School funding unchanged in Northampton

Published 9:01 am Monday, June 18, 2012

JACKSON – Members of the Northampton County Board of Education had questions for the Board of Commissioners as the two governing entities met in a work session.

On Thursday, the commissioners went over the $3.5 million school district’s local appropriation with school board members.

County Manager Wayne Jenkins said for the past several weeks the Board of Commissioners has been working on the proposed $24.73 million 2012-13 general fund operating budget, which began with a $3.19 million shortfall.

Last week the commissioners completed their final work session with a balanced budget, but were still debating a 2.5 percent cost of living raise for county employees and trying to keep a 90/10 percent cost share on employee health insurance.

“Last week, when we finished our last work session, our chair lady (Virginia Spruill) asked me my opinion about asking the two boards to come together so that you could hear the information first hand from our board when the board deliberates this coming Monday on its budget (set for 1:30 p.m.),” Jenkins said. “At that point in time I fully expect the board to adopt the budget.”

Jenkins said in the proposed budget Northampton County Public Schools is funded through current expense at $3,161,538 and capital outlay at $345,000.

Fines and forfeitures come in at $100,000.

Jenkins noted the county’s proposed budget includes a reduction in force of five positions and a five cent tax increase on real and personal property.

He added the tax rate increase is not due to the Northampton County Board of Education’s request or the construction of a new Department of Social Services facility.

“This five cents was caused by increases in the delivery of services as you know,” he said.

Jenkins said the county had an increase of approximately $170,000-$180,000 to retiree insurance and an increase of 9.8 percent to employee health insurance premiums.

Spruill and Vice Chairman Robert Carter noted the meeting was to lay out the budget information to the Board of Education and to let the members of that board to respond.

School Board Chairman Donald Johnson asked what five cent tax increase would generate.

Jenkins responded $875,000. He added one cent generates $181,214 and the county’s collection rate stands at 95 percent.

Johnson questioned if county services had expanded.

Jenkins noted the addition of another EMS crew of eight employees (at $378,470 for employees, operational costs and benefits) beginning January 1, 2013 to shorten response time of providing paramedic level emergency medical services to the east side of the county.

“We had not planned to have to do that this year, but Woodland Rescue Squad ran into some issues with the town, the town felt they had to dissolve their medical emergency services department and they did,” Jenkins said.

School Board member Bill Little asked if the EMS expansion was the only additional service.

“That’s the only additional service,” Jenkins said. “There are other increases in the cost of services in this budget.”

Johnson asked about the health insurance cost share.

Jenkins noted if the health insurance cost share percentage was lowered to 80/20 county employees would see an additional $704 taken out of their check annually.

The commissioners directed Jenkins and Finance Officer Dot Vick to take the required funds from the undesignated fund balance to keep insurance cost share at 90/10 and include at 2.5 percent cost of living raise for employees.

“Those two pieces are in this budget,” Jenkins said. “The cost of those is $367,000.”

School Board Vice Chairwoman Marjorie Edwards questioned if the school board was cut.

“Current year funding levels are exactly as I talked you through,” Jenkins said. “The only difference, as you recall last August, there was a special agreement for a one time $100,000 appropriation for fiscal year 2011-12. That $100,000 is not in the budget.”

School Board member Erica Smith-Ingram noted the school board last year was cut $393,000.

“We came to a meeting of the minds and we were able to negotiate and that $100,000 made us feel like we were only cut $293,000,” she said. “Are you saying to us now that your current level is the same as last year minus the $393,000?”

“No. What’s in this budget is current level for you, minus the $100,000,” Jenkins responded.

Jenkins also referred to $200,000 that the school board was authorized to transfer from their capital outlay budget and into current expense, in addition to the $100,000 mediation settlement.

Ingram questioned Jenkins about a $200 one time bonus for employees.

Jenkins said that option was discussed by the commissioners and they directed him and Vick to go back and talk with the auditor to see what the additional $216,000 would do to the county fund balance percentage.

He said he met with the auditor on Monday and because expenditures are down the percentage would be unlikely to change going forward to this coming fiscal year.

Johnson asked if employees were getting a 2.5 percent cost of living increase.

“So they are getting an increase for the first time in five years?” Johnson asked.

“Yes sir,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins added county employees have taken an direct decrease in pay the last four years due to health insurance increases.

School Board member Kevin Edwards said it was a similar to what education was seeing as state teachers have not seen an increase in five years.

“These economical times have suppressed us all,” Edwards said.