To the roaring approval of a packed auditorium Monday night, the Carroll County Board of Supervisors pledged to pay 93 percent of the Carroll County School Boards funding increase request of nearly $2 million without raising taxes and without closing any schools or cutting any positions.
Citizens filled the auditorium at Carroll County High School for a public hearing on the proposed school budget for Fiscal Year 2012-2013. But before the floor was opened for speakers, Fancy Gap District Supervisor Phil McCraw delivered the news that the budget committee would fund $1.8 million of the school boards funding increase request of $1,937,035 without closing schools, without cutting staff or educational programs, without raising taxes and without using the countys fund balance.
Some of you may be asking how can you add additional money to the schools, not raise taxes and not use fund balance? This can be done because Carroll County is, and has been one of the most fiscally responsible counties in the Commonwealth. Carroll County has been managed in a very professional manner, said McCraw, who is also a member of the Carroll County Budget Committee. Carroll County is one of the only counties in this state to not raise taxes during the distressed times of the past few years and still has a fund balance to work with when opportunity comes knocking. Carroll County has controlled spending and has provided expanded services while operating with approximately 50 percent of the staff of other localities of the same size.
McCraw told the crowd that the board of supervisors would need the assistance of the public in getting the financial package together and to support the schools with the $1.8 million in additional funding.
We will need you to support us in spending money in the current budget for some of next years expenses. If we pay some expenses now, we will have room in the 2013 budget to provide the $1.8 million in support, McCraw said. And to do this, we will need to hold a public hearing in May to make this transfer happen and to get everyone almost everything they have asked for.
McCraw began addressing the audience by saying supervisors support education and fully realize that a high-quality education directly translates to the potential growth of the community through economic development. He said Carroll ranks second only to Washington County for school funding in the Mount Rogers Planning District, which covers seven counties and two cities.
McCraw noted that the board has historically funded additional projects to the schools in excess of the local funding transfer, including $492,260 of Capital Improvement projects above the amount Carroll County funded for school operations last year alone.
This is not being said only because of the turnout here tonight, but also because there is a history for supporting the educational system, and this audience needs to be aware that the board of supervisors is pro education, McCraw said. Also, Phase III is underway due to the direct support of the board of supervisors for an additional $15 million. To date the total debt attributed to Carroll County Public Schools is $44,575,771. This is being said in light of the recent suggestions that appear to question the support of the board of supervisors.
In addition, McCraw said the budget committee was tasked with developing a balanced budget with no tax rate increase. The state of the economy and the community, with unemployment accompanied by rising inflation, dictates that the board has an obligation to support its citizens in this time of need. Many county citizens are elderly and lived on fixed incomes, and all citizens must be considered when making decisions that will affect the community.
We also understand that the county fund balance has been a major topic of discussion within the school system and community. It is important for the community to know that we do have a fund balance. It is no secret. This information is always available on the county website, McCraw said. There is also a fund balance policy that was adopted on January 13, 2011, and revised on July 11, 2011. This policy was adopted because the board of supervisors felt it was fiscally responsible to do so; however it was also adopted because local governments were required to adopt a fund balance policy by Governmental Accounting Standard. The adoption of the policy was NOT optional.
McCraw also wanted to talk about the numbers in the fund balance. The audited fund balance figure of $16.1 million is calculated on the modified accrual basis of accounting. This method of accounting recognizes revenue received 60 days after the close of the fiscal year, and also recognizes expenses 60 days after the close of year. Therefore the audited fund balance actually shows revenues and expenses that have not occurred.
With this in mind, the board of supervisors adopted the more conservative fund balance policy that uses the cash basis of accrual method and uses the June 30 cash balance for the purposes of calculating fund balance, McCraw said. We use this method because you cannot pay bills if you do not actually have the money in the bank.
He said the actual fund balance as of June 30, 2011 was $13.7 million, but after applying the fund balance policy the actual unassigned amount is $4.3 million. And of that, he said $1.5 million is designated for the first payment on Phase III renovations.
This move was a fiscally responsible move made by the board of supervisors to avoid a panic in the future of where that payment would come from. Of the remainder in the fund balance, $250,000 was designated for IT improvements that are needed to upgrade our current technology infrastructure and that leaves Carroll County with a real unassigned amount of $2.5 million, McCraw said. We do not believe it is fiscally responsible to use fund balance dollars to pay for recurring operational costs. This is the last priority of utilizing fund balance money. If you subsidize operational costs from the fund balance for one year, you could have those same or increased costs in future years. There may not be any money to fund them in the future.
McCraw said the budget committee has found a way to fund the majority of the school boards budget request that does not use fund balance for the extra dollars. He said the General Assembly has held back local governments and school systems by failing to meets its obligation to pass a state budget in a timely manner. McCraw said the county is hopeful it will receive an additional $300,000 from the state for educational expenses, but there are no guarantees until Richmond passes a budget.
McCraw said its also important to understand that despite the supervisors request for the previous school board to include an HVAC system in Phase III renovations, the school board instead opted for a new administrative wing at CCHS. And now the current school board has requested an additional $7.1 million in improvements be made at CCHS and CCIS, in addition to the current renovations.
The last request made by the school board to the board of supervisors had listed the HVAC as the last priority to be funded. The school board has requested the county to fund this $4.3 million project in the County Capital Improvement Plan request for 2013 as well, McCraw said. This project alone would cost $1.7 million more than is in the entire unassigned Fund Balance. The budget committee understands that the HVAC is in critical need of repair, and as good stewards of public dollars we must take future known issues into consideration while budgeting.
McCraw then said the budget committees recommendation was to pledge $1.8 million of the $1,937,035 funding increase for a total of $10,826,863 in local funds to schools. That represents almost 93 percent of the requested funds.
We believe this is a number that the school board can work with without the threat of closing a school, eliminating positions and eliminating programs, McCraw said. We feel as if this number is once again evidence of the board of supervisors support for education.
On a personal note, McCraw said he was really sorry for all the stress the budget process has caused citizens this year.
Dr. (Tom) Littrell and I have put in a lot of hours. I know I had an article in the paper that upset a lot of people, but I didnt want to raise taxes and I was just trying to get other people involved, McCraw said. And it was just what I suspected. No one wants their taxes raised, so I went to work and Dr. Littrell went to work.
McCraw then made a motion for the school board to meet with the board of supervisors April 23 to work out the 93 percent funding increase for a total transfer of $10,826,863 to the school system. It later passed unanimously.
Laurel Fork District Supervisor Josh Hendrick wanted to know what the county would be paying off early in order to get the additional $1.8 million. McCraw said it would be a handful of things, but that it would not be hard to do with public support.
We can find several areas that we can pay down and we get the school budget going the way it needs to be going, no school closings, no reduction in staff, and most importantly, no programs cut for all these kids, said McCraw, which received a standing ovation from most of those in attendance.
Would that be without a tax increase, citizen Ray Melton asked?
Absolutely, no tax increase this year, McCraw said.
A total of 29 people spoke at the ensuing public hearing, which took approximately 90 minutes. School Board Chairman Brian Spencer opened the remarks.
In my guest editorial about two weeks ago I stated that the Carroll County Board of Supervisors has always been generous in funding the school system and it is overwhelming to see that again tonight. These gentlemen are not enemies of the educational system, it is what the state has done to the VRS and what the state has done with mandates of $1.899 million, Spencer said. We actually asked for zero (increase minus those mandates) again this year. How many people can buy what they bought last year for the same dollar amount this year?
Spencer said with 93 percent funding of the increased budget request, he believed the school board could make those numbers work without cutting any programs.
So I thank you for what youve offered tonight, Spencer said. You have shown you take education very seriously and I am very proud of that.