County approves budget, keeps tax rate same

By Mary Katherine Murphy

June 23, 2014

LAURINBURG — With one opposing vote, the Scotland County Board of Commissioners on Monday passed a $38.5 million fiscal year 2015 budget that keeps the county’s property tax at $1.03.

Commissioner Bob Davis voted against both the $38,581,088 general fund and the motion by Commissioner Carol McCall that bumped that number up by $200,000, appropriating that money from fund balance to increase funding to Scotland County Schools.

The commissioners spent the first 25 minutes of Monday’s meeting in closed session. At $10,339,225, the approved county appropriation to the schools is $200,000 more than for fiscal year 2014 but falls short of the $11,032,227 requested by the Scotland County Board of Education in accordance with the state statute that determines local funding to the school system.

After a split opinion on the subject by county citizens speaking during the county’s budget hearing last week, the school board met on Friday to discuss and ultimately confirm its request.

“In May this board made a good faith offer to the school board of $200,000 for current expense,” McCall said. “That was an offer made that we could afford, we felt that it was fair, we felt that it was reasonable, and we knew that it would not increase the tax rate. I still believe that.

“We made the offer and it was not accepted; that’s fine, but we can still make that offer in good faith as we originally did.”

After support from Commissioner Whit Gibson, who acknowledged the dual challenges of state and federal cuts to education along with the county’s dire economic straits, the additional $200,000 to the schools passed with opposing votes from Davis and Commissioner John Cooley.

Davis pointed out that, when the commissioners formally extended the offer earlier this month, it went without a formal response.

“The schools circulated a letter prior to our meeting last week saying that everybody needed to be here because a lot of jobs would be lost, they’d lose this that and the other if they didn’t get the full funding, they would lose programs, they would lose teacher positions,” Davis said. “This is not true; a lot of misinformation is out there and I just feel like, in my heart, the school board has totally ignored the county commissioners and I do not approve of that. I don’t like it. (They could have) come forward and said look, we’ll sit down with you and talk, we don’t want the $200,000, we’ll take this or we’ll take that and sit down like grown men and women and discussed it rather than totally ignore (the commissioners).”

The total $12,611,847 in local funding to the school system approved on Monday includes $189,770 in local capital funding, $424,000 in funding from the state education lottery, $275,000 from fines and forfeitures, $1,308,752 in debt service, and $75,000 to St. Andrews University in rent for the space used by Scotland Early College High School.

The budget as a whole passed on Monday keeps the county’s property tax at $1.03 per $100 in valuation, with the fire tax increased from 2 cents to 5 cents for those living outside of municipal limits.

The commissioners also included a 1.7 percent cost of living increase, the first in five years, as well as a return to full longevity payments for county employees. The budget passed by a 5-1 vote, with Davis against and Commissioner Clarence McPhatter absent.

“I think there’s strong feelings and arguments on both sides of the funding issue and I think there are good people on both sides and we don’t need to vilify people on either side of that argument,” Chairman Guy McCook said prior to the final vote. “I think that this board is trying to live within its means and help this community do that.”

Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-276-2311, ext. 17. Follow her on Twitter @emkaylbg.