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Originally published: 2014-05-14 17:09:15
Last modified: 2014-05-14 17:10:00

Commissioners continue to discuss county budget

by Allison Haver

The Watauga County Board of Commissioners held their second county budget work session on Tuesday. 


During the first work session last Thursday, the board met with representatives from Watauga County Schools.


Prior to Tuesday's meeting, County Manager Deron Geouque released the recommended county budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year.


The proposed budget, which is more than $57 million, is a $3,350,155 or 5.55 percent decrease from the current fiscal-year budget.


Highlights of the proposed budget included no increase in the ad valorem property tax rate. The tax rate is currently 31.3 cents per $100 of valuation.


Commissioners discussed budgets for nonprofits within the county on Tuesday.


The Appalachian Theatre was one of the first nonprofits to be discussed.


Earlier this month, Jonathan Allen with the Appalachian Theatre of the High Country Inc., presented information to the board about the theater and requested County support for the project.


Allen asked commissioners if they would approve the request to grant the project $250,000 over the next five years, coming to $50,000 a year.


"They talked about a business plan and we didn't see it and parking still has not been addressed," Commissioner Perry Yates said.


"I say we table this until they can come back and show the business plan on how it's going to run, where the money is coming and how they are going to address the parking," Yates said.


Commission Chairman Nathan Miller said he did not see the theatre project succeeding.


"I would rather give the money, if we had it, to the Economic Development Commission to create more jobs as opposed to this theatre project," he said.


"The only theatre that is comparable, that we had in this community, failed," Miller said. "Now granted this one has more seats, but if you look at the one in Abingdon, Virginia, it receives millions in state funds."


Commissioners agreed they would like to see a business plan for the project and would wait until they reviewed a business plan before they committed to funding the project.


The board voted three to two to not give money to Hospitality House. Commissioners John Welch and Billy Kennedy voted to give Hospitality House "at least $5,000 to $10,000."


Commissioners also voted to give $8,500 to the Hunger Health Coalition. The nonprofit originally asked for $16,000.


"I'm for giving them money but I don't see why Hospitality House doesn't get anything," Kennedy said.


The Children's Playhouse asked the county for $2,500.


"This is an organization that asked for seed money and said they wouldn't come back again," Miller said. "I'm not saying it's a bad organization, none of them are bad organizations, but why should the county fund it?"


Commissioners voted three to two to not give money to the playhouse out of the county budget.


"There are all kinds of nonprofits that are not funded by the county that do good," Miller said.


Yates said that although he fully supported giving to nonprofits he did not believe he should dictate which organization county taxpayers money should go to.


"We are taking money that people have to pay and I don't think the five of us should board over it and say you have to give to this, this and this when it makes me uncomfortable," he said.


"You may have 80 percent of the people wanting to give to one and then the same 80 percent not wanting to give to the next," Yates said.


In regards to the Watauga County Schools budget, Welch said he would like to see a raise in local supplements for teachers to make the county a more attractive place for teachers to come and stay.


"Teachers perform an important role, there's no doubt about it, but why are we spending more money on teachers than our own county staff," Miller said.


 "Commissioners need find a way to compensate both teachers and county employees to keep people in the county," Welch said.


"We know that the county employees are doing more with less people than they have done in years and they are doing an incredible job and the same with teachers," he said.


Commissioners also voted to cut $50,000 out of the schools current operating costs, which are recommended at $12,062,834.


County commissioners wanted to have an eight-week Department of Social Services certified summer camp for underprivileged children in the county.


According to Commissioners, the county school system only approved six weeks as opposed to the requested eight weeks for the camp.


Miller said the camp would be open to everybody and those who do not qualify would have to pay a fee to participate in the camp.


"I would like to send them a message about them working together with us on letting us utilize the school," Miller said. "We get no benefit and that camp costs us more than we make and we put it off on the citizens, he said."


"We can't build our own building to just utilize a summer camp when they have an empty building sitting there," Miller said.


"I don't want to cut anything but I think the kids need someone to stand up for them," Yates said.


"I don't really want to do it, but the budget isn't final," Miller said. "If they come back and change their minds I would break even," he said.


"I don't think it's an effective way to get the schools to change their minds," Kennedy said. "I don't think cutting $50,000 is going to change their mind."


Yates said that commissioners needed to send a message that those schools are county property and that they need to be used by all citizens within the county.


Commissioners directed Geouque to call interim WCS superintendent David Fonseca and Miller said he would call county board of education Chairman Dr. Lee Warren to inform them of the commissioners' decision.


A public hearing on the budget will be heard in May and the commissioners will vote on and adopt the budget in June.