County passes $434 million budget, no tax increase
By Kerri Bartlett
Commissioner Kathy Danner, District 4
The Williamson County budget season reached its finale Monday morning when the county commission unanimously approved a budget of $434,850,406 million – without raising taxes and with limited discussion on items.
After numerous bumpy rounds of county departmental budgeting, and re-budgeting since the beginning of the year, especially regarding the Williamson County Schools 2013-14 Operational Budget totaling $260 million, most final budget requests rolled smoothly through commissioners’ official vote of approval during the four-hour meeting.
County Mayor Rogers Anderson credited county department heads and committee chairpersons for “conservative” budgeting and “strong leadership” in keeping taxes low and county needs met.
“[They] did a masterful job working through the budget and keeping [property] tax rates the same [$2.31 per $100 of assessed value] with no tax increase,” Anderson said.
Highlights at the meeting included Anderson’s comments about residential growth in Williamson County and the discussion generated by commissioners’ dissenting votes on key issues.
County Mayor Rogers Anderson said that the residential real estate market is booming at the recent county commission meeting. He also praised commissioners and department heads for keeping taxes low.
County residential growth
Anderson addressed the “temperature” of Williamson County by citing the resurgence of the residential real estate market, which is leading to population growth in the county and its schools.
“We’ve had the largest amount of new home permits  since 2006 during the month of June,” Anderson said. He also said that over the last six months 209 residential building permits have been filed compared to only 240 for the full year last year.
Anderson said the growth “will most likely affect individuals, Superintendent Dr. Mike Looney and the Williamson County Schools population.”
“There are also a lot of apartments being built, which has increased [market] activity” Anderson said. “It’s important that we maintain a strong fund balance and a substantial bond rating [currently Moody’s AAA] for high schools being built as well as additional elementary and middle schools that will have to be built.”
“Our future is very strong,” he said.
“I have some concerns that our estimate of a 2.7 percent increase in student population growth might be too conservative,” Looney said at the meeting. “In 2005-06, [when the market was better] as the mayor pointed out, we estimated 7 percent in population growth.”
Fittingly, the largest sum of the county budget – $260 million – resides on the ledgers of the Williamson County Schools district, which makes up just under a third of the county’s full budget.
The commission unanimously approved the 2013-14 WCS operational budget of $260 million with no discussion, along with a Central Cafeteria Fund of about $11 million, $1.8 million for the Extended School Fund and $4 million for capital projects (in maintenance and technology).
New plans introduced, old plans come to fruition
Anderson announced that School Resource Officers for all elementary schools in the county in WCS and FSSD are funded and placed for the 2013-14 school year, a commitment that school and county leaders acted upon earlier this year following the Sandy Hook incident.
Also, the commission approved the funding of design plans for about $650,000 for a senior center and community arts center, including a community theater, on the grounds of the previous Battle Ground Academy property on Columbia Avenue.
Danner says ‘no’ to capital projects, non-profits
Kathy Danner, District 4, voted against the funding of WCS capital projects – the lone dissenting vote among commissioners. She expressed concerns about what she believes her vote would represent – Common Core State Standards and the PARCC assessments that will accompany the standards for school children.
“I can’t support direct funding of Common Core, which is a federally run program,” Danner said. “The presidential administration holds all the sticks and carrots. Congress didn’t vote on it. It’s education without representation.”
The state adopted the Common Core standards in 2010. Williamson County Schools will fully implement Common Core – a hot-button issue for some – by 2015.
“I don’t blame [Tennessee government leaders] for adopting the standards,” Danner continued. “When you are 46th in the nation in education, you are desperate. The intent behind it was good. I appreciate that it’s a state mandate and that there’s nothing that parents and educators can do, but Common Core is not the best thing for Tennessee. I just want to be heard that I cannot support this.”
Common Core is a set of expectations that students should know at each grade level in reading and math – knowledge that will be assessed by the online PARCC test which requires additional computers in WCS to accommodate students.
In addition, Danner pointed out that she disagreed with allotting money for new WCS capital projects when capital projects from previous years have not been completed.
Danner also voted against an appropriation that will allot money to nonprofit organizations in the community including volunteer fire, senior centers, mental health, foster child, Boys and Girls Club, Crime Stoppers, and GraceWorks.
“I have nothing against these institutions, but until we can come up with nonprofit guidelines on why some are included and some are not, I cannot support it,” she said.
However, the funding resolution for nonprofits was ultimately approved by the full commission.
Commissioners disagree on tax information insert
A resolution that would allow the county to place an insert in property tax bills mailed to property owners outlining the top three county expenditures by way of a pie graph was the only resolution that failed (16 against and 7 for). Commissioners disagreed on the way that the information would be presented in the insert.
Commissioner Brandon Ryan, District 11, proposed the resolution.
“I am disappointed that it didn’t pass,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that this has become a politicized issue. It’s true intent is to educate taxpayers. People have a right to know where the money is going.”
Some argue that the insert highlights that the county’s second highest expense is dedicated to paying off the county’s debt. “I think that people would be surprised that the county’s debt service is the second highest expense,” said Debbie Deaver, a concerned citizen of Brentwood who attended the meeting.
Several commissioners suggested that more complete information could be placed online for citizens to access.
“Breaking up the budget as a pie graph can be cloudy because tax dollars from people in different cities in the county go toward different things,” Commissioner Mary Brockman, District 9, said.
“We are not a hidden government,” Commissioner Judy Hayes, District 3, said. “I certainly want to be transparent and support making government more so. However, I am concerned about how all of this valuable information can go into one insert.”
Posted on: 7/8/2013