Restore employee pay without raising taxes. That was the goal at the heart of the Scotland County Board of Commissioners’ day-long budget work session on Friday.
During the nearly seven-hour session, the board of commissioners received a detailed report of the county’s current financial standing as well as a presentation of the school system’s budget and capital requests for 2013-14.
Of the approximately $1.2 million in capital requests presented by school system Finance Officer Jay Toland, about $515,500 would come directly from the county (and not from lottery funds or fines and forfeitures money).
“We can’t grant that without making deep sacrifices to services and personnel in the county,” said Commissioner Carol McCall following the meeting.
The commissioners are scheduled to meet with the full school board in early June to hammer out a compromise on the school system’s capital request, which includes funds for roof repairs and for the completion of perimeter security walls at several area schools.
“Those walls are a security priority,” said schools Superintendent Rick Stout during Friday’s session.
McCall said that she hopes the commissioners and the school system can reach an amicable compromise during their joint meeting.
“Perhaps these capital projects can be put on a two-year financing plan. Hopefully we can be creative in our approach to this issue. We were certainly creative when we needed to repair the stadium last year,” McCall said.
In agreement with McCall, Chairman Guy McCook said that he looks forward to meeting with the school board and “coming to a compromise position.”
“There is funding available, and we want to help them maintain their facilities at the same time as taking care of our own employees.
“We have a lot of capital needs of our own and we have buildings probably in worse shape than theirs,” McCook said.
Realistic about what will be accomplished at the joint meeting, McCook said that he understood “that we’re not going to resolve whether the county has the school funding formula in the future — but we do know that we have to fund the schools, and we will work with (the school board) to do that.
“The meeting will give us an opportunity to reach a better understanding of their requests and we will try to explain to them what our position is.”
McCook praised Toland’s presentation for its clarity and illustrative quality.
“Jay was new last year, and he has a much better handle on where they are this year. His presentation was very good. … They brought photos of their roofs that needed repair, they brought copies of their facilities plan, an audit of their roofs, and they were prepared to talk about all of those. They did an excellent job,” McCook said.
Above all else, the commissioners were in agreement that “we absolutely want to maintain the tax rate where it is, and even look at reductions,” McCook added. “We wouldn’t consider an increase at all.”
County Manager Kevin Patterson was tasked with presenting several budget alternatives to the commissioners at their next meeting that include lowered tax rates (taxes sit at $1.03 per $100).
“The other thing we are committed to is bringing employee salaries back up to where they were before we cut the 2.5 percent (during budget cuts two years ago),” McCall said. “Maybe we can do that and lower the taxes.”
If the county was to grant all of the budget increases requested by its departments along with restoring employee pay and granting the entire school system capital request it would need to come up with an additional $956,417, according to Patterson.
“So obviously all of the requests cannot be funded. Now it’s a matter of prioritizing those requests,” Patterson said.
“Today was a great introduction to exactly where we are with the budget for the commissioners and a great opportunity to get them ready for the final decision making process that will take place through the next month.”