Boards talk budgets|State budget woes affecting schools, county government

Published 6:31 pm Friday, September 18, 2009

Staff Writer

County and school officials agreed Wednesday night to meet during the next two weeks to work out a way to plug a $308,837 hole in Beaufort County’s budget that remains after cuts to four agency budgets were identified in response to a shortfall in the county’s 2009-2010 fiscal-year budget.
“Obviously, things have changed because of the state problems with the economy,” said Jay McRoy, chairman of the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners, during the commissioners meeting Wednesday night. ‘Hopefully, the schools and the county can work together to figure out this shortfall.
“Both parties have problems, and we’re going to have to work through this,” he said.
A multi-year agreement obligates the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners and the Beaufort County Board of Education to “revisit” the most recent local appropriations to the school system in the event the state holds back money designated for public-school capital expenses.
The $618,542 in cuts imposed on Beaufort County by the General Assembly when it passed the state budget in August include $380,000 in state-shared corporate income-tax funds, allocated to counties based on average daily membership at local public schools, which the state appropriates to counties for school capital expenses.
Beaufort County uses this money to pay a portion of the nearly $2.8 million in debt from a school-construction bond.
McRoy said that even though state funding for the debt payment had been cut, the county’s payment on this debt “won’t get reduced” and the county will need to find the money to make up for the difference.
County Manager Paul Spruill told the commissioners he had identified $309,705 either from new expenditure cuts or new appropriations to help make up for the shortfall but a gap in the county’s budget still remains. The cuts identified to date by Spruill defray maintenance and repairs on buildings, delay equipment purchases and cut travel and training for the sheriff’s, health and social-services departments and the county elections board.
But while the commissioners and school officials pledged to work together to find a solution to the budget shortfall, the school system’s interim superintendent, William Rivenbark, said in an interview after the meeting that it would be “impossible” for the schools to bear the entire burden of the remaining county budget shortfall.
“We’re not sure what the burden will be for the schools until we get to the table,” he said, adding that the schools would not be able to come up with “anything near” the remaining $308,837.
When it adopted its budget for the 2009-2010 fiscal year, the school board set aside a contingency fund of $289,024 to deal with anticipated cuts in state funding, Rivenbark told the commissioners. However, he said, the state has told the school system it will need to set aside $52,154 of that money to cover a shortfall because of increases in state employment benefits and cuts in school transportation funds.
“Our contingency strategy was a good business decision and obviously we now need to appropriate a portion of it, but it appears by our presence here tonight that we are still not out of the woods,” he said.
Rivenbark said that although the schools have received funds from the federal government as part of its stimulus package, those funds are “extremely restricted rather than flexible as we would have preferred” and must be spent over the next two years exclusively on five federal programs.
“Because of the federally imposed limitations, it will be a challenge to spend all of these stimulus funds over the next two years,” he said. “It is heartbreaking to be in this spending dilemma while many other critical budget areas could benefit from the infusion of these dollars if only the flexibility to do so was there.”
Spruill told the commissioners that he would have recommendations for additional cuts to the county budget at the next board meeting Oct. 1.
In other business, the commissioners
• Unanimously voted to ask the N.C. Wildlife Commission to create a no-wake zone in a section of Tranter’s Creek upstream from a pubic boat ramp. The action came after a public hearing during which four residents who live along the creek said the section of the creek, about one-half mile upstream of the Clark’s Neck Road bridge, is dangerous.
Wildlife Resource Commission rules require that an application for a no-wake-zone designation come from the local government with territorial jurisdiction over the waterway in question — in this case, the Beaufort County commissioners. The rules also require that a public hearing be held on the request. The process for designating the area as a no-wake zone will likely take from one year to 18 months, according to the commission.
• Unanimously voted to appropriate $2,000 from county contingency funds for a project to bring a half-size replica of the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., to Veterans Park In Washington. The wall is scheduled to appear in Washington April 22-26, 2010.
• Voted 4-3 to adopt a resolution submitted by Commissioner Stan Deatherage asking the federal government to rescind the balance of its stimulus package. In part, the resolution reads, “(T)he Beaufort County Board of Commissioners do hereby resolve that the U.S. Congress and the Executive Branch must rescind the balance of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to enact wise national economic policy to bolster a stronger dollar, and build for an economy that will support the growth of jobs.” Commissioners Deatherage, Richardson, Klemm and McRoy voted in favor of the resolution. Commissioners Booth, Cayton and Langley voted against the resolution.
• Unanimously accepted a $98,000 bid from J &W Sandblasting to paint the water tank on Old Sand Hill Road in Aurora.
• Unanimously approved $12,221.40 in travel requests.
• Made appointments as follows to various county boards and commissions: Robert Cayton, Mitch St. Clair, Betty Jo Tetterton and Michael Crawford to the Beaufort County Board of Health; Cecil Smith Jr. to the Beaufort County Industrial Facilities and Pollution Control Financing Authority and Social Services Director Sonya Toman to the Region Q Workforce Development Board. The commissioners also voted to concur with three appointments to City of Washington boards including Marie Freeman Barber to the Board of Adjustment, Tim Cashion as an alternate to the Board of Adjustment and Ronald Price to the Planning Board.
• Delayed action on a resolution giving the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office the authority to perform criminal background checks on individuals or locations seeking a permit from the state Alcohol Beverage Control Commission.
All commissioners attended the meeting.