New budget proposal would fully fund schools

Published 10:39 pm Friday, May 1, 2015

The city manager believes the city can fully fund the school system’s budget with updated revenue projections, according to a letter she sent to City Council members this week.

The letter was in response to direction the council gave her by unanimous vote on April 15, following a lengthy public hearing that packed council chambers and the lobby, mostly with schoolteachers.

The $3.9-million increased budget request from last year aimed to fund the first phase of a compensation plan that would bring teachers in the middle of the pay scale more parity with their counterparts in surrounding jurisdictions. It would have done the same for a handful of other positions the study, funded by the city, found to be paying more than 20 percent below market rates.

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Following that public hearing, Councilman Mike Duman made a motion to direct the city manager to look at revenue projections on smaller streams of funding and, perhaps, not be quite so conservative in the estimates.

That’s precisely what happened, said Susan Draper, commissioner of the revenue.

“We basically bumped them up, and they’re not as conservative as we normally are in a budget,” she said, speaking of revenue streams like the business license tax, cigarette taxes and a new hotel room tax.

“I’m pleased with the results,” Duman said during a phone interview Friday. “It’s positive news.”

Also in her letter, City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn said, “departmental budgets were scrubbed and expenditures were reduced. With the modified projections in revenue and reductions in proposed expenditures, the budget can be amended to fully fund the school’s request.”

However, she noted, “the realization of the additional revenue is contingent, in part, on the passing of the budget ordinance relating to the new transient occupancy tax and increases in the real estate and cigarette taxes.”

That means the budget still depends on a 4-cent real estate tax increase.

Some City Council members said on April 15 that they did not think most citizens would mind the increase if it all goes toward education.

Councilman Tim Johnson was an exception, saying he believed the school budget could be fully funded even without the tax increase.