Smith asks for funds

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 25, 2005

WINDSOR – Bertie County’s proposed $19 million budget for 2005-06 was approved here Monday night, but not without discussion.

The county’s Board of Commissioners did approve the budget – one that includes $4.36 million in transfer funds, bringing the bottom line to a combined $23.42 million – following a scheduled public hearing. That part of Monday’s agenda was highlighted by pleas from Bertie Public School officials who collectively asked for additional funds in the educational portion of the budget.

Included among those making remarks was retiring Bertie Public School Superintendent John F. Smith Sr. He voiced his concerns over the fact that the educational budget was slashed by $150,000.

&uot;This is perhaps my final appearance before you in my capacity as superintendent of Bertie County Schools,&uot; Smith said. &uot;I do not harbor any animosity or frustration, but I do feel for the future of the children and the staff of Bertie County Public Schools.&uot;

After comparing Bertie’s educational budget to that of surrounding counties, all, he noted, were given increases by their respective county commissioners. Smith suggested that cutting the budget wasn’t in the best interest of the county citizens.

&uot;When you cut the school budget it affects every resident of Bertie County, whether they have children in the school system or not,&uot; he noted. &uot;Plus, this cut comes on top of a $50,000 cut you passed down to us in May. Ironically, that cut came just after the release of your $50,000 audit of the school system.&uot;

Smith said if the commissioners had a problem with the current leadership of the county’s school system, that dilemma would be solved by the end of June (his retirement date).

&uot;If your differences with me are to blame, then my term will soon end,&uot; Smith said. &uot;That issue will no longer be a problem.&uot;

Rick Harrell, chairman of the Bertie Commissioners, responded to Smith.

&uot;This Board is fully responsible to the citizens of Bertie County,&uot; Harrell noted. &uot;The opportunity we have to fund taxpayer’s money to the students of this county comes from the information you provide. We are not in the business of running the school system, that’s not what we are elected to do. We are about spending money wisely.&uot;

Harrell then placed each of the previous three years worth of budget requests from the Bertie School System on the table before him.

&uot;There’s nothing I see in each of your last three budget requests that covers $100,000 for a house on White Oak Road,&uot; Harrell noted. &uot;Mr. Smith, your comments make it sound like we are taking money away from the students of this county. Other than doing away with the eight cell phones (used by county educational administrators) as recommended by the audit report, I see nothing as far as any other savings in your budget request.&uot;

Smith responded at this point, saying, &uot;The 33 recommendations of the audit will be addressed starting July 1.&uot;

As requested by the auditors, Smith said the School Board ordered the sale of 10-to-12 county-owned vehicles, those used by the school system.

Harrell said the Commissioners would like to meet with the Bertie Board of Education and their choice of a new superintendent (Dr. Nettie Collins-Hart was hired on Wednesday) in order to build a relationship so the two elected bodies could move forward for the betterment of the county’s schoolchildren.

&uot;We don’t feel we are at odds with you, Mr. Smith,&uot; Harrell said. &uot;The audit was performed in the best interest of the taxpayers of this county.&uot;

Harrell went on to praise Smith for his many accomplishments in Bertie County since becoming superintendent in 1999.

Ernestine Byrd, a school system employee and the parent of two school-age children, asked the Commissioners to revisit the proposed budget.

&uot;This seems not to be about the children and their best interests,&uot; she said. &uot;This budget will erode our educational process in Bertie County.&uot;

Byrd questioned other items funded in the budget – pointing to a $92,000 increase to the Bertie-Martin Regional Jail and $150,000 more for countywide recreation.

&uot;You do this and then cut the school budget,&uot; Byrd stressed. &uot;Why are you cutting our most valuable resource – the education of our children?&uot;

Carl Bond, another parent of a school-age child, wanted to know if the budget could be adjusted based upon a request from the new superintendent.

Harrell said the budget could be adjusted.

At the close of the public hearing, Harrell called for a vote on the new budget. Commissioner Wallace Perry offered a motion to accept, seconded by Commissioner L.C. Hoggard III. It passed without objection.

The ad valorem tax rate remains at 78 cents (per $100 of value). There were no increases for county services (water fees, inspection rates, etc.) as controlled by the budget process