LAURINBURG — The Scotland County Board of Commissioners discussed its options on Tuesday in the face of state-mandated funding increases to the school system and health department that would necessitate a combined 22-cent increase to the county property tax.
Though enrollment projections for the 2014-2015 school year have not been released by the state, the preliminary school funding formula indicates a $2.3 million increase in the county’s level of funding to the school system next year. The formula indexes changes in school funding from year to year to changes in other low-wealth districts in the state, as well as to changes in the school system’s average daily membership.
That increase, from $10.1 million in 2013-2014 to $12.5 million, would represent a 16-cent increase in the tax rate per $100 valuation. In 2003-20014, when the formula was last updated, the school funding legislation mandated the county appropriate $8.7 million for the school system.
Prior to school staff informing the county of the anticipated increase, the commissioners were in the process of arranging an advisory meeting with Kara Millonzi, a faculty member of the UNC School of Government, for general information about the funding formula.
“Because of where we are with the school funding issue, we are seeking to have Ms. Millonzi come meet with us at a special meeting to talk about what our options are, what the legal requirements are for funding schools in the state, what our agreement is, and how we might go about coming to some reasonable funding level for the coming school year,” said board chairman Guy McCook.
McCook added that, though the $2.3 million increase is a projection, the reality is not expected to differ greatly and the county is “basically incapable of doing that.”
The commissioners also approved a resolution to the General Assembly requesting that Scotland County be exempt from the state requirement, effective in the upcoming fiscal year, to restore health department funding to the 2010-2011 level.
In 2010-2011, the health department’s budget appropriation was $1.8 million, though according to County Manager Kevin Patterson just under $1 million was actually spent. The current budget’s health appropriation is $868,000. An increase of $950,000 would represent a 6-cent increase on county property tax rate.
In other business, Sheriff Shep Jones presented his office’s response to a January inspection of the Scotland County Detention Center by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. That inspection identified several concerns, including shower cleanliness, broken viewpanels in cell doors, a lack of hot water in bathroom sinks, and rusty mirrors.
Jones said that, while those issues will be rectified by the end of the week, the state health department’s most significant finding, that the jail is not equipped with two-way communications systems in each cell, will be a trickier fix.
“We contacted Piedmont Communications and they made an assessment and they basically said it wouldn’t be feasible to install this type of system in the jail because of the building of the jail,” said Jones, who is waiting on a response from another company.
In response to Commissioner Carol McCall’s question as to whether or not the sheriff expects any communication company to be able to install such a system, County Manager Kevin Patterson said that the expense involved in detention-grade installation would likely be excessive.
“You would have to be able to mount it in such a way that no aspect of it can be tampered with, any and all cabling would have to be beyond reach which means it would have to be recessed behind the concrete wall,” he said. “I guarantee you the price to do it is far beyond what I would say is a reasonable goal.”
Jones’ course of action report will be submitted to DHHS. McCook requested that Jones notify the commissioners of the response.
In other business, the board approved a budget increase of $16,404 for the current fiscal year, to account for monies received by the sheriff since September from deputies working at Gryphon Group.
Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-276-2311, ext. 17. Follow her on Twitter @emkaylbg.