ELIZABETHTON — Elizabethton Mayor Curt Alexander responded to comments made in last week’s school board meeting about the city’s allegedly stagnant funding for the school system.
Members of the school board had criticized the city because the annual operating revenue the city provides to the school system has remained at $2.332 million a year since the 2000-01 school year.
“The operating revenue is just part of what the school system receives,” Alexander said. He said the total revenue the school system receives has grown from $15.5 million for 2006 to $21.3 million for 2012.
“That is an increase of nearly $6 million since 2006,” Alexander said. “That is an increase of nearly $1 million a year for the school system.”
While the mayor said it was true that the city has only provided $2.332 million per year since 2000-01, he said the annual increase in school revenue from property tax has grown from $1.5 million a year in 2006 to $2.5 million in 2012. Other tax revenue, mostly sales tax, has increased by $700,000. State revenue have increased from $7.6 million to $10.5 million, the mayor said.
Alexander said the system’s fund balance is a good indicator of whether the system has adequate resources to handle day-to-day cash flow and emergencies. To cover those needs, he said the state mandates the system keep a fund balance at 3 percent of revenue. Alexander said the fund balance stood at $579,000 (4 percent) in 2006 and has grown by $1.2 million over the past six years to now stand at $1.8 million (8 percent).
He said net assets reveal long-term financial health of an organization. He said net assets have increased by $5.5 million over the past six years.
“I know we have not increased their operating revenue since 2001, but all of these tax dollars come from the same source,” Alexander said. “They don’t come from the City Council, they come from the taxpayers.”
Superintendent of Schools Ed Alexander (no relation to the mayor) did not agree with the mayor’s arguments. He especially objected to the arguments about the growth in property tax, which has had one increase in the past 19 years.
“What specifically did the school system receive from the raising of the property tax rate?” the superintendent asked.
While the school system’s capital projects have enjoyed a windfall from a half-cent increase in the local-option sales tax, funding a $6.75 million bond issue, he said that increase was solely the result of hard work from school supporters.
“All the City Council did was allow us to hold a referendum,” Ed Alexander said. “They didn’t think it would pass.”
Another factor in the increase in funding has been increased enrollment, thanks to opening the schools to tuition-paying county students. The number of students has increased by 504 since 2007.
“What shape would we be in financially if we had not begun an enhancement committee?” Ed Alexander asked of the efforts that led to opening classroom space to county students.
The mayor agreed that county students have paid their own way through tuition payments and increased Basic Education Program funds from the state. He said he objects when the increased county students force city taxpayers to build additional classrooms.
That is one of the mayor’s key objections to this year’s budget request from the schools. While the schools have not asked for an increase in operating revenue from the city, he said the school system is asking for an $8.5 million bond issue that would cover the costs of building eight new classrooms and other upgrades at T.A. Dugger Jr. High School and a new sports complex at Elizabethton High School.
“How are we going to fund that?” Mayor Alexander said. He said it would cost the taxpayers an increase of 15 to 20 cents on the property tax rate to fund the bond issue.
“And that is just for one year,” the mayor said. “Their five-year plan would cost $16 million.”
“I know we need to bring T.A. Dugger into (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliance, everyone on the City Council wants that,” Mayor Alexander said. “Everyone on the City Council would like to have a new football stadium, but we have many taxpayers who don’t have any discretionary income right now.”
He said there are also many other aging infrastructures in the city in need of upgrades, including water and sewer lines, roads and sidewalks.
“My job as mayor to get the best utilization of our tax dollars.”
“My job,” Superintendent Alexander said, “is to pursue the best education I can for the students of Elizabethton.”