Blount County Still Working to Hash Out Budget

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Maryville, Blount County (WVLT) - Blount County's Budget Committee will recommend a five cent property tax increase.

It will help fund raises for sheriff's deputies and county employees.

But what about the other services you depend on?

Schools are hoping for a windfall from the state in the way it allocates money and some commissioners are looking to cut their budget if that happens.

Tuesday, the Blount County Education Committee approved a request to ask the commission not to cut funding for schools. Blount County Schools are increasing their budget by more than seven million dollars for raises, textbooks, and issues of overcrowded classrooms.

"Includes twelve K-12 regular ed teachers to meet our student/teacher ratio," says Troy Logan, Blount Schools Fiscal Administrator.

A new elementary school and middle school should be complete for the 2008 school year and officials are already working towards preparing for the configuration of a third school.

"These six positions for the ninth grade academy give us a head start in preparing for that," Logan says.

But state funds make up upwards of half of the schools funding and the funding formula is now being changed by the state.

"Until we know what that is, we cannot finalize our budget which also limits what, I think maybe the county commission can do in terms of making decisions," Logan explains.

Some feel state funding will increase.

"I actually am fairly hopeful that we're going to get good news from the state so I don't think a tax increase would be necessary to help the schools," says Commissioner Wendy Pitts Reeves.

The Budget Committee okayed the Highway Department's request for worker raises and new paving equipment, but what's not funded is upgrades to 40 percent of county roads.

Once a country road, residential development has made Morganton Road, for example, a thoroughfare, with 8,000 cars a day and 60 wrecks a year.

For ten years Highway Superintendent Bill Dunlap says he's requested for those upgrades, "So that $23 million in needs in 2000, now you're looking at about $35 million based on inflation."

Dunlap says the wheel tax would have helped fund road upgrades, but voters turned it down last year.

Mayor Jerry Cunningham says he expects the wheel tax to be revived.

He supports it only if it will be an investment in the roads and ends when the funding for grants is complete.

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