Public hearing brings out school budget supporters

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By John Barnhart

    A public hearing on Bedford County’s budget and tax rate, held Monday night at Bedford Science and Technology Center (BSTC), was dominated by the school budget.    
    About 75 people, attended the hearing. A majority of the 13 speakers at the hearing urged the supervisors to support the budget the school board presented. All of these speakers were applauded by a group of 20 people who sat together in one section of BSTC’s Susie Gibson auditorium where the meeting was held.
    Cheryl Sprouse, president of the Bedford County Education Association, said that teachers have to play the role of parent, psychologist and police— in addition to teaching.
    “I ask you to think about the future,” said Andy Dooley, after noting that he knows the supervisors can’t raise the tax rate higher than what they advertised. “If assessed [real estate] values continue to drop, where will you make up the difference?” he asked.
    “Don’t just try to get elected by telling people you won’t raise their taxes,” he urged. “Have the courage to do what is right for Bedford County.”
    Dooley said he was willing to have his taxes raised.
    Ann Chafin, a teacher urged the supervisors to come to her classroom and observe and see her needs.
    “Come see me teach,” she urged.
    Jamie Banister, who said that she has two children in Bedford County Public Schools and two more who soon will be, said the county teachers are underpaid. She said that the 3 percent raise, which the school budget calls for, still won’t make Bedford County’s teacher pay competitive with surrounding counties.
    Karen Nuzzo, a county teacher, said that education has been shortchanged for a long time.
    “It’s time to step up and fund education in the way it needs to be funded,” she said.
    “Remember, each time school budgets are cut, we are shortchanging our future,” she concluded.
    Glen Smith called for the supervisors to fund Sheriff Mike Brown’s request to put school resource officers in all of the county’s elementary schools. He said that arming teachers won’t work because a trained law enforcement officer, who has the training to make split-second decisions, is needed. He urged the supervisors to raise taxes if that’s what’s needed to fund the request.
    “I think the school board has presented to you a fair, reasonable and necessary budget,” said Robert Holmes, who identified himself as president of the Bedford County Parent-Teacher County Council. Holmes said that he is willing to see the tax rate go up and called on the supervisors to fund the school budget as the school board presented it.
    John Briscoe, who spoke last did not support a tax increase.
    “There’s always someone who says ‘raise my taxes,’ but they never bring their checkbook,” Briscoe said, after stating that he has been coming to county budget public hearings for 20 years. “What they are saying is raise my taxes.”
    “I didn’t get a raise last year,” he added.
    Brad Creasy, the Bedford Volunteer Fire Department’s fire chief, asked the supervisors to fund the equipment request he presented in November.
    “The Bedford Volunteer Fire Department and the Bedford County Board of Supervisors have had a long working relationship and we look forward to continuing that relationship. In order for our volunteer firefighters to continue to serve the community in a safe, efficient, and effective manor our volunteers who risk their lives every day deserve safe, reliable, and modern equipment,” he said.
    Creasy said that there is $1.1 million  that is unappropriated/untargeted in this year’s CIP.
    “I ask that you approve the funding requested at your next stated meeting and do your part to protect the community,” he concluded.
    The request that Creasy made to the supervisors in November asked for $250,000 toward the cost of buying a new heavy rescue truck. The heavy rescue truck  responds throughout the county providing assistance on structural fires, motor vehicle accidents and rescues. The full cost of the new truck will be $650,000.00. Creasy expects to raise the balance through fundraising and the sale of the current 1999-vintage truck.
    The supervisors passed the tax rate for the 2013-2014 as advertised, leaving all tax rates the same as they are for the current fiscal year. The motion to approve it, made by District 7 Supervisor Tammy Parker, passed on a 6-0 vote with District 4 Supervisor John Sharp absent.
    The supervisors will act on the budget at a later meeting. Deputy County Administrator Frank Rogers said state law requires them to wait until seven days after the budget public hearing before taking action.