County offers budget; schools say it is not enough

May. 16, 2013 @ 05:12 PM

The first draft of Union County FY 2013-2014 budget includes just enough revenue to balance out expenditures, but Union County Public Schools has asked for more money than what county officials have assigned to education.

During a Wednesday meeting, Union County Finance Director Jeff Yates presented the $296 million budget to commissioners. According to the manager’s budget message, staff built the budget around a modified-zero-base model, one that had departments develop their budgets from zero and justify every expenditure.

Total revenue is projected to grow by 1.5 percent or $4.5 million. Property taxes, which makes up more than 66 percent of the county revenues, are projected to grow by only $1.7 million, or 1.1 percent.

Expenditures are anticipated to grow a little more than that at 1.5 percent or $4.9 million.

The county enacted several new policies, including a restructuring of its outstanding debt. With that change, the county stands to free up $3,7 million annually.

See Budget/Page A5

And a new government staff reorganization plan will likely save the county more money by sharing resources and staff.

Though overall growth will probably only be about $5 million, it is enough to permit the county to budget for about 30 new positions and create a pool of $1.5 million for employee merit pay increases based on performance review.

About $2.18 million in new expenses comes from rising employee benefit costs. Health and life insurance, health care costs, retirement and post-employment benefits continue to increase. The county changes policies to start making workers contribute $10 per pay period toward their benefits.

School funding

Included in the budget is funding plans for volunteer fire departments and the framework for EMS funding once contract negotiations are complete.

But school officials say the county’s budget for school capital and operations is far too low.

“Included in the $4.9 million increase is the $3 million contribution for UCPS Capital, $1.47 million increase in net school funding, $746,828 increase for SROs and the other $243,234 is decrease in budget because of school funding change,” the budget message states.

Commissioners adopted a school funding formula in March which dedicates 35.36 cents on the county’s property tax rate. State law makes county governments responsible for providing and maintaining school buildings, but more counties are contributing to school system operations funding. The commission’s formula provided funds for both capital and operations.

UCPS Board of Education members held a joint meeting with commissioners to discuss its $356 million budget. UCPS Chairman Richard Yercheck and board member Kevin Stewart presented the school system’s funding needs. State-provided operations funding continues to remain flat while the number of students enrolled in county schools increases, Yercheck said. At the end of the fiscal year, left-over operations funding reverts back to the state. County-provided funding is the only supplement schools can depend on, Stewart said.

For this budget cycle, school officials asked the county for a $4.7 million increase in operations funds and $8.3 million for capital needs. The county budget sets aside far less than that. The $3 million from the county will not cover roof repair, renovation of Piedmont High School’s football stadium, technology upgrades, ADA compliance work and other critical projects, Yercheck said.

Nor will the $1.47 million the county budgeted for operations pay for mental health services for high priority schools, asbestos removal, utility and maintenance cost increases, testing supplies and the increased payments to charter schools.

Without more county funding, UCPS will cut classroom and instruction funding to meet all expenditure needs.

Commissioners will discuss further changes to school funding at a second meeting before approving the budget.