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In 3-2 vote, Macon County Board of Commissioners pass 2024-25 Budget with minor changes

The Macon County Board of Commissioners has approved the 2024-25 fiscal year budget after a detailed discussion and minor amendments during the June meeting. The budget, which now stands at $63,704,651, saw a blend of consensus and contention among the commissioners.

County Manager Derek Roland opened the discussion by inviting board members to address any concerns about the proposed budget. Commissioner Paul Higdon, as a senior member of the board, noted his extensive experience with the county budgets and expressed overall satisfaction but sought input on several specific items.
One significant point of debate was the Community Funding Pool, which provides taxpayer funds to local non-profits to the tune of $75,000 a year. Commissioner John Shearl argued for its removal, noting that both the Town of Franklin and the Town of Highlands had withdrawn similar funding. Commission Chairman Gary Shields, however, highlighted the invaluable work of organizations like KIDs Place and advocated for continued support. Although both Higdon and Shearl wanted to see changed made to the community funding pool, Commissioner Higdon wanted the funding to remain, but have it be the responsibility of the commissioners to decide which organizations receive the funding rather than the board appointed by the commissioners. Shearl argued that taxpayer funding, regardless of the public benefit they provide, shouldn’t be spent to fund non-profits.  Ultimately, the motion to remove the funding pool failed in a 3-2 vote, with Shields, Commissioner Danny Antoine, and Commissioner Josh Young opposing the cut.
The future of Cowee School also prompted discussion. Commissioner Higdon mentioned the school’s ongoing financial requests, despite initial plans to fund it for only three years. Commissioner Young proposed offering the building to the school, potentially for a nominal fee, to alleviate continued expenses. The board agreed unanimously to keep the funding in the budget while exploring disposal options.
The commissioners addressed the pressing needs at the Senior Services Center, which include safety and ADA compliance issues. Commissioner Higdon opposed spending $200,000 for just one department, citing other non-compliant county agencies also in need.  The board voted 3-2 to reallocate $200,000 from the Senior Services assessment to a contingency fund, aiming to address immediate ADA needs that were undisputed, rather than fund a study to plan for future needs.
Another hot topic was the allocation of funds for Environmental Health (EH) positions. With the department’s backlog in inspections, Commissioner Young proposed redirecting funds from vacant EH positions to hire an additional Code Enforcement officer. Macon County Planner Joe Allen explained the need for the positions saying his current employees are working overtime to meet demand, with the existing employees completing 55 inspections that day alone. Commissioner Shearl requested that funding for both positions as well as funding for a vehicle for the positions be completely eliminated from the budget. By consensus, the board agreed to fund one of the requested positions immediately and hold off on hiring the second position until January – all commissioners with the exception of Shearl agreed to the compromise, however Commissioner Higdon voted against the final budget regardless.
At the request of Commissioner Young,  the school system’s coaching stipend was suggested to increase by 10%, noting the disparity between local stipends and those in other districts. The board agreed to reduce the current budget contingency fund by $31,720 to accommodate this increase, with plans to finalize the budget adjustment in July.
While the county’s approved budget has no tax increases, at the request of the town of Franklin, the Board of Commissioners did grant the Town of Franklin increasing the Franklin fire district tax rate to 7 cents, which returns the town to the rate it had in place two years ago. Commissioner Shield and Commissioner Antoine both fully supported Franklin Fire Chief Ben Ormand’s request for the rate to return to prior levels in order to fund new equipment for the fire department. Although Commissioner Shearl and Commissioner Higdon were in favor of denying the town’s request, ultimately the rate increase was approved by county commissioners.
Lori Hall, the county’s finance director, summarized the changes and requested approval of the adjusted budget. Commissioners Young and Antoine moved and seconded the motion, respectively. The budget passed with a 3-2 vote, with Higdon and Shearl dissenting.


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