With commission having already approved funding for phase two of Board of Education construction projects at Loudon High and Highland Park Elementary schools, and with the Corrections Partnership Committee apparently leaning toward renovating the current Justice Center rather than building a freestanding facility, the overall financial outlook in Loudon County government seems to be in relatively manageable shape compared to this time last year.
Recall that in the previous budget cycle, Loudon County Commission, facing pressure from the state to address inmate overcrowding and avoid decertification, was staring down the prospects of having to consider numerous large-scale budgetary expenses all at once, not the least of which was constructing an all-in-one jail facility that could have cost up to $47 million — which an engineering firm is more than happy to tell us we need — and additional school building projects.
Needless to say, after footing the bill for $43 million in recently completed school construction projects, we dare say the public had little appetite for a new property tax this year.
That is why we are encouraged by two developments this month. First, the jail committee seems to be on board with pursuing a $10 million option to upgrade the current Justice Center after essentially being told for months and months that $22 million was the cheapest way to address the inmate crowding problem. Second, the Loudon County Budget Committee seems to have taken a conservative-minded look at ways to not only cut spending this year to the tune of more than $800,000 but to avoid passing along a tax increase to residents.
Loudon County Mayor Rollen “Buddy” Bradshaw and the budget panel should be applauded for their part in identifying components of the budget that could be trimmed this year, while keeping an eye on the fund balance.
If Bradshaw is right — and we hope he is — while the fund balance, which is expected to be at $5 million by the end of June 2016, may experience a “little dip” as the county unloads some debt, focusing on paying down loans should pay dividends in the end. Eventually, the county could see the fund balance “start to grow again,” Bradshaw said.
“It’s a matter of continuing to control our spending,” Bradshaw said, alluding to a campaign promise he made before being voted into the mayor’s office. “I don’t think we have anything on the horizon that’s going to require any borrowing of money so tighten our belts up for these next few years.”
We would be remiss if we did not point out that while we laud the county’s conservative approach to the budgetary process as of late, at some point down the road, commissioners will have to address things like making teacher salaries commensurate with other counties and fixing local roads, some of which are in desperate need of repairs.
In developing the budget this year, county officials benefited from an increase in the value of a property tax penny, a luxury that may or may not exist in subsequent years. But this first step in fiscal prudence should encourage us all.