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Should residents have to pay more in property taxes to make up for a Roane County Schools shortfall caused by cuts in state funding?
The county’s budget committee answered that question with a resounding “no” on Monday, voting to keep the county’s property tax rate at $2.18 per $100 valuation for the 2013-14 fiscal year.
School officials asked for an increase of 14 cents for its general purpose school fund.
“It sounds to me like the problem you have is with the state,” Commissioner Jerry Goddard said. “You have enough intelligent people on that school board to figure out your way around this.”
Roane County Executive Ron Woody, budget director Kaley Walker and commissioners Goddard, Copper Bacon, Bobby Collier and Steve Kelley make up the budget committee. Walker is a non-voting member and Woody has the option to vote during ties. That wasn’t necessary on Monday because the vote to keep the tax rate the same was 4-0.
“We presented a reasonable budget, and it got turned down,” Director of Schools Gary Aytes said after the meeting.
A 14-cent increase in the property tax rate would generate $1.582 million for the school system.
“To meet the $1.5 million shortfall, we would have to cut out every position we have other than classroom teachers,” Aytes said. “We would go back to a poor school system.”
Aytes and school system business manager Eric Harbin stressed that raising the rate 14 cents would mean a person with a home assessed at $100,000 would pay $35 more in property taxes.
“Most people would support that,” Harbin said.
“A lot of households out there, they don’t have anyone that works,” Goddard countered. “Thirty-five dollars may not sound like a lot, but for them it may be. They can’t go to the county commission and say, my insurance went up, my whatever went up, so I want you to pay for this.”
Woody said the increase would cost businesses more than $35.
“They may have $1 million or $2 million of assessment, so they’re looking at $3,000 or $4,000 potentially,” he said.
School officials have attributed the shortfall to loss of students and changes in the formula the state uses to allocate money to school systems.
“The calls that I have is because the state’s cutting it, why should the locals have to fund it?” Woody said. “It is a state problem.”
Officials with the school system and budget committee said the county is contributing approximately $4 million more than what the state’s Basic Education Program requires.
“The BEP requires that the locals match money for a minimum program,” Woody said. “That match is being made, and then the county is contributing another $4 million above the match.”
“That’s pretty good compared to what I’ve seen in some of the other counties,” Collier said. “They’re not even meeting the minimum.”
Aytes said the county is allowed to do more.
“It’s not our fault that the state has said Roane County has a higher ability to pay,” he said.
A public hearing on the county’s 2013-14 budget, along with a budget committee meeting and commission work session, is June 24 at 6:30 p.m. at the courthouse. The commission could vote on the budget at its monthly meeting on July 8. Any of the 15 commissioners could move to amend the budget to include the 14 cents.
“Without this funding, I just don’t see what we could cut, unless we start cutting people, programs and start closing facilities,” Harbin said.