Floyd County Supervisors vote formally Tuesday night on a public hearing date on a fiscal 2015 $30.7 million dollar budget that keeps current tax levels the same and does not come close to giving the school system the close to $1 million in extra funding it says is needed to avoid layoffs and reductions in programs.
The real battle of the budget effectively ended at the board’s first meeting this month when supervisors decided by consensus to not raise taxes and notified county treasurer Missy Keith to prepare tax bills for June that reflect no increase in rates for real estate owners.
Keith had to know no later than April 18 to meet a deadline for getting the bills out. Once the board makes a decision to not raise taxes, it cannot reverse that decision at a later date. Had Supervisors decided to raise rates, they could have lowered them in future actions.
The decision to keep tax rates the same and give the school an increase of about $170,000 over current levels of county funding for education has brought sharp rhetoric from superintendent Kevin Harris, who says the decision really means a reduction of more than $900,000 in funding from last year because the current year’s budget included that much in carryover funds that aren’t available next year.
The county wiped out its reserve fund for next year to grant the increase in school funding and pay for other items like an employee retention fund for the Sheriff’s Department, a part-time assistant prosecutor for the Commonweath’s Attorney, a new ambulance for the rescue squad and the first of two new tankers for the fire department.
The issue has generated lots of interest and debate in the county between those who say a tax increase, however painful in tough economic times, is necessary to assure a quality school system and others who say the schools, whose $20.4 million in funding account for three-quarters of the county budget, has enough funds to operate.
Harris has presented a list of options to the school board that includes using reserve funds from the teacher retirement system, reduction of some programs, including 8th grade athletics, and elimination of some teaching and assistant positions that will lead to larger class sizes.
The issue has brought charges from opponents who say the school system is increasingly comprised of teachers and administrators who live outside the county, including superintendent Harris, and criticism of what is called “wasteful” spending, including $85,000 for a football field irrigation system.
Supervisors say the decision to hold taxes to current levels was sparked by reassessments of property currently under way and the hardship of many county residents who must work more than one job to cover current expenses and who still struggle. Taxes, they say, will most likely increase next year.
School officials point to a student transportation system with buses that have 100,000 to 200,000 miles on them, a crumbling infrastructure in a system where the newest school is more than a half-century old and a loss of qualified teachers to other systems that pay better and offer more benefits.
It is a continuing public debate with much anger, many negatives and few positives. In the end, few — if any — will be satisfied with the outcome.