Robesonian

County adopts budget keeping school funding the same

LUMBERTON — The Robeson County Board of Commissioners approved on Monday a $154,483,092 fiscal year 2018-19 budget that does not include extra money for the public schools, but approved starting talks that could lead to an issuance of bonds to fund construction needs.

Assistant County Manager Kellie Blue told the commissioners it wasn’t possible to get the needed details from the Public Schools of Robeson County in time to get Local Government Commission’s approval to incur the bond debt and then schedule a referendum for the Nov. 6 general election.

Public schools leaders approved in May sending a proposed referendum that called for the issuance of $250 million in bonds. School board members said at the time that the actual amount of any bond referendum is likely to be far less. They asked for additional money to fund “erecting additional school buildings and other school plant facilities, enlarging, reconstructing, renovating and replacing existing school building and other school plant facilities and acquiring any necessary land, furnishings, equipment and facilities therefore, the estimated cost of which is at least $250 million.”

The county budget includes the state-mandated $13 million in local funding, County Manager Ricky Harris said. And it includes about $5 million in sales tax revenue.

The schools have asked the county for an additional $17.3 million in operating funds to pay for teacher supplements, school safety, resource officers, textbooks and other items.

Blue said more information is needed before the county can seek approval from the Local Government Commission to incur a bond issuance debt.

“They are going to need details,” Blue said.

County government leaders need to talk with schools leaders to get details about what projects they want funded, where schools and other facilities would be built, and how much each project would cost, Blue said. Then it could be decided when to hold a bond referendum and for what amount.

But it probably already is too late to set a referendum for this calendar year, she said. The Local Government Commission meets only once a month, and the commission’s agendas for July and August already are set.

“That’s a pretty lengthy process,” Blue said of getting the commission’s approval

And establishing specific funding needs and amounts with the school system could take months, she said. Establishing where each facility is to be built will add to the timeline.

“They’re gonna want to know where we’re going to do these things,” Blue said of the commission.

Commissioner Jerry Stephens said he wants to know what details come out of the talks Blue was instructed to set up with the school system.

“I definitely want to be informed because it seems like a couple schools in my district might be affected,” said Stephens, the District 1 representative.

Staying informed will help him and the other commissioners be good stewards of tax dollars, he said.

“I want to be involved in the dialogue,” Stephens said.

The budget approved Monday maintains the tax rate at 77 cents for every $100 of property value. It does increase the fee for use of any of the 20 compact stations in the county from $30 to $40.

The budget, an increase from the $149 million for the current fiscal year, includes two major one-time capital expenditures. One is $870,000 for the lease/purchase of 80 vehicles for the Sheriff’s Office. The other is $1.5 million so the Water Department can buy Smart Meters, which can be read remotely and more frequently, providing instant access to water consumption information for customers and the Water Department.

The budget, which goes into effect July 1, includes the creation of a clerk position at County Fleet Operations.

“That’s for the garage,” Harris said.

The commissioners also approved awarding a $563,047 contract to Interim Heathcare of Eastern Carolinas Inc. to provide in-home aide to the county’s elderly residents in 2019 and 2020. The contact is funded by a Home and Community Care Block Grant, but calls for $56,304 in matching funds.

A contract to provide billing services for Robeson County Emergency Medical Services also was approved, with a stipulation. Commissioner David Edge made a motion that the county accept the 5.35 percent bid from EMS Management & Consultants, out of Winston-Salem, but also run the numbers on the company’s higher bid of 5.55 percent. The percentages reflect how much of each dollar collected that the company keeps as its fee. The 5.55 percent includes $19,000 for electronic patient billing services, which the county ordinarily pays.

Edge urged the county to study the higher bid to see if EMS Management & Consultants could do the job and save the county some money before deciding which percentage to accept.

The commissioners approved studying the numbers. EMS Management & Consultants has been providing bill collection services to the county for the past eight years.

The commissioners also approved allowing Mark III Brokerage Inc. to serve as the county’s employee benefits consultant. The Charlotte company has been providing insurance services for many years.

In other business, the commissioners approved:

— The Robeson County Housing Authority’s $1,541,340 fiscal year 2018-19 budget.

— A contract with the Lumberton office of Terminix to provide pest control for the Housing Authority.

— Moving $11,000 from the Robeson County Detention Center’s medical supplies budget line item to the differential pay and part-time salaries lines to cover the costs of using more part-time staff.

— Declaring 22 county vehicles surplus.

Commissioner Noah Woods, left, listens as Commissioner Roger Oxendine makes a point during Monday’s meeting of the Robeson County Board of Commissioners.
https://www.robesonian.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/web1_County-1_1-1.jpgCommissioner Noah Woods, left, listens as Commissioner Roger Oxendine makes a point during Monday’s meeting of the Robeson County Board of Commissioners.
Assistant County Attorney Michael McDonald, left, and County Manager Ricky Harris listen Monday to discussion of public schools funding needs during a meeting of the Robeson County Board of Commissioners.
https://www.robesonian.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/web1_County-2_1-1.jpgAssistant County Attorney Michael McDonald, left, and County Manager Ricky Harris listen Monday to discussion of public schools funding needs during a meeting of the Robeson County Board of Commissioners.

By T.C. Hunter

Managing editor

Reach T.C. Hunter by calling 910-816-1974 or via email at tchunter@robesonian.com.