The Scotland County Board of Commissioners will meet with the board of education tonight with the expressed goal of reaching a consensus on the school system’s request for county funding.
The meeting will take place in the wake of Monday’s school board decision to reduce its capital outlay requests by $470,000, from $600,000 to $130,000.
Commissioner Carol McCall said on Wednesday that she was encouraged by the decision, and that it “shows that they are willing to look at their budget and recognize that our funds our limited.” The boards will meet at 6 p.m at the A.B. Gibson Center in Laurinburg.
“I think it was a good faith effort, and that the decision will create a good feeling and positive atmosphere as we come together for our budget talks,” said McCall.
McCall hopes that the joint meeting represents the beginning of an improved working relationship between the two entities. McCall also expressed a desire for similar meetings in the future.
Board of Commissioners Chairman Bob Davis said he was also pleased with the school board’s cuts, but cautioned that more reductions may be needed to avoid another tax increase. The county has already proposed adding three cents to the tax rate to take it to $1.02 per $100 valuation.
“(The board of education) did cut a lot out of their (capital outlay request), but I don’t know if we’re going to be able to meet their needs unless we add another cent to the tax or finance it,” said Davis.
McCall concurred with Davis’ assessment, saying that “if there is another way, I don’t know what it is.”
“We just have to sit down with them and work it out,” said Davis, referencing the capital requests as well as recently discovered damage to Pate Stadium that will need repair.
“That is another fly in the ointment,” said Davis of the stadium.
Davis was also skeptical of the board of education’s motivation in making cuts to its capital outlay budget.
“I know they’ve cut a whole lot out of their budget over the past three years, but I think they realize that we don’t have the money and may be trying to make themselves look good in the eyes of the public,” said Davis.
Davis said that he told Superintendent Rick Stout prior to Monday’s school board meeting that “You all can ask for all that you want to, but the money just is not there.”
“They knew going in that we just didn’t have the funds,” said Davis.
Davis said additional cuts could still be made to the school system’s budget, “probably without hurting anybody.”
County Manager Kevin Patterson will facilitate much of the meeting, during which he will present the county’s budget to the school board.
“My role is to lay out where the county’s budget is right now and to try to get both boards to a common understanding of their respective situations,” said Patterson.
Following Patterson’s presentation, the boards are scheduled to discuss the school system’s capital needs.
The school system is expected to offer a similar presentation of its altered budget proposal.
There will also be another “huge benefit” of the meeting, said McCall.
“One of the biggest positive outcomes of the meeting, for the public, is that they will learn too, and get to see the numbers.
“There will be some good information shared at the meeting, and it will help people understand the budgets of both (the county and the school system),” said McCall.
In the past, said McCall, a careful analysis of the school system’s budget has not been done. Because of the current economic strain, the school system’s budget has come under more public scrutiny.
“Now, coming out of the meeting, I’m hoping that there will be increased transparency going forward,” said McCall. “We can have a good relationship and good faith between the boards without an ‘us and them’ mentality.”