Although temperatures had cooled across the Plateau, budget talks became heated and boisterous at times between the Cumberland County Budget Committee and Director of Schools Aarona Vanwinkle inside the courthouse Thursday night.

The budget committee passed a $43.2 million budget figure for the Cumberland County Board of Education after consulting with county attorney Jim Thompson. Thompson advised the committee that it could approve a budget figure for the BOE and tell them this is what the county can afford to give you. The approved figure is millions less than its requested $47 million budget.

"After researching this it looks to me like the law says you as a county are the sovereign. You distribute the funding. You have all these other departments that have to be run. The Board of Education can't hold the county and all these other departments hostage because they don't have a budget passed. Now, the way I understand it, the county can say to the school board, 'we have approved this amount for you and that's all we can give.' You have to determine that amount and you have to meet the state BEP dollar requirements and the maintenance of effort. One is you can't fund them at a rate less than last year. You can give them less than what they're asking for and you can't have a line item control. It allows you to pass a complete unified budget for the county and set the tax rate. The BOE can operate under a continuing budget after your number is given to them," County Attorney Jim Thompson said.

Thompson told the committee that this method will keep the jail open, pay emergency service workers, county employees and to keep things going and open.

Ninth District Commissioner Carmin Lynch told the committee if they stayed with the certified tax rate and gave the BOE 38 cents of each tax dollar, that alone would meet the state funding requirements.

He proposed adding to the BOE budget by taking 3 cents out of debt services and giving it to the school system.

"If we do that we are giving them a seven-percent increase over what they spent last year. That comes to a $43,154,311 maximum funding level for them," Lynch said.

"If you do that it will not be enough," said Director of Schools Aarona VanWinkle. "Why would you want to do that to education in this county?"

BOE attorney Earl Patton asked Thompson if he thought it was OK for the committee to change or set the BOE funding level as long as they don't change a line item figure.

"No they can't control a line item, but they can recommend a $43 figure for a budget even though they say they need $48 million. The BOE will have a number to budget up to," Thompson said.

However, Thompson stressed that the county cannot force them to craft a budget from that figure, but added if a budget is not in place in the necessary time frame, the state can start withholding money.

Seventh District Commissioner Mike Harvel then made a motion to fund at $43 million including the three cents from debt service. Sharon York, 5th District commissioner, supported the motion.

"I think we ought to include the capital outlay projects the school system has planned with this and fund them," 1st District Commissioner Harry Sabine said.

Voting in favor were commissioners Harvel, York, 4th District Commissioner David Gibson, 8th District Commissioner Greg Maxwell and Lynch.

Voting against the motion were Sabine and 6th District Commissioner Wendell Wilson.

VanWinkle told the committee, "If you approve this you are hurting education. It is not enough to fund our school system. Why do you want to do this to education? You're killing the kids!"

The figure still needs full county commission approval with the remaining county budget.

The move was met with shouts from those who were attending.

"No. We're not doing that. We are voting the will of the people," 3rd District Commissioner and Budget Committee Chairman Lynn Tollett said.

"You are not!" several shouted.

VanWinkle then said she was leaving because she couldn't stand seeing this being done.

"Go ahead and leave. That's what you've done before," Tollett said.

"I have not. I left at the end of the last meeting and said call us when you came up with something," VanWinkle said.

"Well, this is what you get by leaving it with me," Tollett said.

"You're not funding education enough," VanWinkle said.

"We have to look at the county as a whole. There are a lot of other departments ..." Tollett said, but was interrupted by shouts from the audience.

"How many here are school system employees?" Tollett asked.

More than half raised their hands.

"See, that's what I'm saying," Tollett said.

"How many here at this table or have family that are employed by the county?" VanWinkle asked.

"Look we're going to have to come to order here and keep this civil," Tollett said to the crowd.

Tollett said the last budget committee meeting was Sept. 11 and since that time the BOE should have had something and been ready to act on for Thursday's meeting.

A proposal was discussed and a motion was made earlier in the meeting that called for removing $2.2 million worth of expenditures from the BOE budget and placing them in a capital outlay note, with the BOE drawing down an additional $600,000 from its fund balance.

After a brief discussion over who would pay the capital outlay note, the school system or county, the motion failed.

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