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By Chris Gregory, Managing Editor

Trousdale County’s Budget & Finance Committee opened the first of three budget hearings Monday evening with a look at addressing a deficit in the school system’s 2019-20 budget.

County Mayor Stephen Chambers presented the certified tax rate as determined by the state, which is $2.43. Trousdale County underwent a Current Value Update earlier this year in which all property was reassessed. At the new rate, one penny will bring in $24,989, as opposed to $19,336 in the current year.

The county has lost some state funding through the BEP (Basic Education Program) because of increased fiscal capacity (ability to pay) by Trousdale County. The schools lost $300,000 this year and are anticipated to lose $429,000 in funding for the upcoming year. In 2020, that loss could reach $600,000.

Courtesy of Trousdale County mayor’s office

On the bright side, Director of Schools Clint Satterfield reported that the current fiscal year is estimated to end with a surplus of around $350,000 as opposed to a projected $780,000 loss.

In its preliminary budget, the schools requested $900,000 in new money from the county to help offset the loss of state funding. Satterfield called it a “status quo budget” with no raises for non-certified employees and no new programs.

“The thing we all have to think about is what our moral purpose is in changing lives in our county,” Satterfield told commissioners. “There’s a direct correlation between education and earnings and we are trying to make good taxpayers instead of people who become dependent on the tax system.”

The proposed school budget also includes $451,980 in capital expenses, which would be funded by the school’s fund balance. That includes recoating the elementary school roof, replacing doors at the middle school and replacing sidewalk at the elementary school.

Satterfield also cited future projects that will be needed, including a roof at the middle school, redoing the high school parking lot and adding a new bus route to accommodate growth in the western part of Trousdale County.

Accommodating the schools’ request would require a 32-cent hike in property taxes, according to the mayor’s budget documents.

The school system is projected to have a fund balance of roughly $3.5 million as of June 30, of which $1.736 million is restricted for certain uses. Not getting any new money from the county would drop the overall fund balance to $1.4 million by June 2020, according to estimates.

Commissioners have previously looked at funding solutions, such as returning impact fees for new construction to schools and increasing the local option sales tax. The latter of those could not occur until 2020 as it would have to be approved by voters.

“We didn’t do anything last year. We have to do something this year to stop the bleeding or we’re going to be down to zero (fund balance) in two years,” Satterfield said. “There’s not one particular solution.”

Committee members asked Satterfield to return Thursday evening with a revamped budget that takes into account the increased revenues from this year.

Exact figures were not available at press time as Satterfield told The Vidette he was still working on recalculating the budget.

“We’re trying to be as frugal and responsible on our end as we can. I ask that you recognize that,” Satterfield said to commissioners.

 

Raises for Highway Department

Commissioners next looked at Debt Service, Education Debt Service and the Highway Department during Monday’s hearing.

“We’re pretty much following the principal and interest schedule,” Chambers told commissioners of the debt payments.

The mayor’s budget anticipates paying just over $1.1 million of debt. The largest amounts owed are for the justice center ($1.606 million owed as of July 1) and energy efficiency work on the county schools ($2.317 million).

Overall, the county’s debt is estimated at $7.748 million as of July 1.

“The county is not that much in debt,” said committee chairman Jerry Ford. “We’ll pay off the high school in 2022, so that will help.”

Asked about the potential for paying off smaller debts early, the mayor said waiting until next year might be better.

“We’ve got Streetscape, the HOME grant, the landfill coming out this year,” Chambers said. “I think we can certainly look at paying some of those off at that time.”

Highway Superintendent Bill Scruggs presented the budget for his department, which includes a 3 percent raise for employees and money toward equipment purchases.

While county government has no planned employee raises, the Highway Department raises would be funded by the state.

“Over half my staff only gets to work nine months out of the year and makes $12 per hour,” Scruggs said. “That’s who I’m trying to help out a little bit.”

Scruggs said he would take some of the increased gas tax revenue through the 2017 IMPROVE Act to put toward replacing equipment, some of which he said was nearly 40 years old.

Commissioners seemed to favor the Highway Department giving raises, especially as it will not cost local taxpayers a cent.

“If you’ve got the money in your budget and it’s not going to cost the county any more money… he should be able to give his people raises,” said commissioner Dwight Jewell.

The Budget & Finance Committee was to look at the budgets for the Sheriff’s Department and other elected officials during Tuesday’s hearings. In addition to reexamining schools on Thursday, committee members will look at remaining departments at that time.

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or cgregory@hartsvillevidette.com.