Schools may need 19¢ tax rate hike

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By Damon Lawrence

Roane County Board of Education member Mike “Brillo” Miller last month guaranteed the proposed budget for the 2013-14 school year wouldn’t require a 26-cent increase in the property tax rate to fund.
“Will there probably be something? Yes, it will,” Miller said during a joint meeting with the Roane County Commission.
Right now, that something is 19 cents.
That’s the increase in the property tax rate school system business manager Eric Harbin is recommending the board request from the Roane County Commission.
“If someone owns a $100,000 home, the increase in the yearly taxes would be $47.50,” Harbin said. “Of course, you pay double if you have a $200,000 house.”
The county’s current property tax rate is $2.18 per $100 valuation.
“My recommendation is to ask for 19 cents,” Harbin said. “If we get 14, make the difference up in cuts.”
Harbin said a 19-cent increase would allow the school system to keep its current program intact.
“What we’re trying to do is survive and have the same programs that we have that we feel are beneficial to the kids,” he said.  
Last year Harbin and former director of schools Toni McGriff presented the board with a proposed budget that would have required a 6-cent increase in the property tax rate to fund.
The board instead decided to make up the difference by using one-time monies.
Harbin is asking the board not to do that this year.
“You cannot fund operations with your fund balance,” he said. “You cannot fund operations with your reserves for an extended period of time, or you’re going to dig yourself a bigger hole.” 
Board Member Darrell “Drack” Langley played devil’s advocate when the budget was discussed at the board’s May 14 work session.
“Eric, when you go over there the first thing they’re going to say, and you better be ready to answer it, is ‘Look you’ve already lost 400 students, how many more are you going to lose next year?” Langley said. “‘You’re losing students, but wanting more money.’ What’s the answer you’re going to tell them?”
Harbin said he’ll tell them the school system needs the money to continue its current program.
“The state is saying the county has ability to pay more revenue,” he said. “They’re already paying. I know this doesn’t help my argument here, but they’re already paying about $4 million or $5 million over what the state BEP (basic education program) says that they need to pay.
“The fact is, the BEP is inadequate.”
The board deferred action on the budget last week.
A work session is planned for 6 p.m. May 28, with a special-called meeting afterward to possibly approve the budget. 
“I think folks need to understand that if we have to make cuts, we’re making cuts in our basic program,” board member Wade McCullough said at the work session.  
“Cuts at this point are positions and people,” Harbin said. “It’s not just unfilled positions. At this point, it is people that we’ll have to cut.”
The school’s budget will be examined by the county’s budget committee before it goes to the county commission.
“Talk to your commissioners and tell them, ‘We have to have this money,’” Harbin stressed to school board members. “We cannot operate our current program without it. Maybe that will do the trick.”
“They have control over giving us the increase,” Harbin added. “They do not have control over what we cut.”