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Washington County budget committee tweaks original spending plan

July 4th, 2013 5:00 am by Gary B. Gray

Washington County budget committee tweaks original spending plan


On June 24, a $9.2 million spending plan based on Washington County’s immediate needs was shot down in a 13-12 vote, sending the matter back to the Budget Committee, which after nearly four hours Wednesday revised the plan by making a few relatively minor changes.


The committee took its time, painfully raking over every single item, one by one.


“Is there any reason why we should not do this?” County Mayor Dan Eldridge said on a handful of occasions to committee members and a few County Commissioners in attendance, commissioners that have said the FY 2014 plan needed to be pared down or completely redone. 


From multi-million dollar school building repairs to washing machines -- “Is there any reason why we should not do this?”  


In the end, the committee agreed to recommend to the full commission that the county pay for $60,000 in computers for the library and $208,000 for Sheriff’s Office vehicles out of the general fund, and to add $60,000 to pay for two padded cells at the county’s detention center. Roughly $186,000 also will be added on. This will fund SRO’s and be repaid with county funds but through the Sheriff’s Office debt service.


That’s it.


A 2 percent employee salary increase still is on the table; a $1.5 general fund budget deficit still exists -- though it continues to be a floating number for now and appears it may be remedied by transferring 4 to 5 cents from the debt service and general fund; about $2.8 million will be borrowed to and help fund school building improvements; $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.


These items, along with about $1.3 million for capital projects and equipment, make up the bulk of all expenditures. It’s basically the same plan that was rejected by a slim margin by the full commission, with a couple of tweaks.


Commissioner Mark Ferguson, who last month turned to County Mayor Dan Eldridge and said this about the school system being $3.4 million in the red: “I’ve been to the last three budget meetings and I’ve heard nothing about addressing this. Why are we borrowing all this money?”


Following a short exchange between Ferguson and Eldridge, Commissioner David Shanks made the motion to send the plan back to the Budget Committee.


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


Ferguson, Shanks and Commissioner Sam Humphreys, all who disliked the original plan, were in attendance Tuesday. But it took some prodding by committee members to get them to speak up. A particular item would roll up and Eldridge would look at the commissioners and ask for their input.


“Any commissioner?” Eldridge would say.


Commissioner and Budget Committee member Ethan Flynn turned to them saying they were the ones who had concerns and asked them to speak.


“I’m not here to tell you how to do your job,” Ferguson said.


Shanks was then identified by name and asked to give his comments.


He said nothing.       


Finally, after discussion ensued about what method should be used to help pay down the deficit, Shanks again was asked if he’d like to comment.


“I understand the business aspect of this, but the public doesn’t see it that way,” he said after standing and commenting on the amount of borrowing proposed. “I’m going to vote according to my constituency.”


“So you don’t want to borrow money?” Flynn asked.


“I don’t want to borrow money when we have such a large fund balance,” Shanks answered. 


Humphreys stood and spoke: “We don’t need all these cars. We don’t need two field houses. People don’t want this. I’ve said what I wanted to say. I’m leaving.”


And with that, he promptly walked down the stairs and out the door.  


“Does any of this borrowing help solve the deficit?” Ferguson asked suddenly.


“Page one,” Eldridge said, referring to a document the committee and department heads had been reviewing for at least an hour. “We have to understand. Before we do the budget, we have to identify our capital needs and how we’re going to pay for them.”


Page one reveals the roughly $34,000 general fund; the $1.5 million deficit; and four alternatives for solving the problem; a 6-cent property tax rate hike; a 4.5 percent cut in the general fund budget; the use of money from fund balance; and a combination of using money from the debt service fund, solid waste fund and general fund balance.


Ferguson got up and left the meeting. Shanks left about five minutes later -- about the time committee members had turned to the second of seven pages of detailed information concerning the financing of more than 20 projects. 


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