By Gary Nelson
Senior staff writer
After reviewing the Cumberland County Board of Education's 2013-'14 fiscal year budget, in combination with the county's general fund budget, county commissioners decided they would not need a property tax increase in order to fund the upcoming fiscal year budget. The county budget committee instead decided to move some tax pennies around in the property tax distribution in order to fund the budget.
Cumberland County's budget committee approved the Board of Education's 2013-'14 $50 million school year budget in approximately two minutes during last Tuesday evening's budget meeting.
Several county commissioners serving on the committee remarked that it was the smoothest budget process they had experienced.
The budget includes a state-required Basic Education Program (BEP) funding amount from the county of $16,594,000 and the BOE built its budget around that figure and did not request any additional funding beyond that figure.
"I want to thank you for your patience and giving us the opportunity to review the budget and make some changes. Our budget is child-centered and has as minimal impact on the classroom as possible," Director of Schools Donald Andrews said.
Andrews said the BOE's budget was revised to cut $154,041 for the cost of 120-day contracts at the Central Office, two interim teacher positions at a cost of $92,000 and $630,000 for replacement of the roof and sealing of mortar at North Cumberland Elementary, which is still under warranty.
The revised budget includes a 2.5-percent salary increase for teachers and funding for the first year of a School Resource Officer program. The budget is roughly $3 million out of balance, which the BOE is solving by using its fund balance.
By seeking no more than the minimum required funding for the school system from the county, county commissioners had little to argue over.
"They're not asking for any more money than what is required," Harry Sabine, 1st District commissioner and budget committee chairman, said.
Before Sabine could finish his statement, Mike Harvel, 7th District commissioner, said, "Motion to accept the BOE's budget as presented."
His motion was supported by Jeff Brown, 8th District commissioner.
After reviewing all county departments and combining them, Nathan Brock, Cumberland County Finance director, revealed Cumberland County has a total estimated revenue income of $20,768,995 for the fiscal year 2013-'14 General Fund.
The total estimated expenditures of all departments are $22,117,920, being out of balance from revenues by $1,348,925.
The fiscal year 2012-'13 ending fund balance is estimated at $5,961,550.
After deducting the shortage to cover 2013-'14 estimated expenditures with its fund balance, the estimated beginning fund balance for the 2013-'14 fiscal year will be $4,612,625.
"It's a lot better than I expected. I've seen one year when we started as low as $800,000," Harvel said.
Commissioners on the committee agreed.
Some of the county's general fund budget highlights include a one-step increase on the countywide pay scale that roughly amounts to a $600 annual pay increase for county employees. Those increases were built into the departmental budgets.
The committee decided by consensus earlier in the budget process that any county part-time employee should make $7.75 per hour and any who are under that rate will be increased to $7.75 per hour once the fiscal year 2013-'14 budget is approved.
Newly hired part-time employees will start at a rate of $7.75 per hour.
Nearly $1.1 million of capital requests were approved by members of the Cumberland County Budget Committee during last week's meeting that reviewed departmental capital requests.
Among the bigger priced ticket items were a new fire truck for the Cumberland County Fire Department at $284,000; two new ambulance units for the EMS department at $160,000; a new building for storing vehicles and equipment for the county fire department at $111,279; four new vehicles for the sheriff's department at $157,000; lighting and thermostats at the Community Complex at $105,602; and radio replacements for the P25 communications system at $90,000.
Sabine said, "Now, here comes the fun part and figuring out how we are going to pay for the extra $590,000 required for the school system. Mr. Harvel thinks the sanitation department could move two cents for one year. We roughly need 3.5 cents."
Brock explained the county could either raise the property tax by 3.5 cents or move pennies around in the distribution.
Harvel suggested moving two cents from the county's sanitation fund over to the general purpose school fund and 1.5 cents from the county's general fund to the general purpose school fund in order to come up with the 3.5 tax pennies required to fund the BOE's budget.
"We can do that for this coming year, but the next year we'll have some big ticket items," Harvel said.
Sabine said, "I'd hate to see the fund balance go under $4 million in this day and time with the way things are. Things can go wrong in a hurry, and I think we need to have a rainy day fund."
The committee agreed.
Allen Foster, 4th District commissioner, then made a motion to make the penny transfers and set the tax rate distribution at 56.5 cents for the general fund; 11.25 cents for the sanitation fund; 62.5 cents for the general purpose school fund; and leave the debt service fund at 19.5 cents for a total of $1.4975.
Jan McNeil, 5th District commissioner, supported the motion and it was unanimously aproved.
The property tax revenue is estimated to generate $19,909,661 for fiscal year 2013-'14.
Jeff Brown, 8th District commissioner, moved to approve the county's $22 million general fund budget of all county departments. The motion was supported by Foster and unanimously approved.
Cumberland County commissioners will meet and hold a public hearing on Aug. 6 in order to approve the entire county fiscal year 2013-'14 budget and set the tax rate.
The public hearing will be at 5 p.m. A special-called meeting will follow at 6 p.m. Both meetings will be in the large courtroom of the Cumberland County Courthouse.
The public is welcome to attend both the public hearing at 5 p.m. and the special-called meeting at 6 p.m.
Nancy Hyder, 2nd District commissioner, did not attend the meeting.