Referendum Aug. 2
For School Systems
BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
When polls open this Thursday for the Aug. 2 state primary and county general elections, Greene County will also face an important referendum question:
Shall a resolution authorizing an increase in the Motor Vehicle Tax from $20 to $40 be approved?
From there, the options are "For" or "Against."
The question was placed on the ballot after the Greene County Commission voted in June to approve a referendum on the issue.
All of the revenue from the increase in the wheel tax would be allocated to local schools, with most of the revenue going to the Greene County School System.
HOW FUNDS WOULD BE DIVIDED
The main purpose of the increase would be to help cover a projected $1.19 million deficit in the Greene County School System's budget for 2012-2013, although, under state law, part of the revenue would go to the Greeneville City School System.
If the Motor Vehicle Tax, commonly referred to as the Wheel Tax, is approved, the revenue would be divided between the county and city school systems based on average daily attendance.
Based on recent attendance figures, this division would mean that about 70 percent of the revenue would go to the county school system, and about 30 percent to the city school system.
County Budget Director Mary Shelton has estimated that Greene County has approximately 70,000 registered vehicles. Based on that number of vehicles, the additional $20 per vehicle would be estimated to generate about $1.4 million annually.
Over the course of a full year, this would provide about $980,000 to help balance the county school system's deficit. The remaining $420,000 generated by the additional wheel tax would benefit the Greeneville City School System.
"The Wheel Tax increase would provide much-needed additional revenue for Greene County Schools," Director of Schools Dr. Vicki Kirk said Monday.
"While the collections would not close the deficit, they would certainly go a long way in helping us to avoid the number of cuts that will be necessary should we receive no additional revenue this year."
DELAY IN PROCESS
If the referendum vote was in favor of increasing the wheel tax, there would be a delay of several months before it could actually begin to be collected.
Before the current wheel tax law could be changed, it would be necessary for the change to be made by the Tennessee General Assembly since the current tax is based on a private act of the legislature.
The legislature does not reconvene until January 2013.
This process would delay the actual enactment of a wheel tax increase by several months, and the tax itself would be prorated for the current budget year.
The result, for the 2012-2013 budget year, would be less revenue than the $980,000 that would be projected to come in from a full year of collections.
Without increased local revenue, the county Board of Education is examining a list of cuts provided by Kirk, the most controversial of which are closing Glenwood Elementary School or eliminating all school athletics.
The potential cuts include:
* closing Glenwood Elmentary School, $586,210;
* eliminating supplements to coaches (the only financial support that the system provides for athletics), $265,288;
* eliminating academic supplements (such as for Spelling Bee and Round Robin coaches and other workers), $13,634;
* reducing drivers' education from four teachers to two, $109,803;
* rotating agricultural teachers' schedules to only employ them 11 months out of the year, $28,352;
* eliminating the music teacher's position at North Greene and South Greene High School and the band assistant's position at Chuckey-Doak High School, $67,410;
* cutting 10 work days from the nine-month classified employees' schedules, $294,459;
* increasing the employee share for medical insurance by $20 per month, $194,400;
* cutting either 5 or 10 percent out of all non-personnel categories that can be cut (not including categories such as electricity or transportation), $43,981 or $87,962; and,
* paying retirement incentives from the system's fund balance, $378,349.
PROPERTY TAX INCREASE?
If the Wheel Tax increase fails on the referendum, the Greene County Board of Education and some county commissioners are recommending a property tax increase.
In order to cover the full deficit with 70 percent of the revenue, the increase would need to be 12.94 cents per $100 of assessed value, Shelton said during a recent budget workshop.
The county must budget, according to state auditing guidelines, on the the assumption that the county will only collect 95 percent of the property tax revenue within a given year, she explained.
Therefore, although a penny on the tax rate brings in nearly $139,000, the county must budget as though that penny will bring in just over $131,000, she added.
IMPACT FOR GREENEVILLE
A property tax increase of this size would generate nearly $1.7 million, of which the Greeneville system would receive about $500,000.
It is not just the county system that has a need for such extra funding, Greeneville Director of Schools Linda Stroud noted in an interview.
"It would get us started toward reinstating some of the $1.2 million in cuts that have been made [in the City School System] over about the last three to four years," she said, pointing to areas such as after-school programs, tutoring and teacher's assistants.
"We've cut back tremendously on [technology], and that's putting us behind," Stroud noted.
The director said more teachers will also be necessary in the coming years.
"We would use [the increased revenue] to directly impact students in the classroom," she said.
"I realize it's very difficult to vote a tax on ourselves. I understand that, but I think this is an investment for our entire community that will save us money in the long run," she added.
"One of the most important responsibilities a community has is educating our students. That's a very expensive responsibility that we have as citizens."