The public was a no show for the county Board of Commissioners budget forum this week.
The budget, which was approved 5 to 1, takes the county’s property tax to $1.03 per $100 per valuation. The tax is currently at 99-cents per $100. The 2012-13 budget will total $36,860,274. Commissioner Clarence McPhatter was not in attendance.
While including cuts in other areas, the budget will cause no job losses due to budget restrictions. Residents have also been told to expect “no significant drop or elimination of services.”
The largest portion of county tax dollars will again be allocated to education, with 47-percent of property and sales tax money going to education. The total amount dedicated to education in the county will be $12,140,267.
By percentage, the next largest sum of tax payer money in FY 2012-13 will go to law enforcement, which has been budgeted $4,229,773.
The meeting, which saw the county’s tax increase by four cents, was adjourned with no public input less than 15 minutes after being called to order.
The lack of taxpayer participation concerned Commissioner Carol McCall.
“I was shocked and disappointed, and I’m afraid of what it means that we had so few people in attendance,” said McCall. “I’m afraid it means that citizens don’t feel like their voices make any difference, because people don’t come to speak unless they feel like they’re really going to be heard.”
Expressing similar concerns, Commissioner John Cooley wondered whether the public kept away “because they don’t expect a lot from us.”
“Is it apathy or just pure despondence?” asked Cooley following the forum, adding that many likely chose not to participate because the budget was “pretty much done” by the time of the forum.
“The rubber is already on the road at this point,” said Cooley.
Less worried about the lack of tax payer input were Commissioners Guy McCook and Joyce McDow. Both agreed that the lack of forum activity was likely down to increased awareness among county residents.
“I think we do a better job of keeping the public informed over a period of time,” said McCook.
McCook added that he thinks the public understands the county’s difficult.
“We are at this point now where there is not much that we can cut without cutting jobs,” said McCook.
“And those kinds of cuts, especially to social services, can lead to lost revenue,” said County Manager Kevin Patterson, explaining that a lack of adequate social services personnel can lead to federal and state fines.
“There are certain requirements on services, that when not met, can lead to fines,” said Patterson.
The commissioners had been working with a proposed budget that included a $1.02 per $100 tax rate until early June, when it learned that Scotland High School’s Pate Stadium would need repair at a cost of approximately $130,000 to the county.
“The fact that the stadium had to be repaired was the straw that broke the camel’s back on that extra penny,” said Chairman Bob Davis.
Agreeing with Davis, Cooley speculated “that had the stadium damage not come along, neither would that extra cent.”
According to McCook, not funding the stadium repair was never a serious consideration.
“Too many in the community depend on that stadium,” said McCook, noting that the funds raised during SHS football games support “many” other athletic programs at the high school as well as the marching band.
“There are a number of other organizations which use that facility as well — it’s a community asset,” said McCook.
The county will move forward with plans to finance the repair of the roof of its Covington street facility, as well as the repair of the roof at Sycamore Lane School. The Sycamore Lane repair represented half of the $260,000 asked for by the school system in its capital outlay requests for the upcoming year. The other $130,000 would go toward repairing the stadium.
In the financing plan, the county will borrow approximately $300,000 over three years to fund the two roof repair projects. The total financing fee is estimated by County Manager Kevin Patterson to be around $15,000 over the life of the loan.
“The Covington Street roof is the largest Swiss cheese roof we have,” said Patterson.
While the roof was in bad shape, Cooley suspects that its repair could have waited another year.
“If the stadium repair had not of been required, I think we would have probably patched the roof and moved trash cans … but since we were raising the extra cent, we decided that we could cause more damage than we can repair if we let the roof go on,” said Cooley.
Cooley, who was the lone dissenter in the budget vote, had a message for the public following the budget’s passage.
“We haven’t gone out there and bought a bunch of Cadillacs with this budget,” said Cooley.
Explaining his “no” vote, Cooley said that he “felt like we could’ve done something more” to avoid raising taxes to $1.03.
“I just didn’t feel like the board this year had what it took to make the cuts,” said Cooley. “But there’s no point in me having a whole lot to say through the process because, obviously, I was by myself.”
Asked about the board’s direction for the upcoming year, Davis pointed to “jobs, jobs and more jobs” as the answer to the county’s current fiscal dilemma.
“Until we’re able to put people back to work, there’s not much we can do,” said Davis.
He added that there are “a few” businesses in negotiations with the county, but that are “not quite ready” to commit yet.