County Commission Adopts New Budgets and Tax Increase, Rejects School Board Plan

August 8, 2011
Dwayne Page

DeKalb County property owners will have to ante up a little more when their tax bill comes due this fall.

The county commission Monday night, by a vote of 12-2, increased the overall property tax rate to $1.62 cents per $100 of assessed value, as recommended by the budget committee. That's almost a ten cent increase above the new certified tax rate of $1.5214 set by the state after reappraisal this year. A nickel of the tax hike will go to schools and the other five cents will be for the county general fund. County commissioners Jimmy Poss and Jerry Adcock voted against the ten cent tax increase.

Supporters, including a large group of educators, showed up during a public hearing prior to the special meeting to back the school board's request for a bigger tax hike for schools. Several members of the audience addressed the county mayor and commissioners asking them to do more for education. But their pleas failed to win over any support for the plan as the commission unanimously rejected the school board's proposal and instead adopted a plan put forth by the budget committee, which gives schools more money, but not as much as the board of education had sought.


By a vote of 14 to 0, the county commission turned thumbs down on the school board's request for passage of a revised budget which County Mayor Mike Foster said included an 11.54 cent tax hike for schools and an additional $169,000 in funding from the sales tax/sinking fund. Four members of the commission, Marshall Ferrell, Bradley Hendrix, Jimmy Poss, and Jack Barton declared that while they had a conflict, they were representing their constituents and voting their conscience on the school budget. Ferrell, Hendrix, and Poss work for the school system and Barton's wife is a teacher. The school board wanted the extra money from the proposed tax increase to fund some new positions in the school system without having to dip deeper in reserve funds to pay for them..

Instead, the county commission voted 13-1 to adopt the consolidated budget, as recommended by the budget committee which includes an overall ten cent tax increase. Seventh district commissioner Jimmy Poss voted against it. The five cent increase for schools equates to about $210,000 which is expected to be enough to cover pay raises for school personnel.

Among those speaking in support of the school board's request for more money during the public hearing was Mandy Dakas, a teacher at Northside Elementary School. "As a teacher and mother, I definitely have a vested interest in the welfare of our school system. We are and have always been a county that cares about our children. But we only care as far as giving the minimum amount to get by. My whole life I have heard of how proud we are to have such low property taxes, but I can tell you that mentality has made the children and youth of our county suffer over and over again, decade after decade. I hear of statements such as, "I've never had a child in this school system. Why should I have to pay for it?". And all I can think is...You may have never needed the service of the fire department or police department, but your taxes pay those services. And I'll bet you will be praying that they are certified and know what they're doing if and when you need their service. The fact is...the education of our children will directly impact the future workforce and economy of DeKalb County," said Dakas

"So whether it's a property tax increase or a wheel tax or something else, we need to work together as a county and put education at the forefront of everything we do. There is no project more important! So please know that this is not a "we versus them" type of statement. Everyone knows that these are hard times for many people and that tough decisions have to be made. Just please understand that when there are state and federal mandates that require each local education agency to enforce certain teaching methods or observations, and we are not funded in such a way to meet those needs, then we are defeated before we even begin,' said Dakas

In addition to Dakas, others addressing the county commission and county mayor in support of schools during the public hearing were Lindy Jenkins, John Pryor, Beth Gill, Leah Ingram, Jordan Wilkins, David Graham, Danny Parkerson, Luke Willoughby, James Hale, George Sperry, and Jamie Cantrell. Director of Schools Mark Willoughby also made one last request for approval of the school board's revised budget.

Former sixth district county commissioner Danny McGinnis, who claimed he was speaking for the concerned taxpayers, said now is not the time to be raising taxes. "I'm here tonight for the concerned taxpayers of the county. Look at your town. Our town. How many businesses has left?. All your ideas (school board) are very good. But this is not the time for a tax raise. With people losing their homes, losing jobs, losing businesses, the county commission does not have the taxes coming in to give you all what you want. I'm speaking for the concerned taxpayers, the ones who are on a fixed income. When you raise their taxes, what are they going to do? They might lose their homes because they can't pay the taxes. Their social security is not going up. Look how many homes around DeKalb County are for sale. What's that the cause of? Economic slowdown," said McGinnis.

Under its revised budget plan, the school board had proposed to add a new fifth grade teaching position at Northside Elementary School (which will be funded); an additional math teacher at DeKalb County High School; an assistant band teacher; a support staff site coordinator at DCHS; a special education teacher at DCHS; and three new assistant principals (one at each DeKalb West, Northside Elementary, and Smithville Elementary School. The budget also sought to add local funding back to the general fund for three teaching positions and an educational assistant, which for the last two years have been paid for with federal stimulus or American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds that have now been exhausted. Positions which were originally proposed but later dropped from the budget were a new physical education teacher at Northside Elementary School; an instructional coach; and two assistant soccer coaches.

Director of Schools Mark Willoughby told WJLE Monday night that even though the school board's proposed revised budget was rejected by the county commission, some of these positions may still be filled using reserve funds this year.

Under the consolidated budget adopted by the county commission, certified and non-certified school employees will get a pay raise. The spending plan includes a 3.2% increase for support staff or non-certified personnel and a 1.6% local increase to match the state's 1.6% pay hike for certified personnel (teachers).

Prior to the vote, Chuck Cagle of the Tennessee School Boards Association, who represents the DeKalb County Board of Education as legal counsel, asked the county commission to fully fund the school board's request. "We are now facing in education things that we've never had to face before and things about which we have very little control like the state diploma project which was adopted by the state board of education about two years ago but there was no state appropriation to go with it. The cost of that is significant. That proposal added a requirement for math and science and we now find ourselves trying to meet that requirement in order that the high school seniors in this county can meet the minimum graduation requirements of schools," said Cagle.

"Next I want to get to the evaluation system that's been adopted by the state. Every school principal in your district has just watched the evaluations that he or she must perform increase by ten times. Prior to this evaluation system we evaluated tenured teachers twice in ten years and we evaluated probationary teachers for the first three years until they were eligible for tenure. Now, every teacher in DeKalb County schools will be evaluated annually, tenured teachers four times a year and probationary teachers six times a year. There is absolutely no way to accomplish that with the current staff that you have. This proposal (school board budget) calls for the appointment of assistant principals and those folks are vital to accomplishing the rules and regulations along with the goals that the state has sent down in it's evaluation plan. It's not optional, you have to get it done," said Cagle

"The cost of fuel has gone up significantly and the cost of utilities and textbooks is going up as we speak. We're also faced with testing requirements and graduation requirements under No Child Left Behind and training students who don't have proficiency in the English Language. Our drop out rate is always a concern. None of this gets any cheaper from year to year," according to Cagle

"As a percentage of the budget over the past ten years or so, DeKalb County schools takes less and less in property taxes. It may take half the sales tax but that's by statute. The Tennessee Code says that 50% of all sales tax collected has to go to the education enterprise. But their share of the county property tax continues to decline. Yet we are faced with a continuing escalation in all of our charges. For many years and several years in a row, we've balanced the school system's budget using their reserve account. Balancing their budget using the savings account. The budget you have before you is not a Christmas tree. It's not filled full of ornaments. They have asked for the basics. The budget that the DeKalb County Board of Education has presented to you is reasonable. Yes, it restores some of that property tax funding that they have lost over the years. It pays for some things the state has mandated and it gives children in this district an educational opportunity to which they deserve," said Cagle.

County Mayor Mike Foster, prior to the vote on the consolidated budget, explained to the county commission why the budget committee felt a need to recommend a tax increase, yet not go along with the school board's request."With much discussion, the budget committee found it necessary and advisable to call for an increase in the property tax levy. The tax levy resolution and the consolidated budget document increases the property tax levy to $1.62 per $100 of assessed value and reflects a 9.86 cent increase from the equalized rate of $1.5214 cents and was only considered after making projections and considering long term financial stability. The driving force behind the increase was anticipated future requirements in meeting the school maintenance of effort as well as meeting the local match portion for the state's BEP funding formula," said Foster.

"The consolidated 2012 budget document changes the school board's approved general purpose school funds budget only by lowering the amount of local revenues requested by the school board, which was above what the budget committee deemed necessary. Although the budget committee submitted a tax rate resolution which increases the tax levy for the general purpose school fund by five cents on an equalized basis of seven cents when compared to the prior year. The budget committee believes that expenditures in the general purpose school fund budget which has been approved by the school board cannot be sustained over a long term basis unless the board of education takes immediate steps to correct deficiencies. The budget committee made no effort in trying to identify expenditure cuts which should be the responsibility of the school board and believe that non recurring revenues are being used for recurring expenses," continued Foster.

In addition to addressing the school spending plan, County Mayor Foster said the consolidated budget also includes a five cent increase for the county general fund. "The consolidated budget document also increases the levy for the general fund by five cents. A pay scale system was presented by the sheriff and implemented into the budget in order to maintain qualified law enforcement personnel with longevity pay for the sheriff's department being cut out. Pay raises for county employees are budgeted at $1,000 per year with spending cuts being made by office holders in order to offset some of the additional expenses. Increases in utilities, worker comp, liability insurance are included with particular emphasis on utilities which is a best estimate due to the anticipated occupation of the new county administration building. Although the budget projects a decline in cash fund balances for the general fund, the budget committee does not believe the decline will be as steep as presented. The largest outlays are unknown such as ambulance service revenues and expenditures as well as declines in revenues due to the recession but the budget committee is confident that actions taken in prior budget years have been successful and will carry the county through the current economic downturn and projects fund stability within two budget cycles. The budget committee recommends approval of the consolidated budget and rejection of the school budget as approved for the general purpose school fund," said Foster

The new property tax rate as adopted by the county commission breaks down as follows:
County General: 83 cents
Highway/Public Works: 3 cents
General Capital Projects- 9 cents
Debt Service-12 cents
General Purpose Schools- 55 cents

The solid waste fund does not receive any property tax money. The fund is supported by revenues derived from payment-in-lieu of taxes, local option sale taxes, hotel-motel tax, bank excise tax and wholesale beer tax, etc. Up until two years ago, the solid waste fund was supported by a portion of the property tax rate. Since then the tax rate previously designated for solid waste, 20 cents, has been added to the general fund.

One cent of the tax rate generates $42,389 in local money with a 5.85% delinquency rate figured into the equation.

The new budget includes a new four tiered salary pay scale for employees of the DeKalb County Sheriff's Department to bring their salaries more in line with other law enforcement agencies in the area. All other full time county employees are budgeted a $1,000 pay raise for the year, which equates to about a 50 cent per hour increase.

Last year, the county budgeted money to fund an animal control officer but that position was not filled. This year funds for that position, $25,000, will be re-allocated to fund a director position at the new county administrative office complex still under construction on South Congress Boulevard. Four county officials from the courthouse, the Register of Deeds, Assessor of Property, Trustee, and County Clerk and their staffs are scheduled to move to their new offices in the old Town and Country Shopping Center location on Thursday, August 18.

The costs to the county for the new administrative building including purchase price and renovation expense is expected to be $3.2 million unless other change orders or add-ons are required before the entire project is finished. The re-payment schedule on the five million dollars borrowed to pay off previous obligations and to purchase and renovate this building is for fifteen years at a locked in rate of three percent. Yearly payments are to be $409,000 compared to $469,000 under the previous six year debt repayment schedule at 5.8%. The county is scheduled to receive $50,000 a year in rental payments from tenants in a portion of the building, including UCHRA. General fund utilities expense for county buildings combined is budgeted to go from $75,000 last year to $150,000 in the new budget. County Mayor Foster said about $50,000 of the increase for utilities is due to the new administrative building.

Three cents of the property tax rate, $127,169 helps support the county highway department along with a mineral severance tax, $25,000, Other than that, Foster said all of the county road department's budget is funded by state allocations, mostly state gas tax revenues

The budget again provides local property tax relief of up to $50 for those who qualify for the state property tax relief program.

Capital projects fund expenses include:

"Motor Vehicles" Ambulance-$80,000 (to re-do an existing ambulance, placing a new chassis with an old box remount)

"Furniture and fixtures" (shopping center building)-$150,000 (carry-over expense from last year)

"Motor vehicles" category for patrol cars and or fire truck- $80,000 (money allocated for any emergency vehicle needed during the year)

"Law enforcement equipment" fire department- $31,000 (carry-over expense from last year to be used to purchase an older model equipment truck for the county fire department)

County Fire Chief Donny Green's request for $180,000 to purchase a new fire pumper to replace the Midway engine which is a 1979 model will not be met for now. The truck has not been included in the budget. But in addition to an older model equipment truck, the department may also get to fund replacement of a portion of turnout gear and breathing cylinders.

"Other construction" is caution lights- $30,000 (to purchase and install caution lights at the intersection of State Highway 83 and U.S. 70 near Kilgore's Restaurant)

"Building Construction" Administration Building- $1,300,000 (carry over-expense from last year- About $700,000 to $800,000 left to be spent from remaining borrowed funds to finish rehab construction work on county administrative building)

"Solid Waste Equipment"- $145,000 (to purchase roll back garbage truck)

"Other construction" for various projects-$18,000 (for roof repairs to Omega Apparel building and for work to be done to 911 building)
Total: $1,834,000

A total of $183,053 in gifts and contributions to local libraries, which have been previously kept in a bank account, must now be accounted for as a line item in the county general budget for libraries by recommendation of state auditors.

The county commission also Monday night adopted a resolution making appropriations of $133,243 to the following non-profit organizations:

DeKalb Sparks Softball- $150
Upper Cumberland Development District- $3,411
Tennessee Division of Forestry-$1,500
DeKalb County Rescue Squad- $11,500
Plateau Mental Health-$7,180
Families First-$750
Senior Citizens Program-$26,325
DeKalb Soil Conservation District-$29,281
DeKalb County Chamber of Commerce-$15,000
Imagination Library- $7,200
Genesis House- $1,500
DeKalb County Fair- $1,500
WCTE-TV- $5,000
Prospect Incorporated-$12,500
Upper Cumberland Human Resources-$1,200
UCHRA Assessment-Homemaker Aide, etc-$9,245

Dues and memberships:
Upper Cumberland Tourism Association- $300
Tennessee County Services Association- $1,223
Tennessee County Officials Association- $1,985
Tennessee County Sheriff's Association- $1,500
Tennessee County Commissioners Association- $1,350
Upper Cumberland Development District- $3,000
Association of Tennessee Valley Governments- $400
Total dues and memberships- $9,758

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