A word used often in the ongoing public debate over the budget crisis facing Floyd County is “unreasonable.”
Those who support the school board’s push to obtain up to $2.2 million in funds for the coming fiscal year say the board of supervisors is “unreasonable” to expect the education system to exist on funds that appear, more or less, on a level with the current year but really represent a five percent cut of nearly a million dollars.
And supporters of the supervisors’ desire to hold the line on taxes say the school board is also unreasonable to claim it cannot function effectively on a $20 million budget that eats up two-thirds of county expenditures.
School Superintendent Kevin Harris Monday presented the school board with a list of “alternatives” that he said are necessary to consider in dealing with the funds that supervisors are allocating for the new fiscal year that starts on July 1.
Those “ideas” include elimination of teachers, assistants and other staff not required by the state, cutting athletic programs, sharing of some positions between schools and eliminating art, music and physical education teachers.
Some claim the talk of cuts is more rhetoric than reality and feel school officials can, and will, find a way to reallocate existing funds cover most of the expenses.
The debate, which often descends into name-calling by both sides, stems from a stagnant economy and a $30 million overall budget that is so tight that country administrator Dan Campbell said it best three years ago when he noted that Floyd County, like so many residents in normal life, “lives from paycheck to paycheck and, in our case, those paychecks only come twice a year.”
“Twice a year” is when property taxes are collected from county residents and the local government is so cash-strapped that it must depend on a $1.8 million revolving line of credit to cover times when there isn’t enough money in the bank to meet expenses.
Floyd County’s school bus fleet is so old that much of the rolling stock has more than 200,000 miles. That point was driven home Friday when a bus crashed after something broke in its running gear. Thankfully, no students were on board and the driver was not injured.
But the school system is not alone in dealing with an aging fleet of vehicles. The sheriff’s department, which depends on police cruisers to deal with the county’s growing crime rate, needs at least two new cars this year to replace just part of a fleet where most cars have 150,000 miles or more. The rescue squad and fire department needs new ambulances and tanker trucks.
Many county residents ride the roads on cars, trucks and vans with far more than 100,000 miles on the odometers. More than a few who live and cope with life here face a federal income tax day Tuesday without enough money in the bank to cover what is due. A restaurant owner in Floyd locked her doors earlier this year after falling $15,000 behind in local taxes. Another business owner faced a threat of criminal charges after bouncing a check on state taxes.
Those who support the school system’s efforts to force the county board to raise taxes this year say education comes first, even in a cash-strapped local government. Opponents of increased taxes say claims of a five percent shortfall in funds due to nearly a million dollars in carryover funds from year is smoke and mirrors from an entity that should be able to provide public education on $20 million a year in a rural county.
Others call the battle a clash of egos between a strong-willed school superintendent and an equally-determined chairman of the board of supervisors.
Right now, the majority of supervisors oppose a tax increase and remember that Burks Fork supervisor Diane Belcher and Little River’s Kerry Whitlock lost their bids for re-election in a GOP canvas in 2007 in large part because they voted for a tax increase a year earlier. Former board chairman David Ingram lost his bid for re-election three years ago after he voted for the county’s last tax increase.
Some feel that no matter what happens in this latest debate, it is a battle without winners and one where the losers will be the students who depend on a struggling school system and a cash-strapped county government for an education.