The Wilson County Budget Committee voted to not send a funding recommendation to the full commission at the committee’s meeting Monday night.
The committee, instead, only approved the budget as requested from all county departments. That did not include the $107 million needed for the new high school in Mt. Juliet, known as Green Hill High School.
“I think this matter needs to go before the whole board and everyone can have their ideas and comments at the meeting,” said Budget Committee chair Mike Justice.
The commission will take up the issue of the funding for the new school at its next meeting Aug. 20 in commission chambers at the Wilson County Courthouse.
Before the budget vote, Commissioner Jerry McFarland wanted to stop projects and come up with a master plan of countywide projects and how to fund them. The other members of the committee did not make a motion to do that.
“The school system has a long-term plan, and they’ve had it for years,” Justice told McFarland.
Wilson Count Mayor Randall Hutto said, “So far, we’ve funded as we go, and we haven’t missed any payment that I know of.”
McFarland said the county is $474 million in debt, and there’s going to be another $800 million, and that doesn’t include schools. We need a plan.”
Hutto said, “The percent of debt [the county] has today is 1.5 percent more than it was in 2010. As you grow, your debt is going to grow. As far as that $800 million, they’ve proposed that for years. I have three budgets on my desk right now [that have that request]. We only build as the population comes. If they don’t come, we won’t build.”
Commissioner Gary Keith made a motion to pay for the school and new jail that needs to be built in one financial move. No one seconded his motion, so the measure died for lack of a second.
“If we wait two or three months, we’ll have the figures [for the jail],” he said, noting he wanted to finance both at the same time. “I’m not asking [to delay the funding of the school]. I want to do it as fast we can. I think we can [get the construction figures for the jail] within three to six months. We need to do that [and combine the project funding].”
The measure to have a revenue stream for the two projects would have to be voted on by the public in a referendum.
“If we have a referendum, that will just kill the whole project,” Keith said.
Justice said he would “hate that his five-person committee to kill the funding for this school.”
McFarland said, “no one wants to kill it. We need a plan to do this with a revenue stream. We don’t have a plan.”
Hutto said since the Budget Committee passed on tackling the funding for the new school, the commission would have to deal with it.
They have three options, he said. First, is to take $1 million out of the general fund and $500,000 from the special-purpose school tax fund. That amount would make a bond payment for the first year.
The second option was to take the $1 million out of the general fund, not taking money from the special-purpose school tax fund and raise the adequate facilities tax $287. The adequate facilities tax is paid to the county from builders. Currently, the tax is $3,000 per home.
The third option, which would include not taking the $1 million out of the general fund budget and not taking money out of the special-purpose school tax fund. The answer would be raising the adequate facilities tax $890.
“We’ve looked at this for a very long time,” Hutto said. “There are people for the school and people against the school. That will be decided by the 25 people who sit [on the county commission]. What we spent time doing is what we always try to do. And that is to meet the needs of every department. We have $2 million surplus in the general fund and have had for three years.”
He said by using $1 million from the general fund and $500,000 from the special-purpose school tax, the school could be funded without a tax increase.
“There’s no question in my mind that if we wait a while, we’ll lose the money we’ve accumulated right here,” he said. “We’ll have to resend it our for bids, and that will go up. Interest rates will go up, and the prices will go up. I don’t want to cost the taxpayer when we have money in the bank to build the school now.”
In addition to passing the county’s budget as submitted, the Budget Committee also voted to keep the county property tax rate at $2.5189 per $100 of assessed value.