Spending plan cut; county budget to be late

Friday, July 16, 2010

Marshall County Budget Committeemen have "made some progress, but we're not where we want to be."

That's Commissioner Jimmy Wolaver's summary after a 2-1/2-hour meeting Wednesday morning in the Courthouse Annex.

Commissioner Don Ledford agreed, and said he has three suggestions for the school budget to be discussed when the budget committee meets next at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 20.

Those suggestions: Extend the school day; Cut bus routes; And examine school cafeteria food costs.

Spending on schools is the largest part of a county budget that exceeds $60 million. Some of the big parts are: $35.5 million for schools; $11,368,000 for departments at the jail, courthouse, annex and the old Hardison school; $4 million for roads; and about $5 million to repay debt.

County Budget Director Freda Terry summarized the progress of the committee as the budget session came to a close.

"We didn't cut (employee) benefits which means the county absorbs the seven percent cost increase," Terry said. County employees will continue to have their same schedule of personal days off, longevity pay increases and they'll still get to take off from work on their birthday.

Layoffs, unpaid furloughs, pay cuts and other spending reductions have been avoided.

"County employees did get to keep their jobs and at the same pay and we didn't have to raise taxes to maintain the status quo," Terry said.

Budget committeemen were dismayed that their fellow commissioners on the county Education Committee didn't have a quorum Tuesday night to forward a recommendation on the school board's proposed budget.

Commissioners' continued paring of department spending is an effort to avoid a property tax rate hike, but one committeeman, Commissioner Wilford "Spider" Wentzel, spoke of a chance to cut the rate, now set at $3.09 per $100 of assessed value.

That does, however, depend on the voters' approval of an increase in the sales tax. The Aug. 5 ballot includes a referendum on the sales tax rate. It's now 9.25 cents on every dollar spent. It would go to 9.75 cents if voters approve the rate hike.

"If the sales tax referendum passes, it could take 12 cents off the property tax rate," Wentzel said, "because half of that (new sales tax) revenue goes to schools."

For months it's been known among commissioners, school board members and close observers of the county commission that a number of the commissioners in office now would continue to fund the school system at the same level, and have the dollar amount of new sales tax revenue going to schools reduced from the amount of property tax revenue spent on schools.

Wentzel's point, then, is that the property tax rate could be cut from $3.09 to $2.97.Such positions were expressed after budget committeemen examined department budgets line by line and making cuts with advise from Terry.

Some department budgets hadn't been received.

"If they don't present one, then under the budget act, you have the right to set one," Terry advised.

Ledford and Commissioner Mickey King agreed that the Budget Committee tried to cut spending to available revenue without sacrificing services.