School Funds Sought

Published 3:48 pm Thursday, April 5, 2012

CUMBERLAND – New County Administrator Vivian Giles took the Cumberland County Board of Supervisors through the proposed 2012-2013 fiscal year budget, tax rates, and capital improvements on Tuesday evening.

After the presentation, Chairman David Meinhard opened the floor up for comments during the scheduled public hearing. The Supervisors are set to consider approval of the budget, tax rates, and capital improvements during its regular meeting next week.

The Circuit Courtroom was filled and extra chairs had to be brought in to accommodate the large crowd that showed up to hear the presentation and speak during the public hearing. The speakers asked that the school system be fully funded. The Cumberland School Board earlier approved the Cumberland County Public School's proposed operating budget.

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The Presentation

According to Ms. Giles, the grand total general fund revenue is anticipated to be $14,213,797.

The total revenue from local sources is expected to be $12,048,586, which includes a $200,000 rollover balance. The advertised budget had the revenue from local sources totaling $12,245,330.

“If you were following along from the notice that was published in the newspaper, the number that you saw there-the local total of the revenue-was $12,245,330 as opposed to the $12,048,586 that you see on this slide,” Ms. Giles noted to the public. “The only difference is that small transfer (law library fund) and the general fund reserve that was reflected in the newspaper.”

Ms. Giles later told The Herald that the budget is still being presented for approval next week just like advertised, which includes a $198,830 general fund reserve.

“The discussion at the public hearing was just a breakdown for informational purposes,” she added about the general fund reserve amount being not included in the revenue slide. “Yes, everything remains.”

Ms. Giles later presented the general fund expenditures portion of the proposed budget.

The total projected general fund revenue is $14,213,797.

Supervisor Bill Osl, District One, noted the state-mandated increases that the County must compensate for but “also keep a relatively flat budget on a year over year basis.”

“Some line items, if they grow, for the most part other line items have shrunk,” she added. “For example, the community development number is larger, however, that includes some items that were historically in other line items so that actual item doesn't really reflect an increase in expending on that in that area.”

General government administration amounts to $1,326,988; judicial administration is $392,959; public safety is $2,062,548; public works is slated at $1,330,752; health is $144,960; education-community college and CSA is $36,620; parks, recreation, and cultural projected at $211,546; community development is $460,948; and non-departmental expenditures is $20,000.

It was at this point that Supervisor Lloyd Banks, District Two, interrupted Ms. Giles' presentation and said, “I would like to add that when you look at community development and we're looking at almost a half of a million dollars I don't see very much of return on investment for that half of a million dollars that the County is investing in community development. I don't see much more development this year than the year before and yet we are spending close to a half of a million dollars in that area. I think we'd be better off buying lottery tickets.”

Wheeler asked, “Explain what you are speaking about in 'community development,' Mr. Banks?”

“The chart shows that we are spending $460,000, almost a half of a million dollars, in community development and I'm asking where is the return on that investment? What are we getting in return…when we look at development? Do we see increased businesses? Do we see revenue being generated? I see a half of a million dollars going out but I don't see it coming back in.”

Osl clarified that the 'community development' line item identified in the budget amounts to $460,948 but it also includes a lot more than just the community and economic development department.

Ms. Giles later noted in her presentation that the line item includes the Planning Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals expenses, the Planning and Zoning Department's budget, the Community and Economic Development Office, contributions to the various local civic groups and organizations that provide services to the county and citizens such as Meals on Wheels, and the Extension Office's local funding, and also the local aid to the commonwealth funding in the amount of $71,000.

Osl also noted the other items under the 'community development' line item and said, “When you add them all up, what is it that's in there for community and economic development, $148,000. That's the total for community and economic development. That's the total department. It's not a half of a million dollars. This is the way we keep our accounting…but that's not the activity that's being performed. We aren't spending $480,000 in economic development.”

Banks then asked, “If we aren't spending it then why is it up there?”

Osl responded, “Well, as an accountant, I'm sure you understand that sometimes you account for things in one way versus activity accounting. That's a way of accounting for data in the accounting system…”

Wheeler later addressed Banks' stance and asked, “Do you want to stifle growth in the County?”

At that time, Chairman Meinhard addressed those in the audience and the Board and said, “I think we really need to get back to the budget presentation.”

Concerning school funding, Ms. Giles noted that the County's books reflect the anticipated state funding for the school division being approximately $8,127,424. Federal funding is identified to total $1,848,516 and local funding from the County is projected to be $3,667,049, which does include the additional $485,000 request that was submitted by the School Board over last year's request to fund the VRS rate increase.

The total school budget is proposed to total, even though a state budget isn't finalized, $14,253,628, she said.

Debt service payments projected in the upcoming fiscal year include $616,563 on the Elementary School; $2,487,477 on the Middle/High School Complex; AMERESCO/school complex payment of $130,446; courthouse expansion $291,758; public facilities note projected at $390,862; and a lease on property at $18,135.

Capital improvements identified to be funded in the upcoming year include computer system upgrades in the amount of $45,000; needed sewer pump replacements in the amount of $15,000; additional equipment and vehicles to the Sheriff's Department in the amount of $89,000; and the truck payment to Randolph Volunteer Fire Department in the amount of $11,830.

The total proposed budget for Cumberland is $28,810,553.

The breakdown is as follows: grand total general fund expenditures is $14,213,797; public school system budget is $14,253,628; social services is $1,356,317; health insurance fund is $1,912,500; other funds total is $1,204,726; and the debt service fund is $3,935,214. The capital improvements total $160,820.

Tax Rates

Included in the budget is $8,414,500 of revenue from general property taxes, offered Ms. Giles, and all tax rates in Cumberland will stay the same. There are no increases identified in the proposed budget.

The 2012 proposed tax rates per $100 assessed value for real estate and manufactured homes is set at 68 cents; personal property will be $4.50; personal property for disabled veterans is one penny; airplane tax rate is 50 cents; machinery and tools is $3.75; heavy construction machinery is $3.75; and public service corporations is 68 cents.

A further breakdown of the numbers reflects that the per penny yield from real estate taxes is $85,932.26 and $7,127.34 for personal property.

“The proposal at the moment is to keep tax rates exactly the same as last year,” said Ms. Giles.

Public HearingOnce Chairman Meinhard opened the public hearing speakers wishing to address the Board were held to a three-minute time limit.

The first to the microphone was Christine Ross.

She said, “I want to thank you for budgeting the requested school funds and I request that the amount that was approved by the School Board for the upcoming fiscal year remain in the proposed budget and be voted through…”

Ross also mentioned the relatively low airplane tax on the planes that are housed at the Farmville Regional Airport in Cumberland County.

“They are only paying fifty cents and, yet, my husband's paying $4.50 on his motorcycle,” she said. “I don't see where that's fair or my neighbors paying that same amount on their…camper. Is there someway to reallocate? I'm not saying lower ours, but someway to…raise that even five cents or find out what the other counties are charging and raise it a little bit?”

Amy Griffin, Cumberland County Public School's superintendent and resident of Cumberland, said, “I'm here to request that you fully fund the 2012-2013 school operating budget that's been submitted to you…We still do not have an approved state budget and I predict that there might be a slight increase in state funding and we talked about that last time, however, that funding will be needed to implement the new VRS legislation requiring employees to pay a portion of VRS with the same amount of salary increase. Using five percent, we would need $52,000 additional more dollars. The School Board has approved a fair and honest budget that took into account the economic state of Cumberland County…”

Griffin then proceeded to list how $600,000 worth of cuts have already been made to the school's budget. Before ending her comments, Griffin asked those in the audience in support of the school system to stand and said, “I think that speaks for itself.”

Ginger Sanderson addressed the Board next. She also requested that the Supervisors fully fund the School Board's budget request.

“We need to be fully funded,” she said. “…Educators must stand above the students and yet be on their level with less funding. They must be able to do the regular 180 things that are not connected to the subject being taught in combination with more items that help them compete with life lessons with less funding…”

Jennifer Sullivan was next. She addressed the Board and noted that she didn't “envy” those in the Board of Supervisors seats.

“But, I'm still going to ask you to fully fund our school budget,” she said.

“When I moved here 19 years ago to Cumberland County I never dreamed that the Cumberland County Public School system could have improved the way it has,” she said. “We have high graduation rates, we have better daily attendance and all three schools are accredited. I couldn't believe that that happened.”

Sullivan also served on the School Board for four years in the past.

“I don't come to speak to you all often,” she said. “I pick my fights. This is a big fight.”

Yyonne Earvin also addressed the Board and asked for the school budget to be funded.

“…This is a wise investment for our future,” she said. “I encourage the Board to make every effort towards this end.”

Patty Pedrick said, “Please pass this budget and fully fund the 2012-2012 school budget.”

Virginia Gills later provided an analogy to the Supervisors. She explained that teachers and students in the classroom each day are like parents with children in a car on a long road trip.

“They have over 20 of them in a classroom,” she said. “Some of them are hungry, some of them are tired, some eager to learn, some are bored with learning, some are happy to breath, some are angry at the world, but the bottom-line is that they teach them everyday…And at the end of the day, when the kids are gone, those teachers and staff get ready for the next day…”

During the public hearing, Supervisor Banks asked to provide some “clarification.”

“For the sake of clarification, I want to make one comment to everybody in the audience,” he said. “Our local revenue for the school system last year was $3.2 million dollars and our current budget for the school is $3.6 million. The Board has already authorized an increase of 12 percent for the school system and the real hardship with the school system is that the school system lost over $1 million from state and federal funding. What we need to remember when we go to the polls in November is who took your money.”

He added, “The Cumberland County Board of Supervisors did not reduce your budget…Yes, we're mindful of your budget but at the same time I want everybody to remember in November who's taking the money from the school system…”

Afterwards, the public comments continued and Christopher Deane addressed the Supervisors.

Deane, a student liaison to the School Board, asked that the Board fully fund the school's budget.

“I think you owe it to the student body that they stay competitive in the ever changing global economy,” he said.

Board Comments

Once the public hearing was closed, Supervisor Osl addressed the mandated VRS legislation and commented that the funding put in the County's budget for salary increases could be used for this required mandate.

“There has been some contention about salary increases in the County budget and, in fact, at one time in the budget we put in some money for it and I suggested to the Board that there were some bills pending in the state legislature that would require us to provide a salary increase because of VRS funding and that we would use that money for that purpose.”

Osl added, “That would take care of that $52,000 to the school because it's already built in to the budget for the salary increases if that happens.”

Afterwards, Supervisor Kevin Ingle, District Three, noted the support for the school system.

“A lot of support was here for the school tonight,” he said. “…I feel the support for the school 100 percent is in here and we've considered it and we are working towards it and we're still working on it…Please be understanding with our desire to fulfill everybody's request…”

Chairman Meinhard ended the meeting and said, “I appreciate seeing all the people from the school system. I think y'all have done a wonderful job speaking up for the school. I wish that we would have also had some response…from some of the other agencies in the rest of the County…”