By AMELIA MORRISON HIPPS
The Wilson Post
Wilson County Commissioners approved the fiscal year 2013-2014 budgets for the county and Board of Education Monday night by a vote of 21-3, after a motion to include $99,000 back into it for a Tourism Department failed.
The $42,201,029 county general fund budget includes a 2.5 percent raise for all county employees, except for elected officials. By the same vote for the budget, 21-3, the commission also approved leaving the tax rate at $2.5704 for the coming year.
The most expensive line items in the countys general fund budget are: sheriffs department at $9,466,200; civil defense at $8,349,651; jail at $7,161,181; other charges at $2,695,121; county buildings at $1,617,536; and property assessor at $1,080,570.
The Highway/Public Works Fund, which is primarily the road department, has a budget of $8,333,783, with a capital outlay budget of $1,597,000.
The BOEs General Purpose School Funds budget was approved at $114,444,463 and its General Debt Service Fund at $13,451,072.
The only votes against the budget and tax rate were from District 8 Commissioner Frank Bush, District 3 Commissioner Fred Weston, and District 13 Commissioner Clint Thomas. District 11 Commissioner Jim Bradshaw was absent.
Before the vote on the budget, Bush proposed a resolution that would have tied pay raises for county commissioners to the same percentage given by the state to local constitutional officers.
However, the motion failed by a vote of 2-22, with only Weston joining Bush in voting in favor of it.
District 14 Commissioner Jeff Joines was the most vocal against the resolution, saying, Theres nothing not right about this.
Why would we put ourselves on a pay plan when we wont put the employees on one? Joines asked, referring to a proposal earlier this year that would have created a structured pay plan for all county employees.
District 21 Commissioner Eugene Murray proposed an amendment to add $99,000 for a Tourism Department into the budget. He said $45,000 would go for salary, which an additional $25,000 for benefits, leaving $29,000 for operating expenses.
District 6 Commissioner Kenny Reich noted that without a Tourism Department, tourism money spent in the county was up $539,000. Murray countered that part of that could be attributed to the fact that the economy is better this year than last.
Clint Thomas, District 13 commissioner, added that while tourism dollars are up, we should ask what did we miss because we dont have a tourism department? In addition, Thomas wondered why no one brought forth any issues with the department in 2012 so they could be resolved before the decision was made to eliminate it all together.
Commissioner Mike Justice of District 15, who is chair of the Budget Committee, said he wanted to see a job description and that until that happens, I feel were still throwing money at something we really dont understand.
Several commissioners urged not filling the position until after the proposed arena at the James A. Ward Agricultural Center is approved and built. District 17 Commissioner Gary Keith urged waiting until 2013 is complete and comparing the numbers from this year to last year before any decision is made.
Despite Murray and Thomas both stating that funding the department would be an investment in our future, the measure failed by a vote of 9-15.
Voting in favor of adding the $99,000 to the budget for a Tourism Department were: Weston, Bush, Thomas, Murray, District 5s Jerry McFarland, District 9s Sara Patton, District 10s Nathan Clariday, District 19s William Glover and District 16s Jason Brockman, who seconded Murrays motion.
In other business, the county commission approved:A resolution to provide assistance to low-income elderly residents of the county by means of an additional $100 through a property tax relief grant for those 65 and older who meet certain income criteria. The resolution passed 23-1, with Clariday casting the only no vote, saying he has seen some abuse of the program, which currently gives $50 in property tax relief. Unanimously approved a resolution to affirm and support It Can Wait National Day of Action, the nationwide No Texting While Driving movement and the proclamation of Sept. 19, 2013, as No Text On Board-Pledge Day.