the committee that once they adopt a proposed budget, the public hearing must be held, and that state law requires a public notice of a least 10 days before that hearing. After the public hearing, there must also be a period of public notice to announce that the full Commission will be voting on the budget.
At Deloach’s request, members of the committee set their next meeting for Tuesday, June 17, to allow time for advertisement of the public hearing once the budget is adopted.
Members of the committee heard a presentation from Director of Schools Kevin Ward and architect Tony Street on a proposal to build a new middle school in the Stoney Creek community. Ward had previously addressed the committee regarding the project, but during this presentation, Street brought a drawing of the proposed school and updated the committee with information obtained from soil sample testing.
Street said the cost for a turnkey school on the location, as it is designed, would be approximately $15 million to $16 million.
“That’s everything – furnishings, equipment, site preparation, construction, everything,” Street said.
After the presentation by Street, Ward once again made a request on behalf of the school system that the county fund the capital project for the construction of the school. Ward said it would take an estimated 15.5 cents added to the tax rate for debt service to cover the construction bond note for the project.
When asked about the debt service fund, Deloach told committee members the debt service fund is still in a critical state, and reminded them that more than $900,000 had to be pulled from the fund balance this year just to balance the debt service fund because expenditures in that fund were higher than the revenues. Deloach said that for the 2014-2015 fiscal year, it would take an additional $900,000 in funding just to keep the debt service budget from starting the fiscal year in the hole.
“It would take 12 cents just to balance the debt service and Dr. Ward is asking for 15.5 cents. So you would have to add 27.5 cents just for debt service,” Deloach said. “That does nothing for the General Fund, that does nothing for the solid waste fund, that does nothing for the highway department, that does nothing for the general purpose school fund. That is just for debt service.”
Committee chairman Harry Sisk also reminded committee members that the committee has not yet balanced the budget for the 2014-2015 fiscal year and there are additional expenditures in that budget which were not in the previous year’s budget and will require additional revenues.
Some committee members voiced support for the school project despite the cost.
“If we don’t get this situation took care of on Stoney Creek it’s just going to bog everything down and we’ll never get anything done in this county,” said committee member Steve Chambers. “I feel like we need to look to the future. If we want to just not do anything we’re going to pay the price for it in the future.”
Committee member Sonja Culler said that she agreed with Chambers on the importance of the school project despite what she said were “major problems” facing the county with the budget issues. “I am afraid we’re going to have to do something people aren’t going to like because we’ve got some projects that have to be done,” Culler said.
The need for a new school was not the question, said committee member Tom “Yogi” Bowers, who said the real question was “can the taxpayers of this county afford a 27.5-cent tax rate increase.”
In other matters, the committee approved several end of the year budget amendments that Deloach described as “clean up amendments” that move funding within budgets in order to balance out the budget for the end of the fiscal year.
One budget amendment that was approved did not fit that category.
Road Department Superintendent Jack Perkins submitted a budget amendment request to use money left over in his 2013-2014 budget to fund a 5 percent raise for the employees of his department. Deloach said the money is available in his 2013-2014 budget to cover the expense, but that the budget proposed for 2014-2015 would have to be readjusted to absorb the raise.
“Mr. Perkins would like to give this raise before he leaves office,” said Deloach.
During discussion on the requested budget amendment, Chambers said he supported the raise and cited the hard work and long hours put in by employees of the Highway Department. Bowers said he would support the raise as long as it required no additional funding from the county.
One committee member alone spoke out against approving the budget amendment to grant the raise. “I just don’t think it’s fair to do the other employees that way. All of the county employees work hard,” said committee member Nancy Brown. “Especially with the way the economy is and the way our budget is I think we should cut corners any way we can.”
Following discussion a motion was made by Bowers to approve the amendment allowing the raise for employees of the Highway Department. The motion was seconded by Chambers. The motion passed on a vote of 7-1 with Brown casting the only dissenting vote.