County Commissioners need more clout in directing schools’ capital outlays

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PASQUOTANK COUNTY — In the past, the autonomy of school boards in local jurisdictions has become an impediment for Boards of Commissioners to have a say in how taxpayer money for education has been spent. When there was a budget concern, the Commissioners were left out of the school board’s discussion while remaining responsible to the taxpayers for how much tax increase might apply to each budget year.

In 2013, House Bill 726 was introduced in the Legislature, which would have given Wake County commissioners the option of managing the school capital expenditures in that county. The bill failed but there remains interest in giving County Commissioners across the state some say in what needs to be done and how much to pay for it.

It has been suggested that appointed members of the community should serve on oversight boards — consisting of citizens who have expertise in various fields in an effort to make certain that the Schools achieve proper maintenance of the buildings while keeping the cost to the taxpayers as low as feasible.

In addition, these boards would serve as independent advisors and evaluators of the School Facilities Program.

This matter was discussed in Pasquotank County several months ago in conjunction with the partial replacement of a school roof. The suggestion was made by Commissioner Frankie Meads that a proposal such as this be discussed with the school board. But the rest of the commissioners rejected the proposal out of hand.

Those against the suggestion argued that the school board could sue the county. While that was and is true, these commissioners must not have been familiar with the General Statutes of North Carolina, which address the responsibility of the commissioners to not withhold funds unreasonably, but also provides that reasonable attempts by the commissioners to hold down costs are not a means upon which they should be sued.

The counties are under strain to reduce spending, rather than borrow more and more money.

Recently, Pasquotank County was advised by its auditor that the county’s long term debt had been reduced from $78 mill to $54 mill and that the county credit rating had improved from A- to A. Obviously that was good news.

But, the commissioners stated that this would allow them to borrow more money. So, maybe it was not so good after all. That same night the commissioners voted to donate a Snap on Tools truck that had been impounded 10 years earlier, to the City of Elizabeth City – a municipality in the county that has failed to pay its county-supplied water bill.

This delinquency has caused the county to incur thousands of dollars in legal expenses, but we gave them a truck anyway that was worth $2,500 at the minimum. So much for saving taxpayer’s money!

This newspaper intends to follow this matter to its conclusion, tracking any legislation introduced in this year’s General Assembly, and the progress it makes to becoming law.