Taking a closer look at the proposed county education, highway, solid waste budgets

Published 9:34 am Wednesday, June 14, 2017

My last column provided a brief overview of one part of the Carter County budget — the General Fund — which makes up approximately 24% of the total budget. Today’s column addresses the remaining 76% of the budget, and explains the requests, revenue sources and expenditures of each department, which include Education, Highway and Solid Waste.
Beginning with Education, the entire Carter County School’s budget of $41,021,650 does not come from county citizens through property taxes and other revenue sources within the county as some might think. Rather, the school system has several sources of revenue and only 24% of the school system’s income — $9,864,250 — comes from local taxes.
The Federal Government contributes $85,000 to Carter County Schools, but the bulk of the school budget comes from the State of Tennessee through the Basic Education Program (BEP). The money our county school system receives is based on a funding formula comprised of three components, but the driving force for funding is student enrollment. The total contributions from the state are $30,866,000, 75% of the school system’s 2017-18 budget.
This past year the Carter County Board of Education contracted with an outside agency to review the para-professional (cafeteria, nursing, bus drivers, janitor and other employees that are not teachers) employee salaries and compare those to salary ranges by job classification throughout Tennessee counties. Carter County para-professional salaries were found to be significantly lower than the average across the state, and it will take $450,000 to bring the salaries in line with others. In order to do this, the Carter County School Board has decided to give our para-professionals a 1% increase each year until their salaries meet the state average. That salary increase — $60,000 — is to be taken from the school fund balance; however, it will cost the county an additional $29,552.24 to meet a state mandate that 33% of funds be given to the city when salary increases or capital outlay (building new facilities) are undertaken by the county.
The Highway Budget request for 2017-18 is $4,011,304. Like the school budget, the Highway Department doesn’t receive all of its funding from county property tax revenues; only $1,022,489 or approximately 25%, comes from that source. The other revenue generating sources for the department includes payments in lieu of taxes (TVA, Utilities), gas and motor fuel tax (which will increase with the passage of the Improve Act) and other sources coming to $2,478,200, or 62% of the Highway Department’s total budget.
Both Education and Highway have a fund balance. Although they (the Superintendents of Schools and Highway) must come to the County Commission to request to spend money from that source. It is a reserve for each department that should be guarded and held for emergencies.
The Solid Waste Budget (landfill, recycling, convenience centers) is a budget unto itself. It doesn’t receive county funds and must generate its revenue from the services it provides. The current request for the 2017-18 budget is $923,652.65, a 3% increase from the previous year. Revenues for that department come from the sale of recycled materials, waste collection fees, disposal fees (oil, tires, etc.) and state grants that the Director of the Landfill applies for to provide additional services. Unfortunately, the landfill is nearing the end of its capacity within the next 3-5 years. Consideration is being given to locating a new site or expanding the current site. Regardless of what is decided, the County is required by law to maintain the current site for 30 years after it closes. The Commission Landfill Committee (to which the Director of the Landfill reports) is currently studying the issue. The County Fund Balance serves as the emergency fund for the Landfill and Solid Waste operations. The Landfill may draw those funds from the County Fund Balance only upon approval by County Commission. A number of individuals (to include commissioners and the mayor) have asked for a “free day” at the Landfill where citizens can bring items and dispose of them at no charge to the individual. Because the Landfill is a self-generating revenue department, a “free day” would approximately cost $60,000 in lost revenue, impose an additional burden on the Landfill capacity, and result in an accelerated time to closure and additional expense in the long run to citizens. Again, your tax dollars don’t support Solid Waste or the Landfill.
As you know, the budgetary process is vitally important to the future of Carter County. This is your money we are spending. As commissioners, we represent and vote according to how those who put us in office want us to vote. If you have not yet had a chance to share your thoughts on this matter with your commissioners contact them. Also, you are encouraged to come on June 12 or June 19 at 6 p.m. to the courthouse for the meeting of the Budget Committee Public Hearing (12th) or the Carter County Commission (19th). You will have the opportunity to communicate regarding any topic impacting the 2017-18 budget process. We welcome and appreciate your input.

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