As reported here, I recently attended a public hearing on the budget at a Roane County Commission meeting. Though the meeting did not start until 6:30, the place was packed by 6:00. Two courtrooms were full to capacity as was the long, wide hallway where I spent most of my time.
At issue was a substantial request from the Roane County school system. In recent months, there had been reports that they would ask for as much as a 24 cent increase in the property tax rate. That amount was eventually reduced to 14 cents.
In speaking with various county officials, I gathered that the schools had been very generous in previous years with raises and capital spending, the latter of which I understand was largely funded by monies received from the TVA ash spill settlement.
While waiting my turn to speak, I talked outside with many of the residents who supported the tax increase. I was disheartened to learn that many were there primarily because a threat had been made to close a school that was recently built/remodeled.
Unfortunately, as is often the case, citizens are caught in the middle and are only privy to one side of the story. As I explained to some of them and the audience inside, the schools, NOT the commission (or in our case council), decide what to cut and what to keep. Rather than cut expenditures that have little impact on the actual business of education, school boards tend to put things on the chopping block that will hurt the most and thus draw the ire of the citizenry.
Ron Woody is a CPA and former president of the TN Association of School Business Officials who has warned the schools repeatedly to take more responsible measures with the taxpayer’s money. I support his position to hold the line. My complete statement to commission made during the public hearing is as follows:
June 24, 2013 Roane County Commission Statement
My name is Trina Baughn and I live in the Roane County portion of Oak Ridge. I am a member of the Oak Ridge City Council, a Roane County taxpayer and my children attend Oak Ridge Schools which receive partial funding from Roane County. I am here tonight to voice my opposition to any possible tax increase that you may be considering.
Speaking as a parent, I want to say that I truly value all of our schools, teachers and staff. However, fewer students means fewer needed funds. If you’ve experienced a drop in enrollment, it is nothing short of irresponsible to increase spending.
Speaking as a taxpayer, since 2008, households all over the country have had to make due with less. Recently, my household has had to adjust to a 9% involuntary reduction in take home pay. The money you spend is not yours. If I can make due with less, so can you.
Finally, I will speak as a fellow elected official: In Oak Ridge, we held our property tax rate flat again for at least the 5th year in a row. Anderson County actually found room to slightly reduce theirs. Government can no longer default to burdening the taxpayer to solve all of its problems. They (we) are tapped out.
You have both an opportunity and an obligation to operate more efficiently with existing funds. I urge each of you and your school board to roll up your sleeves and personally commit to finding solutions that don’t take more money out of our pockets.