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Commissioners adopt budget in 4-1 vote

Henderson County commissioners voted 3-2 Monday night to adopt a $107.5 million budget, ending a contentious process that saw board members raise their voices and exchange accusations.

The board added $5.6 million in new spending and agreed to pay for it using the county's savings account instead of raising taxes. The final vote came after an unconventional run of votes, one that defeated the budget, one that passed it on a 3-2 vote and finally the vote that approved it 4-1.

Commissioner Mike Edney at first voted against the budget, joining Bill O'Connor and Larry Young, and minutes later switched his vote in favor. He said he was protesting Young's vote against the budget on the narrow basis of two issues. In the end, Young too reversed himself and voted yes.

The final vote culminated one of the more contentious budget-making sessions in recent memory with continued sniping over the level of spending, the schools' use of money and whether to raise taxes or savings to balance this year's budget. In the end, commissioners Charlie Messer and Mike Edney joined Tommy Thompson in voting for the no-new-taxes budget while Vice Chairman Bill O'Connor and Larry Young voted no. O'Connor said spending was too high and Young objected to the board's decision last week to allocate $100,000 to the Flat Rock Playhouse, which is trying to recover from a deficit in 2010 and slow ticket sales in the depths of the recession.
An earlier 3-2 vote to use the fund balance seemed to telegraph the final vote on the budget.
The budget allocates $21.2 million to Henderson County schools, restoring money the schools lost last year in a 7½ percent funding cut. It also sets aside $200,000 for park development, funds new deputies in the sheriff's department and adds $100,000 for books and publications for the county library.
County Manager Steve Wyatt recommended the commissioners use $3.2 million of the rainy day fund in a proposed budget that avoided a tax increase. Commissioners added $2.43 million, for a total of $5.6 million in spending that in the end drew down the rainy day fund.
Still, even with the increase, Messer noted that the savings is still greater than 12 percent of the total budget. The state requires counties to leave at least 8 percent in reserves. To fund $5.6 million in spending through the property tax would have required a 4.8 cent tax increase.The new budget keeps the tax rate at 51.36 cents per $100 valuation.