Commissioners say they'll hold firm on tax hike

May 16, 1997


Staff Writer

Comments at a public hearing didn't change the Washington County Commissioners' plans for a $3.1 million property and income tax increase, but they said Thursday they would consider giving more money to the Washington County Board of Education.

Many speakers at the Wednesday night public hearing advocated more money for education and higher tax increases.

"There won't be any tax increase other than what we presented there," said Commissioner R. Lee Downey.

"I really don't see it going any higher," said Commissioners' President Gregory I. Snook.

Downey and Commissioner Ronald L. Bowers said education should get more money.

"I think we're going to have to in some way or some fashion come up with more money for education," Downey said.


The commissioners' proposed budget includes $49.1 million for the school board's operating budget, which is a $1.9 million increase over this year's funding level.

Bowers, who voted against the tax increase, said the commissioners should increase school funding by $3.4 million instead of the proposed $1.9 million.

"If Ron can show it to me then I'd be willing to take a look at it," Snook said.

"I think the commissioners will sit down and see what we can do," said Commissioner James R. Wade.

"I'd like to give them more but we've got to work with what we've got," said Commissioner John S. Shank.

Bowers said he would consider voting for some tax increase if the money were to be used for education. More money must go into education to attract high-wage jobs to the community, he said.

"I hear what the people who testified last night were saying loud and clear. The lion's share should be going into the educational system."

He also criticized the budget.

"It is a don't do as I do, but do as I say budget," he said.

Bowers criticized giving county employees two pay raises in a year and hiring new employees while telling the Board of Education and others to cut back.

Bowers said the county had too many employees and said the budget process was geared to a tax increase from the start. He said the $7.8 million, 8.5 percent increase in the county operating budget was too high.

Bowers said other revenue sources, including projected budget surpluses, should be tapped. He advocated cutting capital projects.

Wade said he understood the passionate pleas for more education money but said providing it wasn't so simple.

"It's not a question of do we think they need more, it's just a matter of can the community afford it. To allege that we don't care is grossly inaccurate."

"If we didn't care we wouldn't give them anything, we'd just give them maintenance of effort," Shank said.

Shank said he hadn't thought about what position he would take on education funding and the tax increases and probably wouldn't until the commissioners meet again on Tuesday.

Shank said he wondered why the school board wanted $8 million more when they've been able to get by with much smaller increases in the past.

"They didn't show me a lot of new things that we haven't heard the year before and the year before and the year before," he said.

Shank also said he wasn't convinced that low salaries were hampering recruitment of quality teachers. "There is certain subjects that they have trouble finding teachers in. They always have, they always will."

Shank and Bowers said if salaries are raised, classified employees should receive the same increase and senior teachers at the top of the pay scale also should get pay hikes.

As he has earlier, Wade said that if it weren't for the $3.7 million to cover losses at the Water and Sewer Department, a tax increase wouldn't be needed.

Bowers said the commissioners should work to cut the water and sewer subsidy by consolidating the seven-member water and sewer finance department with county billing operations and by laying more sewer lines to increase the customer base.

Downey and Snook said they didn't expect the commissioners would lower the subsidy, because that would mean higher rates for customers.

Wade said he didn't buy the argument from some at the public hearing that paying less for education now would mean paying more for prisons later. Wade said most of the inmates at the county jail come from out of town.

"I don't believe that spending on education will result in fewer people in jail," he said. "You've got to have parents (and others) to take care of you. Education is not going to take the place of that parent or church."

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