Loudon County approves budget with education shortfall

LOUDON — The Loudon County Commission on Monday approved the $67.7 million 2015- 2016 budget along with a private act that will bring another judge to general sessions court.
Despite a strong showing of support for the schools among the citizens in attendance, commission unanimously approved the budget without any discussion of a tax increase to fund a $1.6 million board of education budget shortfall.
The lack of extra funding for the education budget leaves the schools no other choice but to tap into reserves to fund the shortfall, according to Director of Schools Jason Vance. He urged the commission to provide more funding.
“A smart gentleman once said if you think education is expensive, try ignorance,” Vance said.
Before the vote the commission heard from supporters and representatives of the schools. “There are few investments as rewarding as education,” according to Amanda Bruce, a Loudon parent and teacher.
Jennifer Roberts, a fourth-grade teacher said she was concerned that students in the county did not have access to necessary technology in the digital age.
“How do we prepare students to take tests on technology we have to share?” she asked.
Wayne Schnell of the Cross County Tea Party told the commission he would not support a tax increase. Loudon County has one of the lowest tax rates in the state. “Let’s keep it that way”, he said.
Commissioner Kelly Littleton Brewster said the county should look at other funding options including a wheel tax to increase revenue for the schools and other projects.
Commission also voted 8 to 2 to approve a special act that would create a new judge for the sessions court. Commission turned down the same request three weeks ago.
Commissioner Van Shaver said he would not vote for the special act because there was no way to know how much the new judge and two new judicial commissioners might cost the county. “It’s going to cost everyone a lot including citizens and those who use the courts,” he said.
Judge Rex Dale has proposed an increase in the litigation tax from about $17 to about $68 to pay most of the additional costs. Dale said that collection rates on court costs were running about 74 percent on criminal cases and 95 percent on civil cases.
Commissioner Henry Cullen said he was cautious about paying for fixed expenses with a revenue stream that was based on variable collections.
Commissioner Bill Satterfield said he had spoken with local attorneys using the Loudon Court system and believed there was an issue with regard to being able to grant speedy trials. He said he’s been told by attorneys that they have to wait two years to get civil cases through the system.
The commission also unanimously voted to renew the contract with Priority Ambulance as the exclusive emergency and non-emergency ambulance provider for a one-year term with a possibility of five annual renewals.
In its initial six-month term, Priority Ambulance has improved response time compliance by more than 40 percent over the previous year. County Mayor Buddy Bradshaw said that Priority has been doing an excellent job in providing services to the county.