By Jesse Wood
June 18, 2014. The Watauga County Board of Commissioners adopted the 2014-15 fiscal year budget on Tuesday in a 3-2 vote.
Republican Commissioners Nathan Miller, Perry Yates and David Blust voted for the budget, while their political counterparts Commissioners Billy Kennedy and John Welch dissented.
The $57-million budget is a decrease of $3.35 million or 5.55 percent over the current fiscal-year budget. It included no increase to the property tax rate that stands at 31.3 cents per $100 valuation, among the lowest in the state. In addition to funding Watauga County Schools to the tune of $12,062,834 in operating costs and $300,000 for its capital improvement plan, a 2 percent COLA, which was requested by WCS to cover salary increases from the state, has been budgeted to be paid out based on the budget that the state adopts.
The budget will also fund the construction and operation of a medic base near Cove Creek to provide a quicker response time to emergencies in Western Watauga.
Before adopting the budget, Welch attempted to make a “friendly amendment” to the budget by adding $26,602 from administrative contingency fund towards the 2 percent supplemental increase for Watauga County teachers.
Miller said that with the N.C. General Assembly and Gov. Pat McCrory proposing their own version of raises for teachers in the state of North Carolina, he couldn’t support giving more money to teachers in the form of supplements, which are a recurring expense.
Welch said that “nothing out of Raleigh” has occurred yet and that the House seems to be “over projecting revenues” from the N.C. Education Lottery to fund those proposed raises.
Kennedy “took exception” to Miller’s comments and noted that teachers must give up their tenure for some of the raise proposals coming out of Raleigh.
The discussion veered to turnover or the fear of turnover, which is why supplements to teachers in Watauga came about in the first place.
Miller said that he has never known a high rate of teacher turnover to take place in Watauga County and noted that the county is blessed with quality teachers, many of whom graduate at Appalachian State University and want to stay in the High Country to begin their teaching careers.
Kennedy added that teachers have never been “attacked” by the N.C. General Assembly in the past quite like they have this year.
Then, Blust, who pointed out that the last two raises for teachers to come from Raleigh were by Republican-led legislatures, took exception to the word attacked, and Kennedy reworded with “unappreciated.”
The GOP commissioners then talked about the school’s fund balance, which stood at $5.1 million last fall when the commissioners and administrators of Watauga County Schools met for a loose discussion of the future of education in Watauga. When asking for funding for laptops and tablets for students in the system, the commissioners directed the administration to use their fund balance.
(On Tuesday, Yates said he had a particular problem with teachers having to pay for classroom supplies out of their own pocket whenever the school system is sitting on hundreds of thousands of dollars.)
“They did reduce that fund balance this year, so I think they heard you,” Kennedy said.
Before the vote on Welch’s amendment, Welch noted that his wife, who is a teacher in the county school system, would waive any supplemental increase. And Kennedy mentioned that “money spent on education is many times returned.”
The vote on the increase to the supplement didn’t pass with only Welch and Kennedy voting for the motion.