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By Chris Gregory, Managing Editor

Trousdale County’s 2019-20 budget remains a work in progress after the Budget & Finance Committee rejected the school system’s spending plan during hearings last week.

Commissioners met Monday and Friday and had given their approval to other departments’ budget requests. Tax levies had been set at $2.4388 in the county and $0.8753 in the Urban Services District. Both those amounts matched what was set by the state earlier this year and would require no tax increase.

But on Friday, the school budget was the topic of a long and sometimes testy discussion. The School Board had requested $367,078 in new funding in its request to commissioners, which would require raising property taxes by roughly 15 cents.

Courtesy of Trousdale County government

Director of Schools Clint Satterfield told commissioners he was trying to replace a loss in state funding through the Basic Education Program (BEP).

“The Board is asking that everyone be reasonable and just make up the difference we’re losing this year,” Satterfield told commissioners.

County Mayor Stephen Chambers, using a handout from Satterfield, countered that the difference in state funding from 2017-18 to 2019-20 was only $19,000 and that county funding had made up much of the losses in state money.

“The fiscal capacity moves it from the state share to the county’s share,” Chambers said. “That’s how it’s designed to operate. The county share went up $567,000 from two budget years ago.”

Chambers also noted that total county funding for the school system in 2018-19 was just over $2.6 million, rather than the $2.236 million listed in Satterfield’s presentation.

“If you include all local revenue, the local government just by growing is putting in more revenue,” the mayor said. “Looking at our revenue situation, I think we’re looking at an improving situation next year.”

The school system’s fund balance was also a point of discussion between the two sides. As of July 1, that number was $3.922 million but would drop to $2.738 million by June 2020 even with added county funding, according to Satterfield. No extra funding would reduce that number to $2.37 million in 2020.

“Last year we did nothing but take it out of fund balance. This year, you’re saying ‘Take it out of fund balance again…’ I don’t know if that’s responsible,” Satterfield said.

“You’re going to force the school system to run a minimum program, and a minimum program is not what our community desires.”

While noting the increase in county funding, Satterfield also said teacher raises had added $135,488 and insurance costs an additional $300,080 to the schools’ costs over the last two years.

Commissioners ultimately rejected the schools’ request by a 4-1 vote as Jerry Ford, Rachel Jones, Richard Harsh and Bill Fergusson voted to send the school budget back to the board. Bubba Gregory voted to send the request on to the full County Commission but emphasized he did not favor a tax increase.

“Growth next year is stronger right now than it was at this time last year… Next year you’ll get more tax money because you’ll have more base,” said Ford, who chairs the committee. “More homes, more industry.”

“I think we’ll be in a better position next year to address some of these positions,” added commissioner Richard Harsh, who noted large one-time expenditures in the county budget such as landfill cleanup, the Streetscape project and a tanker truck for the Fire Department.

The rejection means the School Board has 10 business days to meet and come up with a new spending plan. A called meeting has been scheduled for Thursday, July 25 at 6 p.m.

“I don’t think Friday night’s meeting was too productive; I didn’t see where anything was accomplished,” Satterfield told The Vidette when asked for comment.

Satterfield declined to comment on what changes might be made to the school budget. A revamped budget will again have to come before the Budget & Finance Committee before going to the full County Commission.

It was unknown at press time when that meeting would take place.

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or cgregory@hartsvillevidette.com.