Commission gives OK to spend $632,000

Friday, October 1, 2010

Nearly $632,000 can be spent from the school budget's reserve account without causing a tax rate hike next year because of an exception in the Basic Education Program for expenditures that won't have to be repeated, county officials explained Wednesday and Thursday.

Meanwhile, school maintenance crews may be able to repair leaky roofs instead of hiring a contractor to replace them, County Schools Director Roy Dukes said Thursday while discussing some $296,000 set aside for capital outlay, including roof maintenance at a number of schools.

"The roof in the worst shape, I believe, is at Marshall Elementary School," Dukes said. "Our staff may be able to repair it, but we have not discussed it. The $296,000 could be anything. It depends on what we need. It could be additional chairs for students."

Nearly $156,000 is budgeted for equipment that Dukes described as "something related to a boiler, or a dishwasher if we don't get stimulus funds for that. We have not designated what it's for."

Some $37,450 is budgeted for new digital cameras on school buses.

"We have a lot of buses with them, but we'd like to put cameras on all the buses," Dukes said.

These "non-recurring expenses" include $100,000 for math textbooks, he said when asked what County Trustee Marilyn Ervin asked: "Aren't they going to have to buy books or fix another roof again?"

As for the books, Dukes said, yes; "Math books are bought every several years, but we have a math adoption (of a new edition of a math book) or a history adoption or language arts, or science. We don't adopt them every year, so they're non-recurring.

"In this case we have $100,000 for books this year because of the Tennessee Diploma Projects," he said because the state has changed its standard on the quality of instruction in the book for grades 9-12. "We may get a few more books each year but those would be for the same adoption.

"Nor do we replace a roof every year, however we may have an emergency if the insurance or warranty doesn't cover it."

A $13,088 non-recurring expense is to buy a Ford Focus for Dukes' use.

He's been driving a blue Dodge that, he said, was bought about 15 years ago. The Ford was purchased through a state bid contract.

Another non-recurring expense is nearly $29,238 to finish paying former director Stan Curtis.

Meanwhile, Dukes, Commission Chairman Tom Sumners, and Commissioner Rocky Bowden have clarified the difference between Bowden's handwritten motion for spending more from school reserves and the transcription of his motion spoken aloud and tape recorded Monday.

Commissioner Mickey King moved to stop the school board from spending more than $706,000 from reserves. He's opposed spending reserves, saying it will increase the level of effort and thereby, under the Basic Education Program require that much more to be spent the next year.

Bowden reported that about only $74,000 might be recurring expenses, so the school board ought to be allowed to use the exception for capital projects and non-recurring expenditures and thereby spend $632,000 from reserves.

However, his motion, as transcribed by County Clerk Daphne Fagan, was "to amend ... King's amendment by changing the reduction, instead of eliminating the full amount of fund balance to reduce the amount spent out of fund balance by $74,872 [T]his will bring the amount of money in the fund balance to $631,753 and by doing this we will eliminate any chance in an increase in the maintenance of effort for the school system for the next year."

While discussing the resolution Wednesday afternoon, Bowden said commissioners knew what he was saying.

"There is zero confusion on the commission or the budget office about the intent or the amendment to the amendment, and that is in Commissioner Bowden's opinion," he said.

Bowden's hand written document was to provide Fagan with the figures and not as a written motion, he said.

"I handed her my notes and that was just for her to get the figures," Bowden said. "I'm sure there's not one commissioner who misinterpreted my intent. If there was, then they should have spoken up."

Other issues included the budget committee unanimously rejecting the school board's request to spend $706,000 from reserves, and fund balance spending by the general fund for administration, law enforcement, ambulances and other such departments.

"I don't have a problem with them sending money from the fund balance," Bowden said. "We need to spend money from fund balance to keep things at an acceptable (tax) rate, but we don't need to complain about their spending... The biggest complaint from committee - of them spending money from fund balance - was on recurring expenses, and my motion removed that."

Bowden and Sumners noted that within three years the county will have paid off a bond, thereby lowering the cost of debt service.

"That's going to be a help to us" by lowering costs, Bowden said. "We passed a good budget for the county, and it won't cause a tax increase. If there is a tax increase next year, it won't be because of what we did this year for the school budget."

Another method of cutting costs would be to refinance debt since interest rates are low, Sumners said. It's like refinancing a house to lower monthly payments on a mortgage.

There's been some discussion, but no steps have been taken yet, he said.

While the county budget was adopted in time to erase any concern that state funding might be delayed, Sumners also said the county budget, including the school budget, should have been brought to the commission two months ago."

And, Sumners suggested, resolutions should be typed before commission meetings.