County Wants State to Halt Shifting of Funding Obligations
Enough’s enough, as far as the Moore County Board of Commissioners is concerned.
The board is tired of state measures shifting financial responsibility for public education to counties. At a Tuesday meeting, the commissioners adopted a resolution “opposing the loss of county school construction dollars and the shift of state school funding responsibilities to counties.”
Later in the meeting, during discussion of a different issue, one of the commissioners criticized the state for poor financial management.
“If they (the state) had been stewards of the money like we are, the state wouldn’t be in the shape it’s in now,” Commissioner Larry Caddell said.
His comment came after County Manager Cary McSwain reported on a possible misunderstanding about the fund balance level required of local governments by the Local Government Commission. The issue had been raised by the N.C. Association of County Commissioners.
The commission has long insisted that counties and municipalities retain a fund balance of at least 8 percent of the general fund, providing minimum financial availability to cover operational costs. The commission actually recommends a fund balance twice that amount as more desirable.
The legislature and the governor are currently wrestling with a projected revenue shortfall of $2.1 billion as they prepare a new state budget. The largest projected cuts under consideration are funds usually appropriated by the state to operate public schools across North Carolina.
The Moore County school system is facing a possible loss in state funding between 8 and 12 percent for the new budget year.
County Attorney Misty Leland drafted the resolution patterned after a resolution from the county commissioners’ association. She did so at the board’s request.
The resolution takes particular aim at the budget proposal prepared by the governor’s office, which is the only state budget on the table at this point. The General Assembly is still working on its budget.
According to the resolution, the budget, if adopted, reflects an overall cost shift to counties of $345 million in 2011-2012 alone, “requiring counties to raise taxes to manage a loss of this magnitude.”
State law requires counties to provide buildings and other facilities for the public schools, but counties contribute additional funds to cover classroom expenses and to pay for more teaching and administrative positions. The association reports that counties spend more than $1.5 billion annually for public school capital needs and another $2.5 billion for operating costs.
Counties rely on local sales taxes, property taxes, their share of lottery funds and a share of corporate income taxes to fund school capital needs. However, the economic recession has left counties with losses of more than $250 million in lottery and corporate income tax funds.
The resolution notes that the governor’s budget proposal would permanently eliminate the county share of the corporate income tax and reduce the lottery share by 75 percent, which, if enacted, would cost counties more than $200 million a year. That budget proposal would also shift responsibility to pay for replacement buses to counties, at a cost of almost $57 million a year.
“The budget proposal also takes the unprecedented step of forcing counties to assume the workers’ compensation costs for state-paid public school employees ($34.6 million per year) and community college employees ($1.7 million per year) and to fund school tort claims ($4.6 million per year),” the resolution says.
Copies of the resolution are being sent to the county’s legislative delegation — state Sen. Harris Blake, state Rep. Jamie Boles, both of Moore County, and state Rep. Joe Hackney of Orange County, whose district includes one and a half precincts in Moore County. Blake and Boles are Republicans. Hackney, like Perdue, is a Democrat. Republicans control both legislative chambers.
The resolution closes with the statement that the legislators are to be informed “of our opposition to these unprecedented changes in county responsibility and the use of county revenues to balance the state budget.”
Contact Florence Gilkeson at email@example.com.
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