County votes to replace high school chiller

By Mary Katherine Murphy - [email protected]

LAURINBURG — The Scotland County Board of Commissioners agreed on Monday to use $234,000 from the county’s fund balance to replace a chiller at Scotland High School — but in the hope of a deal with the school board to reduce its capital funding obligation for the upcoming fiscal year.

Roger Ammons, Scotland County Schools’ maintenance director, presented the option of repairing the existing chiller, which was installed in 1998, for $128,000 or replacing it for $234,000. The chiller serves Buildings 2 and 3 at Scotland High School, which house the old gym, the auditorium, and the commons, and which do not have windows that open.

A repair made to the chiller in late 2014 was expected to prolong its life for three to five years, Ammons said, but has already failed.

“We have a 300-ton chiller that has completely died on us, to be frank,” Ammons said, describing the situation as an emergency as it will take at least six weeks from the date of ordering a new chiller for it to be installed.

“We need some cooling in those two buildings for nine and a half, 10 months out of every year. This cooling does not only control temperature; it controls humidity also, and when you don’t have cooling in a building that does not have ventilation, obviously other things begin to happen, humidity levels begin to rise, and that’s not a good situation.”

Commissioners Bob Davis and Clarence McPhatter opposed the motion to fund the new chiller, suggesting that the school system use a portion of its $2.2 million current expense fund balance. Jay Toland, the school system’s finance officer, said that the school system uses its current expense fund balance to insulate itself from the vagaries of the state budget process.

“If the state comes back with a large cut, we may be in a position to have to RIF people, send people home, and that’s not something we like to do,” said Toland. “We like to have the flexibility to use fund balance for one year and then reduce the budget through attrition, so that’s why it’s important for us to keep that fund balance in the current expense side.”

County Manager Kevin Patterson pointed out that the school system cannot legally transfer funds from its general fund to its capital fund without the commissioners’ approval.

“Capital expenditures are one of the obligations that the county has, and also I’ve been hearing about this chiller for years now,” Patterson said, recommending that the commissioners fund the project in full.

Commissioner Guy McCook made the motion to appropriate the full cost of the chiller from the county’s fund balance. But he hoped that the gesture might influence the school board to revise the county’s existing agreement to provide $300,000 in school capital funding for the 2016-2017 year.

According to Ammons, the chiller is slated as the top capital priority at Scotland High School and as such would likely have been addressed by the school system in the upcoming fiscal year.

“I’m probably in favor of going ahead and doing something, but I think we’ve begun this relationship of trying to work things through together and I think to me it makes a little bit of sense, if it was going to be a priority issue next year, that there be some recognition of that in the budget,” said McCook.

In other business, the commissioners heard an overview of the county’s 2014-2015 financial audit from Carl Head, of the Parker, Wagoner, and Roche accounting firm. Summarizing the audit, which unearthed no significant problems, Head reported that the county’s fund balance is recovering, with four years of positive growth in a row.

“From 2006 to 2011, there were significant decreases in your fund balance,” said Head. “Starting in 2012, you started to recover those losses… I might project, if things continued as they were, that you would be back to those 2006 levels maybe in two years.”

The county currently holds a fund balance of $11.5 million. In 2006, the county had its highest fund balance ever at $15 million.

Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169.

By Mary Katherine Murphy

[email protected]

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