Pasquotank County Commissioners approve budget
School Board request under-funded yet again
For the second year in a row, the Pasquotank commissioners have approved a budget, which leaves the local School Board short of its funding request.
Commissioner Griffin was the spokesperson for the commissioners in explaining to the School Board members in the audience as to the litany of things that had occurred since the county experienced the recession, which began in 2007.
Surprisingly, Commissioner Griffin was the same person who provided the analysis last year during which time hopes were expressed that conditions would be improved this year — yet they clearly were not.
In his summary, Griffin pointed to the fact that Pasquotank County was having a very good year for property tax revenue until the recession of 2007. Up to that point, in the previous year, the commissioners had decided to rebate property tax of two cents per $100 valuation, to the citizens, and he explained last night that this decision is at the root of everything that has transpired since then.
Last year, Griffin pointed to various extraordinary measures that had occurred, which had left the county with insufficient funds to fully fund the School Board request. He predicted that the under-funding last year would come up again this year, and of course it did.
But instead of being in a position to deal with the issue in a positive manner, elected officials were forced to beg off yet again. This year, the culprits are the ‘backup 911 Center’ and the state’s emergency radio system known as Viper.
Commissioner Griffin may be correct as to why Pasquotank County experiences these budget deficiencies, year after year. But the cause is that the county government is bloated and they struggle to manage any circumstance that is not anticipated.
Every County Department has a Director and an Assistant — whether one is needed or not. There are functions of the County government, which could be outsourced to vendors under contract, but every time this issue is raised, nothing is done to control spending and therefore free up money that could be used for other budget priorities.
This year the County has approved a $45.4 million general fund budget, plus an additional $22 million covering various other stand alone funds for agencies such as Social Services, the landfill operations and the water department. The general fund is supported by property taxes, which remain at 76 cents per every $100 valuation — the highest in the region.
Solid waste fees and water fees remain unchanged, but again the solid waste fee is the highest in the region.
Granted, the County has had to put $1.4 million in upgrades toward the 911 service, which includes $800,000 to the Viper radio system and $575,000 for the backup 911 Center. County manager Rodney Bunch stated that discussions with Nash County seem to be moving in a positive direction as far as the backup center is concerned.
The backup 911 Center is not a new matter, and has been proposed for the last couple of years with one delay already approved by the Legislature. Whether or not an additional delay will provide some relief to the County is unclear but there are attempts within the legislature to accomplish this.
Commissioner Jeff Dixon stated that they had approached the Hospital Authority to provide a loan to the County of $500,000 so that the County would have the money to fund the School Board ‘1:1 initiative,’ which is temporarily on hold.
This program will provide tablet computers in the classrooms – seen by the School Board as a way of improving the technology efficiency of students. In that regard, Education Foundation board member Doug Gardner spoke to the commissioners and challenged voters to step up to their responsibilities. To this end, he suggested a tax increase.
Most of us remember a few years ago that a ¼-cent tax increase (which would have been earmarked strictly for schools) was on the 2010 ballot, but met an overwhelming defeat by voters.
Six years later, whether or not the voters will approve a tax increase of any amount, for any purpose, is unclear.
It was suggested to the school board members in attendance that schools need to tighten their belt, spending appropriated monies in a more efficient manner.
The school board has a maintenance department but finding any meaningful maintenance anywhere on any building is very difficult to do. The Northeastern High School roof had to be replaced at a cost of over $1 million. But when inspecting that roof before the work was performed, it was perfectly clear that not only had no maintenance been performed on that roof in at least 20 years, that no one had even been on that roof in that same period of time.
Two weeks ago, Commissioner Frankie Meads provided written material stating what the schools need to do to extend the life of various capital improvement items such as roofs and air-conditioning. That information was provided to School Superintendent Cartner yet just a few days later he was quoted as saying that the School Board was going to dip into its fund balance by $950,000 – with a part of that going to replace the roof at the J.C. Sawyer elementary school at a cost of nearly $500,000 rather than spend a lesser amount to repair and extend the life of the existing roof.
So when the School Board says that it does not have money that just means no one has sought out means of saving some money, which could be repurposed to higher priorities.
Information about the prospects for a recession in this country has been provided to Chairman Winslow. Included therein were comments by former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, who recently suggested that the prospects for the U.S. economy are dire.
Whether or not Chairman Winslow will take this information seriously and take corrective measures while he still can, is somewhat doubtful — but hope springs eternal. The same is true for Superintendent Cartner.