Holding the line

Published 9:15 am Tuesday, May 24, 2011

JACKSON — Northampton County Schools is in line to see a reduction of more than $300,000 from their local appropriation.

On Monday, the Northampton County Board of Commissioners, by consensus, agreed during their second budget work session to move ahead with their financial proceedings after a balanced budget, including a cut to the school district’s current expense appropriation, was presented to them.

County Manager Jenkins said the $23.7 million budget was formulated on 87 cent per $100 value tax rate and a 90/10 employee insurance cost share. It also creates five new positions within the county, one for the recreation department and four new telecommunicator positions.

The budget is $582,855 less than the county’s current year budget, resulting in a 2.2 percent decrease in local government spending.

In their draft budget to the commissioners, the Northampton County Board of Education had requested $3.55 million in from the county for the 2011-12 budget year, $55,000 more than this year’s budget, and $345,000 in capital outlay.

The county’s draft budget includes $3,161,538 million for the schools’ current expense appropriation, a $338,462 reduction compared to the school district’s current year budget, and $345,000 in capital outlay.

“I anticipate we will get a lot of static from the school system,” said Commission Chair Fannie Greene. “So do we have a back up plan?”

“No ma’am, there is no back up plan,” said Jenkins. “We have no plan other than to reduce expenditures and the only way to get to that number is…we’re going to have to lay off employees.”

“I would think looking at their (the school system’s) budget as presented, that they voted on, when you’ve got what, 135-140,000 for the board’s discretion—that is ridiculous,” said Commission Vice Chair James Hester.

Hester pointed to the bonuses and supplemental pay listed in the schools’ budget as well.

“When our employees are working and paying county taxes and they haven’t had a raise in four years, I cannot see us putting enough money in there to give them that kind of money to use at their discretion and for bonuses,” he said.

“I agree with you Reverend Hester,” said Commissioner Virginia Spruill.

“I know that I am in agreement with what we’ve done, but I know that we will probably have some issues,” said Greene.

Spruill urged that the board stand their ground with the reduction.

“We can’t be flip-flopping around,” she said.

Jenkins spoke about $200,000 budgeted for the closing of the 510nano project site.

“If that doesn’t happen, we’ve got to come back and find $200,000 more on the county side,” he said. “The other option is to raise taxes by 2.2 cents.”

The commissioners were also presented with a letter from Assistant Superintendent Phil Matthews dated May 20 responding to a request to provide more information on how school officials intend to use the $345,000 capital outlay appropriation in the upcoming budget.

A spreadsheet sent with the letter showed $145,000 will go toward repairing HVAC systems throughout the district, floor and ground care at schools, re-screening gym floors at the high schools and middle schools as well as purchasing a wrecker, a requirement by Department of Instruction.

“(The) current wrecker is worn out and unsafe and not large enough for today’s buses,” it is noted on the chart.

The chart also states that the $80,000 going toward that purchase is half the cost as the other 50 percent is paid by DPI.

Matthews also wrote about the other $200,000 in the capital outlay appropriation which is budgeted in the event the school board is allowed to have the amount as reserve funds.

“The idea behind the reserve fund is that it provides flexibility of converting this to current expense if required for personnel cost because of anticipated shortages in state appropriations,” Matthews writes. “The bottom portion (of the spreadsheet) describes a need and intended use of $200,000 if the fund, or a portion of it, is not required to be converted to current expense. In other words, the items on the bottom portion of the spreadsheet are capital items that are desperately needed. However, many of these items can be held until later in the budget year until there is a high degree of confidence that the funds will not be needed as current expense to maintain operations through out the 2011-2012 school year.”

Commissioner Robert Carter questioned if the capital outlay funds could be transferred to current expense without the commissioners’ approval.

Jenkins said the transfer is permitted, but tightly restricted by General Statute 115C-433, which outlines that the transfer must be approved by the commissioners and can occur, but only “to meet emergencies unforeseen and unforeseeable at the time the budget resolution was adopted.”

After further discussion, Jenkins said there was a working group between county and school officials scheduled last Tuesday, but the school’s working group did not have enough time to prepare and wanted to meet June 20, the county’s budget adoption day.

He added upon the board’s direction he would inform Superintendent Dr. Eric Bracy of the reduction in the allocation.

In other budget news, a revenue neutral fire service tax was also included in the draft document.

Woodland’s fire service tax went from 5.39 cents to 4.67 cents per $100 of value, Seaboard from 5.3 cents to 5.04 cents, Rich Square from 5.28 to 4.97, Lasker from 5.719 to 5.09 cents, Jackson from 4.35 to 3.93 cents, Garysburg from 5.22 to 5.02 cents, Gaston from 5.17 to 5.07 cents, Roanoke Wildwood A from 2.73 to 2.91 cents and Roanoke Wildwood from 2.56 cents to 2.69 cents.

Jenkins noted how the decrease and increase in property value affected the tax rates in order for the revenue to stay the same for the fire departments.

He added two departments within the county do not have a fire service tax district (Conway and Severn).