Public waits to see county’s decision on budget

A graph from the proposed 2014-15 budget showing a breakdown of county spending.

A graph from the proposed 2014-15 budget showing a breakdown of county spending.

Only one Union County resident spoke about the proposed budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year as the board of county commissioners took public comments one final time before its vote on June 30.

Dawn Moretz, a teacher in Union County Public Schools, sang her comments to the tune of the song “Leaving on a Jet Plane” saying that she would be leaving the county for a school district in Kentucky due to poor funding from county commissioners. No other comments or concerns were addressed at the meeting.

Budget discussions come at a time where there is a push from North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory to increase teacher pay throughout the state, though some in the district worry that increase will come through other education cuts. While the state will likely provide some additional funding for teacher salary, the Union County Public Schools Board of Education also is requesting funds from the county to provide an increase in pay for teachers, assistant principals and principals, as well as other UCPS employees.

“The county was looking at the estimated local costs to do a proposed teacher pay increase from local money because teachers (are paid with) local money, and we had initially looked for a $345,000 supplement to go for them,” Richard Yercheck, the board of education chairman, said. “We are not going to be able to do some supplements for our assistant principals and principals. Those are the people who are going to get left out of that.”

But teacher pay isn’t the only area being affected by the state legislature.

The North Carolina General Assembly recently passed a bill, introduced by state Sen. Tommy Tucker of Union County, that will prohibit the board of education from filing a funding lawsuit within the next two years, sets the minimum funding from the county for the next two years and limits control the county has over how the board of education uses its allotted funding.

“The change in state law prohibits (county leaders from dictating what areas funding goes toward) going forward,” county Finance Manger Jeff Yates said at the Monday, June 16, meeting. “In addition, (the law) sets the funding levels for the board of county commissioners for the next two years.”

County leaders could include limitations on how money was spent by the board of education prior to the recent changes – such as permitting money be used only for capital projects such as constructing a new school instead of operating costs such as teacher pay.

The county’s proposed budget, which comes in at about $266 million, includes a 9.41-cent tax increase to provide additional funding to the school system, according to a presentation at the county’s June 16 meeting. Recent North Carolina legislation set a minimum of $87.1 million to be provided by the county for UCPS general expenses and $19.5 million for UCPS capital needs for the coming year. The legislation also requires an increase for 2015-16 UCPS general expenses based on inflation and $19.8 million for capital projects.

County leaders have designated a specific portion of the tax rate for UCPS, both general expenses and capital needs. According to the proposed budget, the coming year’s tax rate will be split with 44.77 cents going to UCPS and 30.64 cents for other county expenses.

Projections from the county show the total tax rate for the county could increase to 81.39 cents by the 2019-20 fiscal budget year compared to the current year’s rate of 66 cents if the county continues to increase UCPS funding at the same level required by the state legislation, Yates said. However, the current board cannot approve funding or the tax rate for coming years. The portion of the tax rate for county expenses will remain at 30.64 cents, while all increases will go to fund UCPS, according to Yates.

County leaders also drafted projections for UCPS funding over the next six years, which includes the proposed tax increase in addition to possible increases over the coming years. UCPS could receive a roughly $5 million increase for general expenses each year and about $20 million each year for capital needs, according to the county’s projections.

These discussions come at a time when the county and UCPS are still working to settle the lawsuit filed by the school board last year in regard to insufficient funding. The county appealed the $91 million jury award and recently submitted its reasons for the appeal. The groups should have a date in the “not too distant future” to move forward with discussions, Yercheck said, although nothing has been set in stone at this point.

County leaders are expected to vote on the 2014-15 fiscal budget at the June 30 meeting at 7 p.m. at the Union County Government Center, 500 N. Main St. in Monroe.

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Ciera Choate

About Ciera Choate

Ciera Choate has been with the Union County Weekly since summer 2011 as an intern while she attended the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. After graduating with a degree in English and political science, Ciera joined the team full-time in early 2012. She has since been promoted to News Editor, with a main focus on town governments in western Union County, the Union County Board of County Commissioners and Union County Public Schools Board of Education, in addition to the paper's crime beat. Have a story idea or question for Ciera? Contact her at ciera@unioncountyweekly.com.

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