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Finance panel recommends 20-cent tax hike to fund schools

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Skyrocketing fuel and utility costs are also part of the problem. In addition, the fact that the state will be giving the district $400,000 less this year is adding to the budget woes, Davis said.

He also showed the committee published reports saying that Wilson County has the fourth highest per capita income in Tennessee, but is in the bottom 10 of the state’s 138 school districts for amount spent per pupil on education.

“A county that’s fourth in per capita income should be in the top 10 for money spent on schools,” Davis told the finance committee.

He said the schools would lose stipends for coaching, teaching assistants, assistant principals and possibly nurses if the increase in the budget is not met.

Davis also said the school board has already voted to suspend field trips and to require student organizations to pay for both fuel and drivers’ wages if and when the trips are reinstated.

The school system’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2008-2009 includes $41.3 million in funding from the county, a $7.5 million increase from FY 2007-2008. (The total proposed budget for the school system, including state and federal funds, is $95 million. Of that amount, the state is funding $52 million, and federal dollars amount to more than $1 million. Revenue from other sources comes to $558,000.)

When District 20 Commissioner Annette Stafford asked how Davis expected the county to fund the budget, Davis said the commission needs to do whatever is necessary. He pointed out there have been no tax increases in Wilson County since 2000-2001, when the county approved an extra 15 cents per $100 of valuation to fund opening Wilson Central High School.

“When you delay raising taxes for several years, sometimes it comes back to get you,” Davis said. “Coke’s don’t cost a nickel anymore.”

The current county property tax rate is $2.48 per $100 of assessed value, but a recently completed reappraisal would drop that rate to $2.23 per $100 of assessed value.

After some additional discussion of possible cuts, Stafford made the motion to pass the budget on to the Finance Committee as a “status quo” budget, which the Education Committee passed.

“Status quo” would mean the schools would “get the same penny” (the same percent of tax revenues as last year) for an actual dollar increase of about $1 million, according to schools Finance Director Mickey Hall.

Stafford’s motion also recommended sending the Finance Committee a “needs assessment” which would include the amount of funding needed in addition to the amount of money provided by the “status quo” budget. The funding to run MJHS, the salaries of added teachers, the money needed to cover increased fuel and utility costs and so forth are all in the “needs assessment.”

This format of a budget and a “needs assessment” was requested from all county departments.

The head of each department was asked to present a budget that represented only salaries, supplies and equipment equal to the department’s funding last year. Everything else was to be listed as part of a “needs assessment,” which might or might not be funded this year.

When Davis and Hall presented the same information to the Finance Committee a few minutes later Thursday night, that committee also discussed looking for possible cuts. Then District 21 Commissioner Eugene Murray made a motion to amend the Education Committee’s recommendation to include a tax increase of 20 cents per $100 of valuation for the school budget, which District 23 Commissioner Bernie Ash seconded. The committee voted 6-1 to approve, with Chairman Jim Emberton, who represents District 4, casting the only dissenting vote.

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