Motion defeated to rescind additional funding

Published 8:57 am Thursday, June 23, 2011

WINTON – A motion was defeated here Monday night that would rescind a commitment made earlier this month to provide  additional funding to Hertford County Public Schools (HCPS) and Roanoke-Chowan Community College (RCCC).

During their meeting on June 6, the Hertford County Board of Commissioners, in 3-2 vote, opted to add $125,000 to the pending 2011-12 county budget in a one-time emergency appropriation to HCPS ($100,000) and RCCC ($25,000). Commissioners Curtis Freeman, Ronald Gatling and Bill Mitchell favored that additional money. Commission Chairman Johnnie Ray Farmer and Commissioner Howard Hunter III were opposed.

The added funds will increase the current local money appropriated to HCPS ($4.17 million) and RCCC ($778,839).

As part of Monday night’s meeting agenda, a public hearing was scheduled for the proposed new county budget, which takes affect on July 1.

Prior to the floor being opened for that hearing, each commissioner chose to disclose their individual ties to public education entities in Hertford County. Freeman identified himself as Security Coordinator of HCPS; Gatling disclosed he served HCPS as Community Relations Officer; Mitchell said his wife was employed by RCCC as Director of the Learning Resources Center, Associate Dean of Curriculum and Dean of the IT Department; Hunter disclosed that his wife is a Guidance Counselor for HCPS; and Farmer said he was retired from HCPS.

Despite nearly a room full of county citizens, no one in the audience commented on the proposed budget during the public hearing.

County Manager Loria Williams updated the board and the audience on the status of the new budget, saying the General Fund was in balance and she was working to bring the Enterprise Fund into balance. She passed out a sheet of the current changes pending in the budget, which is scheduled for a final vote at 10 a.m. on Monday, June 27.

“All of the changes are the result of a (budget) work session,” she said.

Williams added that the proposed tax rate is 84 cents (per $100 of property value), representing a one-cent increase over what she proposed in late May. The county’s current tax rate stands at 91 cents.

She reminded the board that about $1.4 million was needed from fund balance to insert in the 2011-12 General Fund. For clarification, Williams noted that approximately $150,000 of the $1.4 million would be non-recurring expenses.

“At our last meeting, a motion was made to add $125,000 to the budget (for HCPS and RCCC); I motion that we rescind those funds,” Commissioner Hunter said after the public hearing was gaveled to a close.

After a long pause without a second to that motion, Farmer offered one after clearing with board attorney Chuck Revelle it was proper for him to do so as chairman.

Hunter then lobbied the board to support his motion by reading from a prepared statement.

“My fellow commissioners, I support the current tax rate of 84 cents.  I support education 100 percent, but I will not vote to support the current budget that increases any outside entities over the level funding that we all agreed on entering next budget year,” Hunter said.

“There had been talks on taking care of home first and county employees, as well as this is an election  year…a lot of unnecessary discussions that really ended up as a waste of time. Does this give us the right to give monies freely.  Remember that each of us will be held accountable for how we spend our taxpayers’ monies.”

Hunter continued, “The school system made a plea for an extra $246,000 that may save only five teachers that the state pays for.  The facts are clear: (one)  The General Assembly added another $300 million to the state budget that pays for all teacher assistants. One hundred million is included in the school lottery construction fund. The Governor will not shift any school worker compensation costs or school bus replacement costs to the counties. The (state) budget fully funds community college enrollment growth.  (Two) Also in the budget the state shrunk class room sizes, but added an additional 1,000-plus teaching positions. (Three) In August of 2010 counties received federal stimulus funds to be used to backfill cuts. Hertford County received $720,000 that was not expected.  There are flex cuts built in and they are left up to the LEA to decide where to cut.  Are we to come to rescue of what the state does not do for state employees?  Also this is another debate, should any school board have a hefty fund balance as ours does?  They get funds once a month from the state as well as the county.

“The community college pleaded for an additional $105,000 which really did not show how it will be used in the budget they turned in,” Hunter added.  “They say they can settle for $25,000.  Why not ask for what they need instead of what they want?  It’s time to get away from these type of politics.  I paid close attention to what other counties give.  The community college needs to plea to other counties not giving their portion.

“In closing, the extra monies you voted to give away is not allocated and these entities are free to do as pleased with it.  What message are we sending to our county employees – we don’t give a rat about them?  Their budget was cut to the bare bone. Why do we always have to come to the rescue and send the bill to our hardworking taxpayers? I plea to each commissioner to do a study on all of the surrounding counties to see what is given during their budget and how much each county employee makes.  You will find out that Hertford County surpasses all in giving during budget, giving $1.2 million more than any county in our area to schools, but less in paying employees as well as highest in taxes.  We use to have a motto: let’s feed everyone out of the same spoon, but today a fork was used.”

“Our budget will not be approved until June 27; this information from Mr. Hunter has just arrived in my hands and I want to look at this some more,” Freeman said.

Farmer also addressed the school funding issue.

“The motion that set this $125,000 into play was it was to be a one-time appropriation from fund balance,” Farmer noted. “We have cut our own county departments to the bone. They turned in their budgets and Ms. Williams sent them back and said cut some more. In a way, we’re saving money on the backs of our county departments and then giving it to another entity. I’m not satisfied with that.”

Farmer continued, “I’m also not satisfied with this being a one-time appropriation. If next year is as bad as this year, that means next year we’ll cut the schools $125,000. I’m not happy about that and I don’t think the school board would be happy about that either.”

“To my knowledge, we’ve never cut the school funding, it’s always been level funding or we’ve increased it,” Hunter noted. “My motion to rescind these extra funds does not mean I’m opposed to what we’re doing educationally here in Hertford County. Our schools and our school board are doing an excellent job. I’m opposed to the extra funds because it’s not right to cut our county departments and then hand over that money to another agency to do with it as they so please.”

In a show of hands, Hunter and Farmer voted for the motion to rescind the additional funds for HCPS and RCCC. Freeman, Gatling and Mitchell voted in opposition, thus defeating the motion 3-2.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

email author More by Cal