Commissioners concerned with a possible ‘setup’|Funding at center of disagreement with school system

Published 9:06 pm Saturday, October 3, 2009

Staff Writer

The Beaufort County Board of Commissioners rebalanced the county’s 2009-2010 fiscal year budget Thursday night as some commissioners criticized the county school board for a letter it sent as part of a signed agreement to help.
County Commissioner Hood Richardson said a letter from the schools’ interim Superintendent William Rivenbark “sounds like a set-up.”
Commissioner Stan Deatherage agreed.
“Every time I feel that I’m getting my arms around the board of education as being a wise group of people, they do something really dumb,” Deatherage said. “I feel like next year we’re going to have to pay because I agree with Hood. This is a set-up.”
After first rejecting the agreement, the school board 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 budget. But when it did, it also instructed Rivenbark to write a letter to the county reflecting the comments of school board Chairman Robert Belcher, who said the board would be less agreeable to help close any budget gap next year.
“(T)he board anticipates the full amount of the agreed to increase in current expense to be honored by the commissioners unless the fiscal reality that the county faces in September, 2010 is direly and significantly worse that it is currently,” Rivenbark’s letter to county Manager Paul Spruill reads. “The Beaufort County Board of Education believes that the County manager has ample time to develop a budget for the ‘10-’11 fiscal year that will honor the final year of the agreement that is currently in place.”
Commissioner Jerry Langley said the letter appeared to box the county commissioners into future action at a time when they do not know what the future state of the economy and future state funding would be.
“We don’t know what kind of shape we’re going to be in next year,” he said.
The commissioners voted 5-2 to accept the agreement with the schools, with Richardson and Deatherage dissenting.
The commissioners also voted 5-2, also with Richardson and Deatherage dissenting, to approve a budget amendment balancing the county’s budget including the refund from the school board and other cuts made by Spruill.
In other action, the board:
• Unanimously adopted a resolution, introduced by Richardson, calling on the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University to consider various actions as part of its review of the effects of sea-level rise on North Carolina coastal counties. The commissioners want the institute to evaluate the benefits of increasing the water depth in the Pamlico River by mining phosphate found in the river bed, the effects on water quality of issuing septic tank permits in low-lying areas as sea level rises and the cost to the public of the government purchase of wetlands that will eventually be under water.
• Following a public hearing, approved the final draft of the county’s land-use plan as required by the Coastal Area Management Act. The plan was approved with two changes requested by Ross Smith, environmental affairs manager for PCS Phosphate’s Aurora complex. Ross said the plan needed to clarify its definition of coastal and inland waters and reflect the change in the status of the bald eagle as it pertains to the Endangered Species List.
• Approved an agreement with JKF Architecture of Greenville to design a new allied health and nursing building on the Beaufort County Community College campus. The total cost of construction, including contingencies and fees, is expected to be $7.6 million, including an architect’s fee of $576,984. The commissioners approved a request from Commissioner Robert Cayton to abstain from the vote because he serves on the BCCC Board of Trustees and has worked with JKF Architecture on previous projects.
• Voted 6-1 to move forward with a proposed ordinance expanding the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office’s authority to perform nationwide criminal background checks on those seeking a permit from the Alcohol Beverage Control Board. The sheriff’s office already has the authority to perform state background checks. Commissioner Ed Booth cast the lone dissenting vote.
• Agreed to meet at 6 p.m. Oct. 19 to hear public comments on the 2010 schedule of tax values for property in Beaufort County. The values schedule, once established, will be used in the county’s upcoming property tax revaluation. A copy of the values schedule is on file in the Beaufort County Tax Assessor’s office.
• Made the following appointments: Commissioner Al Klemm as the alternate to the Mid-East Commission Board; Emergency Management Coordinator John Pack, David Fields and Carolyn Hughes to the Region Q EMS Advisory Council and Bill Booth and Zoph Potts to the Economic Development Commission.
• Voted to replace two vehicles used by the county’s water department but delayed action on a third vehicle.
• Approved $5,715.25 in travel expenses.
All commissioners attended the meeting.