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Washington County’s $9.2M plan for schools, other projects shot down

June 24th, 2013 10:26 pm by Gary B. Gray

Washington County’s $9.2M plan for schools, other projects shot down

A $9.2 million spending plan based on Washington County’s immediate needs was shot down Monday in a 13-12 vote, sending the matter back to the Budget Committee. 

Following a lengthy statement by Director of Schools Ron Dykes, who told commissioners cutting school personnel and dipping into fund balance were the only short-term solutions to combat recurring capital needs and disappearing stimulus money, Commissioner Mark Ferguson turned to County Mayor Dan Eldridge for answers.

“I’ve been to the last three budget meetings and I’ve heard nothing about addressing this,” Ferguson said about the school system being $3.4 million in the red. “I’m a little concerned that we’re borrowing all this money.”

The school portion of the debt, which would be repaid from its budget, would come from about $2.8 million and help fund building improvements. About $840,000 would go toward reimbursing the school system for capital projects, such as the new Fall Branch roof, the Boones Creek chiller and architect fees. Finally, $510,000 would  help reimburse the school system for bus purchases this year.

When asked directly by Ferguson if he wanted the $2.8 million to be approved, Dykes said he did indeed support borrowing the money.

“If we’re in a hurry, as obviously Mr. Ferguson is, we can raise taxes,” Eldridge said. “If that’s not what we’re focused on, we need to give the school system time to close out its books for this year and see where their fund balance is at.”

The $9.2 million, which would be issued next year with payments beginning in 2015, would help pay for 23 separate items, including more than $1 million for a new asphalt plant. About $120,000 in improvements has been proposed for the Jaynes Justice Center, including about $15,000 for new bollards that would line the front of the building and $60,000 to construct a security fence around the back of the center and part of the jail. Also, an estimated $225,000 would pay for three new solid waste compactors. 

Eldridge asked more than once if commissioners would like to go over each item one-by-one and take out which ones they did not like. But that’s not the way things worked out. He also explained that the majority of debt would be placed in the various departments’ line items and that they would be responsible for repayment.

Commissioner David Shanks made the motion to send the three separate resolutions that comprised the $9.2 million back to the Budget Committee to be “pared down” and returned to the commission with a proposed budget to review.     

“I understand two of these resolutions deal with school issues,” Shanks said. I say pay as you go. Normally, operational needs come from operational expenditures.”

Commissioner Ethan Flynn, also a Budget Committee member, said he would rather approve the debt issuance right away while interest rates were low and the county’s bond rating high.

“I understand the schools’ needs,” Ferguson said. “But other than the schools’ needs, I see about 30 percent wants and 70 percent needs.”

Department heads have attended a handful of lengthy Budget Committee meetings over the past few months. During that time Dykes has continued to plead with committee members about long-term funding needs. And yes, Ferguson did make a remark about how he felt the entire plan should be scrapped and redone.

But for the most part, committee members appeared to have methodically raked through the plan before presenting it in the form of the three resolutions, and Monday’s vote sparked some head shaking and eye rolling among those who voted to move the plan forward.

Commissioners voting to send the resolutions back to committee: Doyle Cloyd; Sam Humphreys; Joe Sheffield; Sam Phillips; Alpha Bridger; Phyllis Corso; Richard Matherly; Gearld Sparks; Roger Nave; Ben Bowman; Steve Light; Shanks and Ferguson.

Commissioners voting not to send the resolutions back to committee: Greg Matherly; Pete Speropulos; Skip Oldham; Mitch Meredith; David Tomita; Lee Chase; Ken Lyon; Ethan Flynn; Joe Grandy; Mark Larkey; Mike Ford and Pat Wolfe. 

In other business, commissioners approved a $5.9 million, 10-year contract between the county and Waste Management Inc. for disposal of solid waste at the Iris Glen Environmental Center in Johnson City.

The county will pay Waste Management a disposal charge of $26.65 per ton, a cost also known as a “tipping fee.” The per-ton cost increases annually to $34.20 in 2023. More than $2 million in savings is expected over that time. Three bids received earlier this year were all under what the county has been paying to dump waste at the city-owned Iris Glen landfill, which was $42.50 a ton.

In November, the county received bids from Advanced Disposal Services, which opened a new landfill in Blountville last year and serves Kingsport; Republic Services, which operates Carter Valley Landfill in Hawkins County; and Waste Management.

The county will haul waste from its five convenience centers to the landfill.   

A previous story is available here.

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