County Budget To Rise By $11.8 Million, County Schools By $8 Million Without Tax Increase

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The county will not have a property tax increase this year - marking the 10th year without a tax hike,  County Mayor Jim Coppinger said Tuesday morning.

The county budget is up $11.8 million to $691,498 through natural growth.

The county schools will get over $8 million in new funds, but not the more than $24 million it had requested for priorities.

County Mayor Coppinger said he does feel the county schools are "underfunded." He said the county will work with the schools to find efficiencies in school operations. He said, "I believe we can fix teachers' pay. We need to do that in order to stay competitive."

For the county schools, it is the 12th consecutive year without a tax increase.

County funding for education goes from $417.7 million to $425.7 million.

It will be necessary to use $439,000 in fund  balance to make the county school budget balance.

General fund spending goes from $218.8 million to $222.7 million.

The general fund includes 32 additional full-time employees.

There will be a 1.5 percent employee salary increase costing $1.6 million. No one will receive less than $750.

There is no increase in employee health insurance costs.

The budget includes $313,000 to set up an independent Mental Health Court. It has operated out of the Public Defender's Office for two years. Officials say it will save money by reducing jail costs.

The budget includes $522,000 in Drug Court costs, including benefits for three employees. A large portion of that is a pass-through grant.

General Sessions Court is up $228,000 due to having to pay Judge David Bales, who is on medical disability, and his replacement.

The sheriff's budget goes from $33.4 million to $35.2 million, though over $3 million was cut from the request. Increases include $1.2 million at the jail, $639,000 for SROs and $102,000 for patrol.

There will be 16 new jailers and six more School Resource Officers.

Public works is up from $22.9 million to $24.7 million.

General services goes from $39.6 million to $40.8 million.

The county auditor's budget is going down $136,000 while cutting a position, while the county attorney's spending is up $97,000 as a new position is added.

Costs for corrections is up by $722,000. Emergency medical services rises by $456,000 and Ross's Landing Park & Plaza goes up $142,000. The cost to house inmates is $28.6 million (13 percent of the total general fund budget).

Health Department spending is down $240,000. One reason was moving an employee to the grants department of county government.

The budget includes $3.5 million for capital projects, though the requests totaled over $13.4 million. It includes over $1 million for the sheriff, $950,000 for EMS, $327,000 for emergency management, $330,000 for IT hardware and $119,000 to lease 20 vehicles.

The county fund balance will remain at about the same level - over $90 million.

The debt service payment is down almost $1 million due to paying down debt. Bonds outstanding include $62.9 million general improvement and $157.6 million for schools. A line of credit outstanding is $55 million.

Scheduled bond payments include $33.6 million for FY 2018 and $32.5 million for FY 2019.

The budget does not include an open data portal that the county had considered implementing.

The budget will also be discussed at the regular meeting of the County Commission on Wednesday at 9:30 a.m.

Officials said the budget will be posted on the county's website by Tuesday night.

"We're extremely disappointed that the mayor didn't take leadership in prioritizing funding for our schools,” says Jonas Barriere, executive director of UnifiEd. “UnifiEd consistently hears from community members that Hamilton County is ready to invest in education.  County Mayor Coppinger's proposed budget says to us that he didn't listen to the voters who we know have written and called him in recent weeks to express support for increased funding." 

UnifiEd verifies that more than 500 people per month have contacted the county mayor and commission in support of increased school funding since the launch of its “Fund Hamilton County’s Future” campaign. 

UnifiEd calls on the county commission to work with the county mayor to revise, and then vote to adopt, a budget that prioritizes education spending.  UnifiEd officials said voters and constituents are called to take action in support of increased funding by contacting their county commissioner before their budget vote (slated for June 21). UnifiEd’s website has tools community members can use to find out who their commissioner is and get their full contact information.

Community members can also attend one of an ongoing series of “EdTalks” events to learn more about school funding issues. These talks are small group discussions facilitated by UnifiEd organizers that seek to share information about school funding and be an exchange of perspectives about what is important to the community regarding public education. The full EdTalks schedule is available on UnifiEd’s website.


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