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home : news : news August 13, 2020

6/3/2020 8:46:00 AM
Promise Broken?

Wayne Howard
Staff Writer


Fourteen people spoke at the Public Hearing on the proposed Lincoln County Budget for fiscal 2021 Monday night (June 1st) in favor of increasing the funding for schools from the preliminary proposal.  

County Manager Kelly Atkins had proposed a school budget of $24.4 million, but Commissioners hacked that in preliminary discussions.  They set the proposed school budget allocation at $21,946,968. That figure includes a Commissioners' choice to give an unrequested 2% raise in the local supplement to certified classroom teachers--but none to other school employees.  The figure represents a five percent reduction overall from the fiscal 2020 budget.

Among those who spoke Monday night was Chris Rhyne, husband of Board of Education vice-chair Heather Rhyne.  A long-time volunteer and former Volunteer of the Year in Lincoln County Schools, Rhyne was the chair of the committee that pushed for adoption of the additional quarter-cent local option sales tax two years ago.  While by law, there is no guarantee how that money will be used, Commissioners and the School Board had agreed that it would be used for the schools.  Rhyne said he had worked for the approval of the tax based on that understanding. CLICK HERE to view a video of his Monday night presentation. 

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Proponents of increasing the money for schools from the preliminary proposal point out that Lincoln County has a $26 million fund balance. The plan calls for using about $2.5 million of that money for balancing the fiscal 2021 budget. The Local Government Commission suggests that counties maintain a minimum 8% fund balance (compared to their total budget), or in Lincoln County's case, based on the proposed budget, a little over $9 million. The Commissioners have chosen to maintain a 20% fund balance; they increased it from 15% last year.

While the schools' budget was cut by 5% in the preliminary budget plan, the County budget as a whole will increase by about three million dollars. The schools' share of the total budget, which was about 32% this year, will amount to 27% next year unless Commissioners decide to increase it.

Also the per pupil funding for Lincoln County Schools will decrease. While Lincoln County Schools total funding per student for 2019 was $8043.64 (115th out of 115 school systems in the state--the very lowest), federal funding per student was $393.40 (110th in the state), state funding per student was $6107.46 (107th in the state), and local funding per student was $1503.81 (99th in the state), the reduction in the budget will reduce it further.

The FY 2020 revenues from property taxes was estimated at $63,444,858. The projected revenues for FY 2021 are expected to be approximately $67,638,420.

The County has also been allocated $1,651,054 from the state's share of CARES Act Funds. While they will likely share some of that with the City of Lincolnton (counties were urged to share with their municipalities who were also affected by the pandemic), it's likely that the County ‎will have an extra million dollars of more from the Coronavirus Relief Fund distribution.

The question for Commissioners now is somewhat akin to the situation at the state and national level relative to the COVID-19 pandemic. If you believe that there may be a second wave of the disease and that it could, without restrictions, be worse than the first, then taking the actions of Governor Roy Cooper makes perfect sense. If you don't share that view, then you may be in favor of doing away with restrictions.

For the County (and other local governments), the question is how long will the current downturn in the economy last and how bad will it be? If you believe that it will go well into 2021 and that unemployment will continue to be double digit or perhaps 20% or more, then you would logically reason that tightening the belt is absolutely necessary.

The schools weren't the only part of the County budget that got slashed. Raises for County employees will be put off until January. Most departmental requests got cut.

One might still argue that the schools are important enough that their budget should be maintained at its 2019-2020 level.

Commissioners will finalize the budget at their mid-monthly meeting June 15th.


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