Published 8:53 pm Monday, December 31, 2007

By By DAN PARSONS,Staff Writer
At the outset of 2007, two Beaufort County elected bodies agreed to bury the hatchet over funding disputes.
The Beaufort County Board of Commissioners, during a meeting with the Beaufort County Board of Education in February, voted 5-2 to enter an agreement with the school board that bars the two bodies from suing each other over school-related funding for four years.
Earlier in the day, the school board unanimously voted to take the “interlocal agreement” to the commissioners for their consideration. After the commissioners met in a nearly 1.5 hour closed session to discuss the proposed agreement, they accepted it.
Commissioners Hood Richardson and Stan Deatherage voted against the agreement. Chairman Jay McRoy and commissioners Robert Cayton, Ed Booth, Jerry Langley and Al Klemm voted for the deal.
At the commissioners’ regular October meeting, Beaufort County Manager Paul Spruill estimated that the county has spent $90,000 on litigation stemming from the lawsuit brought against them by the school board last July. He estimated the school board had spent $160,000 on attorney fees. A jury subsequently awarded the school board $765,783, upping its local appropriation for the fiscal year from $9.4 million to $10.2 million. The county appealed the case, which is set to be heard in a Raleigh Apellate Court in August.
0002000004420000057643C,Despite the pact, Deatherage has repeatedly called for commissioners to “make it as hard and nasty as possible for us to be sued again.”
That agreement calls for the school board to relinquish funds it receives from state-lottery proceeds to the county until 2012. In exchange, the county will release bond-sale revenues to help build the new John Small Elementary School. After the 2010-2011 budget year, lottery proceeds will return to the school system to be used for its capital projects.
As part of the deal, the school board will receive a 5-percent increase — about $300,000 — in county dollars each year for the next four years.
School leaders must still present proposed budgets for the school system to commissioners as usual before the beginning of each budget year. If the schools later deviate from their spending plans, those budget requests must come back for commissioners’ approval.
With the pact, commissioners also accepted bids totaling $11,085,035 to design and build John Small Elementary School. That amount includes the $10.4 million bid to build the school.
0002000006BF000009B26B9,“I think this is a good deal because we will be getting sure money instead of money that may or may not be there,” Belcher said at school board’s February meeting prior to the pact’s approval. “We have never had lottery money before, so we really aren’t losing anything. Sometimes you’ve got to give something up to get something else. I don’t think you will ever get the whole loaf, but we’ve got a good part of a loaf with this deal.”
Earlier this month, the school board did ask commissioners for more. The first overrun in school board spending since the pact was put before commissioners Dec. 12. Commissioners then approved a budget amendment authorizing the funding of a $390,000 overrun in the construction at Aurora middle school. School Board Chairman Robert Belcher said the overage was a result of having to remove an underground storage tank discovered while laying the school’s foundation.
Richardson opposed releasing funds to cover the overrun. In discussion prior to voting on the appropriation, Richardson referenced the pact between the boards and the school’s agreement to live within their allotted budget.