Schools, SCC Ask County for Increases
State funding cuts coupled with new state mandates will again have a negative impact on the Moore County public schools' budget picture.
The schools' $26.2 million current expense budget request was one of three major budgets unveiled for the Moore County Board of Commissioners Monday night. That total represents a $1.3 million increase over this year's county appropriation.
As with the public schools, Sandhills Community College and Sandhills Mental Health Center had pared down their requests in acknowledgement of prevailing economic conditions.
"We have some really hard tough love decisions ahead of us," said Tim Lea, chairman of the Board of Commissioners. "We can't be sure what we'll be able to do with our new budget."
The commissioners accepted the three budget requests, which go to the county manager for inclusion in the proposed 2010-2011 county budget. County Manager Cary McSwain is expected to present the county's budget proposal at the board's next meeting in May.
The schools' budget represents a major proportion of the county budget. Superintendent Susan Purser said the current expense request represents an increase of $978,000, reduced from an original $1.5 million. The additional funds include operational costs for two new schools, Crain's Creek and West Pine Elementary, and additions at other schools. The total breaks down into $460,000 for operations and $518,000 for staffing.
Purser said the school system also faces an additional $375,000 in increased costs mandated by the state. The county's share of these mandates includes $250,000 for the retirement fund and $125,000 for health insurance.
School systems have asked the state to waive these increases because of the sluggish economy, but a decision has not yet been made at the state level, she reported.
The school budget request includes $1.3 million for capital outlay, the same amount received this year.
Purser said the school system is absorbing $4.8 million in state funding cuts that it is not asking the county to cover.
The combined state budget cuts for the previous, current and coming year amounts to $11.7 million, the commissioners were advised.
Purser said the cuts are ongoing and are being absorbed by the school system. Federal stimulus funds eased some of the pain this year but will not be available for the new year.
Seven of the eight Board of Education members attended the meeting.
"The loss of stimulus money and state funding will continue to cause much consternation in our schools," said school board Chairman Dale Frye in his introduction.
Frye also told of a recent encounter with Superior Court Judge Howard Manning, who made headlines a few years ago with a landmark decision requiring the state to increase its support for school systems with lower than average financial support.
Manning was quoted as describing the Moore County school system as "a good school system."
Purser followed with a brief PowerPoint presentation featuring highlights of the school year, ranging from the Union Pines High School band marching in a Washington parade to winning debate competitions.
College Enrollment Up
The $4.2 million request from Sandhills Community College is a 2.2 percent increase over this year, largely to cover the hefty increase in enrollment because of economic conditions.
"When the economy goes down, our enrollment goes up," said George Little, chairman of the college Board of Trustees.
Little said Sandhills has the largest enrollment in the college's history. He said the college is training people for new jobs and better jobs and helping them to find jobs.
Dr. John Dempsey, SCC president, said that the 2.2 percent increase also includes the same funding increases mandated by the state for the public schools.
"From our standpoint, this is really a zero increase," Dempsey said.
Sandhills Center Funding
The much smaller request from Sandhills Center was the only one of the three with no increase at all.
Victoria Whitt, the new CEO of the center, asked the county for a local allocation of $563,744, which includes $13,250 in ABC funds. Whitt reminded the board that the center has not sought an increase in local funding for six consecutive years.
The center provides mental health, developmental disabilities and substance abuse services for eight counties, Moore, Richmond, Anson, Montgomery, Harnett, Hoke, Randolph and Lee. It has headquarters at Seven Lakes with clinics in each county.
Whitt said that Sandhills Center also suffered "an unpleasant cut" in state funding, with the $4.6 million slashed from the total budget representing a 19 percent reduction. She said the cuts were absorbed by not filling vacant positions and that the center used $1.5 million from its fund balance. The center also reduced payments to some providers to make up the rest of the loss.
The center board decided to ask each member county for the same allocation in the new fiscal year, she reported.
Funds allocated by the county will be used to cover the cost of outpatient services to Moore County residents, Whitt said.
Whitt said that the only new money coming to the center is allocated to FirstHealth to provide local psychiatric in-patient service. She said this allows the center to treat more patients locally.
She also reported a successful partnering with the sheriff's department, Sandhills Community College and other local entities for crisis intervention training. Through this program, 131 officers have received this training. They include sheriff's deputies, municipal police officers and FirstHealth security officers.
Commissioner Cindy Morgan is a member of the center board. The other Moore County members of the board are George E. Reynolds Jr. and Dr. William L. Stewart.
Whitt has worked with the center about 30 years but was recently appointed CEO to succeed Michael Watson, who resigned to accept a top position in the state Department of Health and Human Services.
Contact Florence Gilkeson by e-mail at email@example.com.
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