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John Thompson

Elizabethton Bureau Chief
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Could wheel tax be rolling into Carter County?

July 7th, 2011 11:16 pm by John Thompson

ELIZABETHTON — On Tuesday, the Carter County Commission’s Budget Committee seemed fairly generous in offering to recommend a $732,185 increase in local funding for the county school system. That offer seemed even more generous when compared with the committee’s decisions to make most other county officers make do with a status quo budget for the new fiscal year.
The offer appeared much less generous following a workshop session of the Carter County School Board on Thursday afternoon after the group found the increase would not be enough to provide for such areas as school resource officers or two additional health science teachers.
The school board had originally asked for a $1.4 million increase in local funding, with much of it going to make up for several declines in other revenue sources, including the ending of federal stimulus funding and less funding from state sources including Basic Education Program funding and declines in its share of local property taxes in comparison with the Elizabethton City School System.
Carter County Finance Director Ingrid Deloach told the board that the Carter County School System will be losing $443,523 in state Basic Education Program funds next year and will lose $152,950 in property tax revenue next year as the county’s share of students declines and Elizabethton’s share increases.
Deloach said the county now receives only 70.8 percent of the property tax funds going to education. Elizabethton schools receive the remaining 29.2 percent. She said when she started working for the county several years ago, the county’s share was about 75 percent.
That loss of BEP and property tax revenue next year amounts to $596,473. When that loss is deducted from the increase proposed by the Budget Committee, it leaves the school system with an increase in new revenue of only $135,712.
“That doesn’t sound nearly as generous as $732,000,” Deloach said.
Fortunately, there is more than just new revenue that could be used to cover the increased expenses of the new year. The new revenue would be combined with a one-time funding of $396,824 from the federal Jobs for Education Law and an additional $300,000 in savings from not filling seven teaching positions that came open from retirements.
Altogether, the school system would have $832,536 more money coming in. But Deloach said that will not quite cover the increased expenses that have already been committed. These include increases in medical insurance, state-mandated pay raises for teachers and a new school nurse at Hampton Elementary. Those costs are combined with impossible to project fuel cost increases next year, which Deloach has guessed will be $150,000.
The result of all these already committed increases in expenditure is that the entire $832,536 in new money will be spent and a deficit of $1,464 is left.
Deloach said there is no money left for many of the items that school board members and county commissioners have said were important, such as most of the school resource officers, two new health science teachers, bookkeepers for four of the smaller schools and no pay increases for employees who are not teachers.
In seeing what the Budget Committee’s offer of $732,000 could not buy, board member Daniel Holder thought there were too many valuable programs being cut.
“We want it all,” Holder said. “We want the SROs, we want the health science teachers.”
Budget Committee member Steve Chambers attended the meeting and discussed the proposal for a $25 wheel tax, with the proceeds dedicated to education. It was expected that citizens would petition to place the tax on a referendum, which meant there could be no revenue from the tax for the next two years.
The board members will attend the next meeting of the Budget Committee on Monday to express their concerns.

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