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Commission votes 13-12 for tax hike

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"The education of our children should be the first priority," she said.

West Middle School Principal Wendell Marlowe, a former county commissioner, talked about the salary and budget increases in various departments, including a 51 percent increase in the salary of the county finance director, and a 66.9 percent increase in the jail wages budget, 20 percent-plus increases in salaries of road department and landfill administrators.

He then asked, "Was all that necessary? Absolutely. Those improvements had to be made." Marlowe added that as a member of the court at the time some of the raises were sought, he voted for them.

But those increases have been absorbed into the budget, Marlowe added. If the increases in the school budget had been absorbed instead, the county would now be raising taxes for law enforcement instead of education.

"Why does the school system continue to be tied to the whipping post?" he questioned. "When will the school system be treated the same as other departments in the county?"

A Mt. Juliet sixth grader named Sessie Schmidt tried to tell the commission how important sports were to her and her friends, but burst into tears.

Later Wilson Central High School Student Body President Lauren LaFevers told the commission how sports and other extracurricular activities benefit students and the schools.

She said not only do participants have opportunities for scholarships, the coaches encourage players to do well in school so they can remain eligible to play.

"This is like the commission is the mom and the board of education is the dad," she said. "We the kids are the one being hurt, because you’re getting a divorce."

During the regular meeting several commissioners and Sheriff Terry Ashe suggested ways to help finance school needs without actually raising taxes more than 20 cents.

Ashe said his department could absorb the entire salary of one of the School Resource Officers needed to cover Truckers Crossroads Elementary and Carroll-Oaklands Elementary.

Both District 20 Commissioner Annette Stafford and District 22 Commissioner Heather Scott tried to find funds to cover the Beacon Reading Program in other budgets, but the rest of the commission voted their plans down.

Next, District 14 Commissioner Jeff Joines suggested an amendment transferring 2 cents from the Sanitation Fund balance to the General Purpose School Fund, and District 4 Commissioner Jim Emberton accepted that amendment. Emberton had previously made a motion to accept the budget with the 20-cent tax increase.

However later after District 8 Commissioner Frank Bush convinced the commission to move 5.89 cents from sanitation, Joines withdrew his amendment, in part because he said there was no longer 2 cents in that fund.

Initially, Emberton, who also chairs the county finance committee, accepted Bush’s amendment to fully fund the school budget, but following a short recess, he withdrew the approval, opening the issue up for discussion.

At that time Bush moved to amend the budget to move about $1.5 million from the sanitation budget to the General Purpose School Fund.

However, the final version of Bush’s amendment, which was approved by the commissioners, moved 5.89 cents from two sanitation fund budgets to the school budget, giving the school system a total of $1.35 as its tax base for this year, or about $5.488 million more than last year.

The additional money voted for Wilson County Schools will also mean a $1.37 million windfall for the Lebanon Special School District Schools since 18 percent of all taxes earmarked for county schools goes to the LSSD.

The commission then voted 13-11 to approve the amended budget. The vote, however, tied at 12-12 on the needed tax rate to fund the budget it had just passed, leaving County Mayor Robert Dedman with the tie-breaking vote, which he cast as "yes," making the final vote 13-12 to fund the 2008-2009 budget.

School board Chair Teddy Cook said the added funds would allow the school board not to cut any personnel, and Director of School Mike Davis added it would give the board about a penny to work on restoring other programs.

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