Greg King

To put things bluntly, Franklin County’s budget is a mess.

The situation we are currently facing has been several years in the making. It cannot be fixed in just one year either.

Poor planning, expanding payrolls, expensive projects with even more expensive cost overruns, budget manipulations and cutbacks to state funding are just some of the things that got us to where we are.

When the middle school project was being debated, the number of people who contacted me in favor of approving it was overwhelming even with the knowledge it would cost an 11-cent tax increase.

The additional 13 cents requested for this budget is what’s causing so much heartburn.

I wholeheartedly believe the Franklin County government needs to do a better job of planning for the future, prioritizing needs, and living within its means.

When we passed the school bond issue, I urged my fellow commissioners to “hold the line” on spending to try and minimize the hit property owners would take this year.

Instead, we have a budget with more people on the payroll, additional debt beyond the schools and employee raises added to it.

The thought of cutting spending did not even come into play until the school budget came up for approval.

I do not feel it is right to demand austerity measures from one department and say nothing to the rest.

Is it fair to give raises to some of our employees and not to others?

I think not.

Our county employees are good, hard-working people without whom things would grind to a halt. I feel they deserve a cost-of-living raise, but at the same time is it right to increase taxes to fund that raise?

To do so is quite literally taking extra money out of the taxpayer’s pocket to give it to someone else. I personally believe if you can’t pay for the raises without a tax increase, then it is not the year to give them.

The school system’s budget failed to pass the Finance Committee this year.

Mayor Alexander was absolutely correct when he said the fund balance will be depleted if changes are not made, triggering another tax increase.

Part of the school budget problem is state funding has flatlined due to declining enrollment. While state funding has flattened, expenses have risen.

Without significant changes, we were looking at a $2 million shortfall in the school system’s budget next year. The school system has cut over $700,000 from its original budget request for the coming year.

The funding the system is requesting from the county is roughly at maintenance-of-effort levels.

If we failed to pass the school’s budget, we faced the prospect of the state setting the budget for us.

I believe one of the primary functions of county government is to set and manage the budget. It is a sign that we are unable to take care of business if we cannot do so.

I simply did not see any advantage to not passing the school’s budget in its current form. The state will not reduce it any further.

I have talked at length with several School Board members and Director Bean. They realize we cannot afford another massive tax increase next year.

The County Commission and School Board need to start working together now to make sure that doesn’t happen and to have a plan in place to fix the long-term budgetary issues.

In my opinion, the School Board has made a good-faith effort to start addressing the problem this year.  If we did not pass their budget, what would that say about our willingness to work together?

The county’s general budget failed to pass and now goes back to the Finance Committee.

Budget cuts made at the commission meeting totaling $358,000 would have reduced the added tax levy from 24 to 20.5 cents.

I felt like more money should be cut from the budget and proposed cutting out the raises to some county employees which would have saved another 2 cents on the tax rate, bringing it down to 18.5 cents. The motion failed to garner a second.

I didn’t like the prospect of cutting out employee raises, but if we are going to give them to some departments, we should be giving them to all departments.

I am also opposed to a tax increase to pay for them.

Our new debt obligations between the middle schools and the jail expansion amount to a 14-cent tax increase.

I feel we should be able to cut at least $200,000 out of the county’s $25 million general fund budget which would bring the tax levy increase below 20 cents.

I feel the target for the Finance Committee should be to get as close to the 14 cents necessary to fund our new debt obligations as possible.

I don’t like paying more in taxes and certainly don’t like the prospect of raising them.

Local governments have three options to balance their budgets — cut spending, raise taxes, or increase the tax base. Sometimes there is no other option than to increase taxes, but that should be a last resort.

There is a lot of anger being expressed at the current situation and rightfully so.

I implore you to get engaged and stay engaged in your local government. The time to voice your concerns is not when a tax increase is on the table but when things are going on that lead to that increase.

Except for “hot button” issues like the Greenhaw quarry or middle school project, our County Commission meetings are sparsely attended. Many times, the audience is primarily comprised of people who have to be there.

 Get informed and stay informed about what is happening. Engage your commissioners and School Board members. We work for you.

“We could say the government spends like drunken sailors, but that would be unfair to drunken sailors, because the sailors are spending their own money.” ~ Ronald Reagan

Greg King is the Franklin County District 4, Seat A commissioner and a Decherd police sergeant.

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