Yercheck: County is using ‘scare tactics’

Oct. 22, 2013 @ 05:29 PM

Union County Board of Education Chairman Richard Yercheck released a statement Monday in response to the Union County Board of County Commissioner’s appeal. 

“Unfortunately, the spin doctoring has already begun, with carefully orchestrated media appearances and statements by various county commissioners claiming that the jury verdict would be catastrophic for the county,” Yercheck wrote in a statement. 

The jury concluded a nine-week trial by awarding the school system a little more than $91 million.

During the trial, Union County Public Schools Attorney Richard Schwartz argued that the county had $230 million in available fund balances that could be used to fund the school’s capital needs.  

After the verdict, the county released a statement that the surpluses had been earmarked. 

“While at the end of FY 2012 these funds existed, it is important to note that a significant portion of these monies have been expended and the remaining earmarked for critical county capital projects and programs for law enforcement, human services, and other core county functions,” Simpson wrote. 

In an interview last week, County Finance Director Jeff Yates explained Simpson’s statement about the fund balances. 

“To say that $230 million is available is inaccurate,” Yates said in the interview.

The $230 million number came from adding totals of the general fund, general capital fund and utility enterprise funds, Yates said. Those totals ignore specific assignments for most of that money for a variety of uses.

In a statement released last week, County Manager Cindy Coto said the county’s available funds from the general fund balance are $26.7 million, which is less than one-third of the judgment.

“The bottom line is that if this verdict stands, it will cost taxpayers a bill of $64.4 million for just a single year,” Board of County Commissioners Chairman Jerry Simpson wrote in a statement. “That’s a property tax increase of 27.7 cents. To Union County families that means a home worth $100,000 would receive an additional tax bill of $277, and for a home worth $400,000, the additional tax bill would be $1,108. An unplanned tax bill of that size for any family would be catastrophic. The Board cannot let this verdict stand and devastate our residents, our families, our businesses and our most vulnerable, like the elderly and those on fixed incomes. The Board of Commissioners will fight this verdict to the end for the people of our community.”

Yercheck called the statements that the county only has $26.7 million to pay the jury verdict and would need to cut services or increase taxes “scare tactics.” 

Yercheck pointed to the county’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) from 2013, which shows that fund balances increased “at a far greater rate than projected by the county managers when she was on the witness stand.” 

According to the statement, the 2013 CAFR showed about $88 million in the unrestricted general fund and general capital fund balances, above the 8 percent reserve, and about $89.4 million in the unrestricted enterprise fund balance.

Yercheck wrote that the county’s statements with regard to their fund balance are “simply not true according to the county’s own 2013 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report.” 

“These funds are available,” Yercheck wrote. “As a Union County citizen, as a father and as a taxpayer, I call upon the county commissioners to drop their appeal and fully fund the recent verdict so that the school system may begin the work that has gone undone while claims were made that money was unavailable in recent years. Our children and our teachers deserve to work in classrooms where the roof does not leak and in schools with handicapped accessible bathrooms.” 

The county is currently in the process of appealing the jury’s $91 million verdict. At a commissioners meeting Monday night, many residents urged the commissioners to drop the appeal. 

Also at the Monday meeting, the commissioners voted to give the school system about $5 million to meet their original funding request. 

“We’re very excited to start working on the projects that we listed in our budget at the beginning of the year,” Yercheck said in an interview Tuesday. “The $5.3 million will be a good start to taking care of the projects this year.” 

“We look forward to a speedy conclusion to the appeal,” Yercheck said. “Hopefully they will not continue the appeal process and continue to waste taxpayer dollars there.”