Gibson storms out of meeting

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 2, 2007

JACKSON – As the Northampton County Board of Commissioners sat down with Northampton County Schools officials on Wednesday, Commissioner Robert Carter made a comment that he hoped the two groups would be able to leave on the “same note.”

But within a few minutes that comment seemed to be wishful thinking as many of individuals left the meeting early not exactly in agreement.

By the end of the meeting, the working group had tabled all three of their topics in lieu of collecting more information and Northampton County Schools Superintendent Kathi Gibson had left the meeting after a strong discussion.

While the working group discussed three sensitive and important topics for both the county and schools, it was the subject of the Medicaid relief, recently passed by the North Carolina General Assembly, for all counties in the state that brought contention between county and school officials.

In his attempt to compare apples to apples, Northampton County Manager Wayne Jenkins utilized 2007 figures to project what the benefit to Northampton County.

Beginning October 1, the state assumed 25 percent of the county’s $2.4 million Medicaid costs. In exchange, the state will withhold 60 percent of the county’s 07-08 ADM (average daily membership) funds, which are state corporate tax dollars collected by the state and appropriated to the counties for public school construction.

The county was slated to receive $213,868 of these funds, but instead will receive $85,547.

However, the legislation assures the schools will receive the slated $213,868 of ADM funds by holding the county responsible for those funds.

Jenkins also said the legislation further guarantees all counties a minimum of $500,000 relief for this year, though the county will have a $100,000 short fall as $1.8 million in Medicaid costs were budgeted for 07-08 with the anticipation that there would be Medicaid relief from the state.

This year is the only year ADM funds will be withheld by the state.

Upon Jenkins explaining this to the commissioners and school officials, Gibson countered by she had heard differently about the legislation.

Gibson said to her understanding, the intent of the bill was to add revenue to the school system.

“Where is the additional revenue?” she asked.

Jenkins said the bill was intended to help the counties with Medicaid relief and earmarked for infrastructure.

Gibson said she wanted clarification from the Institute of Government.

“I’m not convinced the interpretation is as it should be,” she said.

Board of Education Member Roland Whitted agreed with the superintendent. Carter was in agreement as he said he had no problem with the school officials investigating further.

Carter also asked where Jenkins information came from.

Jenkins said the information came from the NC Association of County Commissioners. Both Carter and Jenkins reiterated to school officials that because the county was receiving only $500,000 in relief and due to their lower projection of Medicaid payments, there would be a $100,000 shortfall for the county.

Jenkins continued with his presentation, explaining the Medicaid relief projections for 2008-09 and 2009-10.

Again using 2007 figures and mentioning the cost of Medicaid would probably increase, Jenkins began with 08-09. For this year the state will assume 50 percent of the county’s Medicaid costs beginning July 1, 2008. Using the $2.4 million figure the state will assume $1.2 million of the costs.

In exchange, the state will withhold one-fourth percent of the county’s Article 44 sales tax reimbursements. This year the county received $594,046 in these funds, meaning in 08-09 the county would only receive $148,000. This does not affect the schools Article 40 and 42 are sales tax reimbursements in which last year more than $900,000 was received from both pots of tax money.

A portion of Article 44 is paid to the towns and cities of Northampton County. This year $191,000 was receive for the communities.

The state also reduces the county’s Article 39 appropriation, but cities and towns are held harmless and will receive their share of the $191,000.

In exchange for $339,000 withheld by the state, the county is projected to gain $861,000.

For year 2009-10, Jenkins said the state is slated to pick up all of Medicaid costs. Still using the $2.4 million figure, it is projected the state will withhold all of Article 44 $594,046 (as projected in 08-09), plus the cities and towns hold harmless of $191,000 of Article 39 sales tax reimbursements.

This phase will cost the county $785,085 while it will receive $2.4 million in relief.

Later, while discussing a different topic, Jenkins presented a proposed appropriation formula for fiscal year 08-09, causing more contention between the officials began.

The commissioners annually appropriate to the schools an amount equal to current year appropriations (current expense and capital outlay) plus an annual increase of no less than two percent and no more than three percent.

Under the two percent increase and more than a $3 million appropriation (a negotiable figure according to Jenkins) the schools stand to gain $76,868.

Using the same figure with a 2.5 percent increase, the schools will gain $96,085 and with a three percent increase the schools will gain $115,302.

Gibson expressed her unhappiness with the figures.

“Looking at the increase this is absolutely unacceptable,” she said. “I’m not even going to educate children with this. This is not fair to the children.”

She continued by saying that she did not mean to be ugly, but she would love to see the day when the board of commissioners understand that education is the key to economic development.

“We’ve constantly struggled,” she said. “This year we’ve had to cut back on teachers.”

Carter said that the student population had dropped in the county so it was understandable why teachers had been let go.

“I’m not finished,” Gibson said to Carter.

She continued, “These people (Jenkins and Vick) that you call experts are not experts in education. We are.”

Carter noted the commissioners had more than 22,000 citizens to provide for.

“We have a limited amount of resources,” he said.

Minutes after the exchange, Gibson collected her things and left the room. She did not return for the rest of the meeting.

Jenkins said in a later interview that the figures presented on the formula can be negotiated to a higher amount or lower amount.