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Some Washington Co. commissioners balk at tax hikes for teacher pensions

January 21, 2012|By HEATHER KEELS | heather.keels@herald-mail.com

Washington County officials say they are unsure where the county would find an extra $2.5 million if the state goes through with a plan to shift teacher pension costs to local jurisdictions, but they have a good idea where the money will not come from.

“We certainly do not want to raise taxes,” Commissioner Ruth Anne Callaham said. “I cannot emphasize that enough.”

Commissioners Jeffrey A. Cline, William B. McKinley and Terry Baker echoed that sentiment.

“As with any added expense, you either find a place to cut, or you raise taxes,” McKinley said. “I am certainly not in favor of raising taxes.”

As to whether the commissioners will expect the Washington County Board of Education to cut its own budget to cover the added expense or if the funds will come from elsewhere in the county budget, the commissioners said the county and school board would take a collaborative approach.

“We’re all in this together, and we’ve got to be looking out for the benefit of the citizens in Washington County,” Cline said.

“It’s going to be a combination of the board of education and the county working together,” Baker said.

“I know and believe that the school board will do the best they can to look at their budget to see if they can help with this,” McKinley said. “I certainly expect them to take a look and see how much they can help.”

Callaham also spoke of a collaborative effort, and said she would look to Debra Murray, the county’s director of budget and finance, for guidance on options for covering the passed-down costs.

Murray said her office will need to evaluate final revenue projections and budget requests before providing that guidance.

The county still is waiting to learn final state assessment values and income tax projections, she said. Property tax and income tax are the county’s two largest revenue sources.

Murray said the estimated $2.5 million cost to Washington County would put a real strain on the budget.

“It will be very difficult for the county to absorb that kind of number because we will not have that kind of revenue increase,” she said.

“It’s going to be very painful to the county’s budget,” Baker agreed.

Commissioner John F. Barr did not return a call seeking comment for this story.

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