Commissioners approves Bertie budget

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 1, 2006

WINDSOR – Emotions ran high, both inside and out, here Monday night.

In front of a standing-room only crowd, the Bertie County Board of Commissioners placed their stamp of approval on the 2006-07 county budget, but not without public comment.

That budget, as proposed June 5 by County Manager Zee Lamb, contains no increases in the property tax rate (still at $.78 per $100 of valuation) or in public service fees.

The $18.1 million budget for 2006-07 includes a three-percent cost of living increase for county employees. Additionally, the Commissioners, upon their approval of the budget, raised the minimum county salary for all full-time, permanent employees to $20,000 annually.

While that news was welcomed by some, county citizens supporting additional money for Bertie Public Schools made one last plea before the commissioners for a hike in educational funding.

The new budget contains a 10 percent hike for the school system (to $2.26 million).

Addressing the board during a public hearing, Vivian Saunders said the school-aged children of Bertie County are the ones caught in the middle of a funding battle between the commissioners and school board.

“What will it take to get our schools to where they need to be,” Saunders asked. “I think we need to see some healing between the two boards.”

Dr. Al Thompson implored the commissioners to consider additional funds for the school system.

“I wonder if you have only looked at the dollar figure and not the programs it represents,” Dr. Thompson said. “I question whether you are aware of the gains our students will receive from the superintendent’s support program to help our students.”

Dr. Thompson praised the work of Bertie Superintendent Dr. Nettie Collins-Hart, saying her proposed budget is not a shopping list, but rather one that will allow the children to, as the state constitution mandates, have the opportunity to receive a sound, basic education.

“We cannot fail our children again,” Dr. Thompson stressed. “It is time for us to get the school system out of the 19th century and into the 21st century. We don’t want or need 40 acres and a mule for the children.”

Rev. Robert Walton also expressed a concern for the schoolchildren of the county.

“If we keep cutting back, our children will be without a good education and at the new prison,” he stated. “If we keep doing without, we’ll have nothing. Nothing from nothing leaves nothing.”

During his address, Rev. Walton ventured too close to the commissioners table, prompting a stern warning from board chairman Rick Harrell to back away. Harrell later apologized for being so abrupt.

James Pugh urged the commissioners to give the school system what they needed.

“We cannot have a growing county without a good school system,” Pugh said.

Bertie School Board Chairman Seaton Fairless attended the meeting. He was allowed to field a question from Saunders who asked if he was happy with the funds appropriated by the commissioners to the school system.

“They are doing what they can based on the county’s ability to fund several different areas,” Fairless responded. “There are some programs we could get off the ground that would help our students if we had the money for them, but the commissioners are doing all they can.”

Harrell also responded to that question by saying, “It’s not a case where we (commissioners and school board) are bickering back and forth. I feel we are on the same page. I thank Mr. Fairless for what the school board is doing. Together, we want to progressively move the education budget forward in Bertie County.”

Others in the audience supported the level of funds the commissioners allotted for education in 2006-07.

“As an educator, I want Bertie schools to be the best they can be,” noted Emma Johnson. “What I want to know is how many are working in the Central Office and what are their salaries. We need to spend all the money we can in the classroom.”

Alton Parker, who recently earned a seat on the Bertie Board of Education but has to wait until December to become an official member, said the county can ill-afford to write a blank check for education.

“We first have to identify the problem areas and fix them,” Parker said.

John Davis commended the commissioners for giving the school system a 10 percent increase.

“In the business world, a 10 percent increase is very significant,” Davis noted.

Rev. Vonner Horton said the school system should take a hard look at hiring better teachers.

“Money does not give our children a quality education,” she said. “Quality teachers teach quality education.”

The buzz over school funding did not stop inside the commissioners’ room. During a brief break, passions flared outside between three Bertie citizens and one Bertie Schools’ administrator.

Back inside, Commissioner Wallace Perry motioned for the budget to be approved as proposed by Lamb. Fellow board member Jasper Bazemore offered a second and the measure passed by a 5-0 vote.