Schools helping plug budget hole|Will use reserves to assist countyin closing shortfall

Published 8:44 pm Thursday, October 1, 2009

Staff Writer

The Beaufort County Board of Education voted Wednesday night to return $246,000 in funds to Beaufort County to help the county plug a $308,837 shortfall in its 2009-2010 fiscal-year budget.
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. However, the state has told the schools it will need to set aside about $52,154 of that money to cover a shortfall because of increases in state employment benefits and cuts in school transportation funds, leaving about $236,870 in contingency funds, according to interim schools Superintendent William Rivenbark.
Rivenbark said the schools will use $236,000 in contingency money that the school board held in reserve to cover anticipated cuts imposed by the General Assembly and $10,000 in other budget cuts.
“We were holding this money back because we anticipated cuts from the state this year,” Rivenbark said in an interview Wednesday afternoon before a meeting of the school board. “The Board of Education made a wise decision by not spending this money.”
During its meeting Wednesday, the school board approved an amendment to its 2009-2010 budget and the transfer of funds to the county.
The Beaufort County Board of Commissioners is expected to approve an amendment to its budget and the transfer of funds from the schools to the county at its meeting tonight.
The agreement was reached after a series of meetings between county and school officials.
The county is expected to plug the remaining $62,837 hole in its budget from increased property-tax collections as a result of some new discoveries in county property values, according to County Manager Paul Spruill
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.
That agreement called for a $543,000 increase in county appropriations to the county school current expense fund in 2009-2010 over the previous fiscal year.
The amount the schools are expected to refund the county is about 40 percent of that increase.
The $618,542 in cuts imposed on Beaufort County by the General Assembly when it passed the state budget in August included $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 schools-construction bond.
Spruill earlier this month told the commissioners that 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.