Ethan Steinquest/Macon County Times The Macon County Commission's budget committee discusses the projected impact of improvements to the Macon County Justice Center during its meeting held Monday. Pictured are (from left): Macon County Mayor Steve Jones, administrative assistant Alecia King, commissioner Phillip Snow, Macon County Sheriff Mark Gammons and commissioner Mchelle Phillips.

Ethan Steinquest/Macon County Times

The Macon County Commission's budget committee discusses the projected impact of improvements to the Macon County Justice Center during its meeting held Monday.

Pictured are (from left): Macon County Mayor Steve Jones, administrative assistant Alecia King, commissioner Phillip Snow, Macon County Sheriff Mark Gammons and commissioner Mchelle Phillips.

The Macon County Commission's budget committee voted on Monday evening to send its budget, which includes a proposed 16.7-cent property-tax increase and $15 wheel tax increase, on to the commission's full body meeting scheduled for July 29.

An amendment to that budget would see the county take on a portion of payment on a new elementary school using its debt service fund (with the exact amount yet to be determined). This would be in addition to an estimated $925,000-$930,000 in annual sales-tax revenue earmarked for the school.

"What I propose is that we go with our original budget and split the payment with the school, but every year, have the sales-tax income evaluated," commissioner Justin Dyer said. "Both of our halves should decrease every year as the sales-tax revenue increases."

Revenue from the proposed tax increases would be used to balance a deficit of approximately $944,000 in the county's general fund, which Macon County Mayor Steve Jones said is a result of population growth increasing costs.

"The problems the schools are facing, that you're facing (as a commission) and that other departments are facing, is because of the growth of the county," Jones said before listing some of the more significant sources of shortfall. "Everything is doubling because of the usage you've got. This year, insurance went up approximately $230,000. Emergency Medical Services (EMS) has roughly $250,000 in revenue shortage ... water and electricity, there's about a $59,000 increase in that, in part because of all the inmates out at the jail."

Macon County Schools is also looking to address growth by building additions onto Macon County High School (an estimated cost of $10 million), Red Boiling Springs School ($2.9 million) and Macon County Junior High School ($9.1 million), and the board of education attended the meeting to ask the commission to fund the entire remainder of the new school's cost in order to focus on those projects.

"We've said all along that if the school board was asked to pay a large portion, the additions would be hard for them to fund," Macon County Director of Schools Tony Boles said. "If the new elementary school was fully-funded, the additions would be able to be funded by the board ... we'd have to discuss rates, but Red Boiling would be one of the first additions done."

The budget committee's current proposal would see the county cover the cost of the RBS project, although there was a brief discussion on redirecting those funds toward the new school.

"We'll have to work within our budget, and if that means we have to take on those additions in smaller projects, that might be something we have to consider," board member Rebekah Tuttle said. "We're here presenting to you all that we're going to try to work on that, but we have a big task at hand just to fund our additions."

The members of the budget committee were divided on how to address the board's concerns and debated their approach before deciding to recommend sharing the cost.

"I don't think people realize we've been here every Monday night since March 1," commissioner Chop Porter said. "This is not something we're taking lightly, and if you've got a better idea, I'll listen to it. If we go with what the school board wants ... I feel like, personally, that's too much."

County Technical Assistance Service (CTAS) county government consultant Wesley Robertson also noted the board has continued to generate revenue over the past few years.

"Last year, they banked $1.2 million in fund balance (and $1.3 million in the 2016-17 school year)," Robertson said. "If you're making the case for needing more money and you're banking that much fund balance every year ... you've banked $2.5 million in the last two years, and now you're saying you're going to eat into your fund balance $2.5 million. I'm not seeing a budget document that says that."

Commissioner Marcus Smith predicted that having the board cover most of the cost would result in another tax debate in a few years and ultimately hurt the county's growth potential.

"You're getting ready to paralyze the school board from doing all the other things they'll need to do when the school is built," Smith said. "And we're setting ourselves up for failure, because you have to invest in your future. You've got to turn the lights around in this town from everybody going to Nashville in the mornings and coming back in the evenings."

Smith said he has put time and money into promoting Macon County to industries, and that investing in projects like the new school could help build a stronger industry base in the area.

"You can get 250 or 500 jobs in some type of facility," Smith said. "But you've got to have a nice airport and great schools. It's embarrassing to take people into Lafayette Elementary, but if I take them into a new facility or a new jail system and say, 'look what we've done, look how nice everything is,' ... spend $5.25 a month, split that school up at them and throw $20 at a wheel tax for your vehicle (the proposal sent to full body is still at $15) and let's rock on."

The Macon County Commission will vote on whether to approve the budget proposal at its next meeting, which is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on July 29 at the Macon County Courthouse.