Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Budget talks focus on roads, schools

A preliminary Knox County budget discussion on Tuesday focused mostly on paving roads and building schools.

The Knox County Commission during its monthly luncheon spent about 30 minutes with county and school leaders talking finances – or the lack thereof – and whether officials should tweak Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett's proposed spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year.

At this point, officials have said privately that they don't expect any major changes without a tax increase, and they don't expect that.

Further, if the commission did raise taxes, Burchett has promised to veto the move.

In the meantime, commission Chairman Brad Anders said the county needs to invest more into paving and sealing roads. He said the county is on pace to resurface about 30 miles of the county's 2,000 miles of roads per year.

"We're one of the fastest growing counties in the state . . . and we can't continue a 30-mile a year pace – it's not feasible," he said. "It's not even changing the oil in the car."

Burchett's budget this year sets aside $2 million for paving – up $1 million from the current budget. The county spends about $100,000 per mile to seal and resurface.

County leaders on Tuesday also met with Knox County Schools Assistant Superintendent Bob Thomas, asking him whether the board of education has looked into rezoning school districts instead of building new schools.

The questions come as the BOE proposed building three new schools – something Burchett declined to do, saying he wouldn't take on new debt to pay for the construction.

Thomas told commissioners that rezoning "is a pretty complicated process" that requires community meetings, and that it would take at least a year to find a solution. He said school leaders aren't opposed to the discussion, but wouldn't be able to finish it before the commission voted on the budget.

He also noted a recent study that looked into rezoning suggested that schools in the west would still be overcrowded.

Thomas noted that in the next half decade about $5.3 million in debt will drop off and the school system could apply those monies to new debt to build at least two schools – a middle school in the Hardin Valley area and an elementary school in the north central part of the county.

However, he conceded that not enough debt would fall off that the school system could use money to cover the operating expenses, which could cost as much as $3 million per school.

Overall, Burchett's spending plan, unveiled earlier this month, stands at $747.2 million. That's up about $20.2 million with half the increase dedicated to the school system.

Of that, some $435 million is set aside for general purposes schools, which is roughly $14 million in new revenues for the system. However, the school system asked for $441.5 million, an amount above and beyond projected revenues.

The commission will vote on the budget on June 15. A public hearing will be held a week prior but officials have not yet ironed out the date.

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