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franklin county times

Cox challenges council’s action

City and school officials are at odds over $400,000 cut from the school system last week when the city passed a new operating budget.

The system had previously received 38.33 percent of the city’s three-cent sales tax, which officials said would amount to about $1.4 million this year.

The city council passed the budget during a special called meeting Friday night and in doing so, put a $1 million cap on what the schools would receive.

The unusual timing of that meeting upset Superintendent Don Cox.

“Why would you call a meeting at 7 p.m. on a Friday night when most of the town is gone to support the football team, band and cheerleaders?” Cox asked. “It sounds like they were trying to slip something by. We had school personnel and parents at the ballgame, board members who had parents to pass away. They did it when they thought they would get the least amount of opposition.”

Russellville Mayor Troy Oliver disputes that claim and said the meeting was called so department heads could receive their budget heading into the new fiscal year.

“We went back and forth so much last year when we were working on the budget that it was January before we had one in place,” Oliver said.

“We needed to have the budget ready so our department heads would know what they had to work with.”

School officials had requested a meeting with the city council on Oct. 7 to discuss the system’s financial woes and had asked the city not to pass a budget before that time.

Oliver said that meeting would have been after the city’s next regular council meeting and he believed the city needed to move forward.

The two sides also disagree on who is responsible for the shortage in funding.

Cox said the system received the 38.33 percent of sales tax revenue for years until the previous city council placed a $1 million cap.

“When this group of council members and mayor ran, they ran on the pledge that they would restore that funding and to help the schools,” Cox said.

“We have had to fight for that funding since day one. The city is in financial trouble and we understand that, but every time they are in a bind they take away from the schools. Other places are looking at ways to help their schools, while our mayor and three of our city council members are looking to take away from us.”

Oliver said poor planning has hurt the school system’s coffers.

“(Cox) failed to heed the warnings of proration and didn’t adjust accordingly,” the mayor said.

Still though, Oliver said the schools will receive more local funding this year than at any time, thanks in large part to the one-cent sales tax increase that was implemented in June when county voters passed a temporary two year sales tax for education.

The city system receives about $800,000 from that tax while the county schools receive $1.2 million annually.

“They will get more sales tax revenue this year than any time in history,” Oliver said.

Cox argues that taking away city funding is the same as taking away from what voters wanted.

“This community voted for that one-cent sales tax increase because the schools needed it,” he said. “This council and mayor are taking away from that. I think the people of Russellville should be upset about that.”

Cox said that school board members are in a precarious spot because they are appointed by the city council.

“Our mayor and city council appoints board members, so if they don’t support what the city says, they will appoint new board members,” Cox said.

“We have people in city hall trying to micro-manage the schools and they are doing nothing but hurting the future of our kids.”

Oliver denies that allegation and said his only opinion is that experienced school board members stay in office during this current economic crisis.

“It’s just my opinion that we need to keep experienced people in those positions instead of appointing someone who needs a two or three year learning curve,” he said.

“History would show that we have never threatened one of those school board members.”

Oliver said that he wants two school board members and two city council members to meet with both parties’ financial officers to discuss the situation.

“The people of this city had an overwhelming confidence in me to elect me mayor so I think I have the people’s trust,” Oliver said. “I don’t know how I micro-manage, all I do is send them money.”

Cox agreed with that.

“But, he doesn’t send the money that was promised and now he wants to cut us even more,” he said.

“You either care about our schools or you don’t, there’s no middle ground.”

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