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No county budget vote until after Aug. election

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By Damon Lawrence

The 2014 county election could serve as a referendum on higher taxes for education.

Last year the Roane County Board of Education requested a 14-cent increase in the property tax rate to fund the school system’s 2013-14 budget.

The Roane County Commission did not approve the rate hike.

If the school board makes another request for an increase this year, Roane County Executive Ron Woody said a vote on the 2014-15 county budget may not happen until after the Aug. 7 election.

“If their budget comes over and they ask for a tax rate increase, we may decide to let the general public make the decision as they elect their commissioners,” Woody said.

The Roane County Commission is the funding body for the school system. All 15 commission seats are on the ballot this year.

“There are several people interested in becoming a commissioner that have ties to the school system,” District 6 Commissioner Bobby Collier said.

One of them is Mona Gardner Wright, who is running for commissioner in District 2. Her husband is Board of Education member Danny Wright.

Wade McCullough is running for commissioner in District 1. He’s currently a school board member in that district.

District 6 commission candidate Debra Smith is a teacher at Roane County High School.

The qualifying deadline for the election is April 3. Wright, McCullough and Smith have already qualified.

The school board hasn’t yet voted to request a tax rate increase for the 2014-15 budget, but Director of Schools Gary Aytes said the funding situation hasn’t improved from last year.

“We look to be about where we were last year, about $1.5 million short,” he said. “That’s to fund the same programs next year that we have this year.”

School system business manager Eric Harbin said he hoped to have a preliminary budget to present to board members next month.

If the board makes a request for another increase in the property tax rate, Collier said candidates for commission should go on record about where they stand.

“It’s sort of like playing black jack,” he said. “Their cards are going to be on top of the table.”

Woody said the budget committee, which he chairs, has already begun work on the 2014-15 budget.

Even though a vote may not happen until after the election, Woody said the public hearings that are a part of the budget process could take place before then.

“It gives the public another opportunity to be heard,” he said.

“You could see the public coming out saying we support increased funding for education, or you could see the public coming out saying we don’t support it, or you could see a combination of both of them.”