The Hamblen County Commission meets tomorrow at 4:00 pm. The 7/1/05-6/30/06 budgets for Hamblen County General Government (General Fund), School Fund, Highway Fund, Garbage Fund, Debt Fund, and a few minor funds are on the agenda.
Most of the budgets have no serious problem. The only budget that is in the red, with a deficit of $760,000 is the county's general fund.
The current proposal is to give $3.1 million new dollars to the school system and to leave the county with a $760,000 deficit.
(The general fund deficit may end up being even higher because it appears that the Planning Commission plans to wait until after the budget is passed and then present commission with a request for an unspecified amount of additional money for an additional employee and perhaps other costs. Overcrowding in the jail is still "out there." What else could there be? I certainly hope that there isn't another hospital bail out or transportation emergency or super-fund site clean-up that we haven't been told about and that will be presented as an "emergency" with immediate action required.)
It appears that Commissioner Harville's plan to give the schools $300,000 of county trustee fees has hit a snag. Harville, whose son Stan is principal at Witt Elementary, decided on July 19th that $2.8 million new dollars was not enough of an increase for the schools, so he proposed giving the schools $300,000 more out of the county trustee's fees. On July 22nd, County Mayor David Purkey revised the county budget and showed the $300,000 as a "transfer payment" from the general fund to the school fund.
I tried to call Mayor Purkey yesterday and today, but he was either busy or gone. I wanted to share with him a letter that he provided to commission during the 2002 budget process--a letter from County Technical Assistance Services that seems to express the opinion that you can't do what the Mayor has shown-- transfer money from fund to fund.
I sent this letter to the county attorney for his review, and to Finance Director Epps today. With the letter, I noted that if the county wants to give another $300,000 to the schools while putting the general fund $300,000 deeper in debt, there are other ways to do this. For example, we can lower the general fund tax levy and increase the school tax levy or we can lower the general fund wheel tax revenue and add to the schools wheel tax revenue. Of course, we can just raise the school tax rate as well.
There will be a large number of school employees at the meeting tomorrow. They have been told to come and to protest the fact that county commission is only giving the school system $3.1 million new dollars instead of the full $4.1 million new dollars as requested. Some of these employees (cafeteria workers, bus drivers, custodians) have been told by the Board and by Director Lynch that they will not get a raise unless county commission provides more money.
Apparently, the school board is not spreading the millions of new dollars around to all employees and is blaming the county commission for the choices that the board has made in terms of who gets what and how much. As I've mentioned in previous blogs, the school board alone determines how the millions of new dollars will be spent. It can spread the millions out to all employees, or it can leave some employees out-- as it apparently has chosen to do.
Tomorrow, public address announcements will be made at the schools to rally the troops, memos will probably go out to school employees, and there will be a packed courthouse. During the hoop-la as the employed fight over more money and better benefits, will anyone think of the person who has no job or who works for minimum wage? Will anyone think of the people they know on a fixed income of $600/month? Will anyone think of the people they know who have no insurance? Will anyone think of the person who has no, or a meager, retirement? Will anyone think of the neighbor down the street who already faces a property tax increase due to the 2005 property reappraisal?
Will anyone think of the entire community and consider that maybe we should be thankful for what we have? Will anyone think of the general fund and how a $760,000+ draw down/deficit will affect it this year and the next? The big picture includes all citizens. Maybe it's time for moderation and even-handedness, instead of the "I want it all" attitude that we see too often at this time of year.
Yes, I taught school for 11 years. Yes, I loved to see a raise. Who doesn't? Maudie Briggs has said that our factories are gone and they're not coming back. Our trustee has pointed out that our revenues have flat-lined for now. It's a time of economic adjustment, and a lot of people are being hit hard. In the big picture, would it be so awful if some people took a smaller raise this year to ensure that their fellow employees are also able to receive a share of the pie? Would it be so awful if we balanced the general fund, gave the schools $2.5 million, and avoided the disaster that is being set up for next year?
We are rushing headlong toward a disaster during the next budget cycle if we go ahead and in our frustration pass what just about everyone knows is a bad budget. It's amazing to watch those who have preached long-range planning and those who have touted financial expertise express a willingness to wash their hands of it all at this point and just pass something, anything--even if it is bad for Hamblen County and a potential disaster for taxpayers next year.
Where's the concern about long-range, strategic planning in this budget? Where's the willingness to work for the taxpayers instead of throwing one's hands up in frustration? Instead of just mindlessly voting for a bad budget, who is going to put forth an alternative?