Crowd ready to speak

A crowd fills the Nelson General District courtroom for the public hearing on the 2019-2020 proposed budget May 14.

After more than two hours of public comments from over 30 individuals, the Nelson County Board of Supervisors chose to delay its vote on the fiscal year 2019- 2020 budget.

The proposed county budget of $42.6 million — a 3.4 percent increase from last years budget — is based off no tax rate change and includes moving a number of staffing positions in the county from part time to full time, purchasing new vehicles and equipment for the Nelson County Sheriff’s Office, a $2 million library expansion, and increasing the Nelson County School Board operational budget by $350,000.

The proposed increase for the school operational budget, which would provide the schools with more than $16 million in local revenue, is $1.6 million less than requested by the division. The school board’s operational budget totals just over $29 million, including the $1.9 million increase requested from the county.

School administration posted on Facebook on May 1, telling the public if the board of supervisors didn’t provide more money, an array of cuts may have to be made in the school division next year to balance the budget.

Thirty-eight school administrators, teachers, parents, residents, and students signed up to speak at the public hearing. The majority of the speakers expressed concerns over possible cuts to the fine arts programs. Other speakers brought up concerns over possible cuts to the school nurse program and the transportation department.

John Bunin, a parent of children in the county’s public school system, and an educator in another locality, was one of many urging the board to fully fund the school division’s request.

“You can ensure your constituents you are being fiscally conservative, but you also need to let them know you made the decision to ask your teachers to do more for less, while you have access to funds to not let that happen,” Bunin said. “Investment in education does meet high dividends and will help keep Nelson beautiful, safe, and prosperous.”

Out of the almost 40 speakers, one voiced his approval of the county’s proposed budget. Carlton Ballowe said supervisors are being fiscally responsible and increased the school division’s funding. Ballowe said if the school division is facing an increase in costs and expenses, it was up to school officials to figure out how to make everything work.

“Maybe there is something I’m not understanding, but I think the board has done a great job of finding the right balance,” Ballowe said.

At the end of the public comments Tommy Harvey, vice chair and North District supervisor, and Larry Saunders, chair and South District supervisor, both said the attitudes from the public were “a slap in the face” to the board of supervisors and what they have done for the schools over the years.

“I mean, the attitude from the school board and school administration scaring these groups plumb to death that we are going to cut drama? Drama is one of the best programs we got in the high school. That we are going to cut the nursing program? They got the money to fund the nursing program. If they choose to use it some way else, that’s their problem,” Harvey said. “I don’t know where it’s coming from, but this campaign the school administration and school board put on was awful.”

Thomas Bruguiere, Jr., West District supervisor, said his family has been involved with the public schools in the county for generations and believes the board of supervisors has always been generous with the money given the school board. Bruguiere said he doesn’t believe an increase of almost $2 million is necessary.

Jesse Rutherford, East District supervisor, said he was thankful for the passion in the residents to come and voice their concerns and told them he would be happy to meet with anyone so he could share his thoughts in more detail.

Ernie Reed, Central District supervisor, said he believes the schools should be fully funded and didn’t agree with the majority of the board of supervisors. Reed said it’s clear one of the biggest parts of the county’s budget — the operational funding for the school — is the one people care about most and he believes the county needs to find a way to provide more for the schools.

“For that reason I think when we are in the position where doing more is necessary then we find a way to do it,” Reed said.

The board of supervisors will vote on the fiscal year 2019-2020 budget at its June 11 meeting.

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Erin Conway covers Nelson County. Reach her at (434) 385-5524 or econway@newsadvance.com.

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