Little public comment on controversial Union County budget

abell@charlotteobserver.comJune 17, 2014 

— Despite the potential for a tax increase to pay for Union County school district expenses, only one resident weighed in on the county’s proposed budget at a public hearing Monday night – but she did so in song.

Elementary school drama teacher Dawn Moretz, a frequent advocate for school district funding, told the board of commissioners that she was relocating to Kentucky. Singing to the tune of “Leaving On A Jet Plane,” she said, “I’m leaving Union County. Don’t think that I’ll be back again. Your budget process has got the best of me.”

The meeting marked the latest step in the winding road commissioners have taken toward a county budget a year after the Union school board sued for more money. The school board won a $91 million verdict that remains under appeal.

The road took another twist last week when the legislature approved a bill that prevents the school board from suing the county over its budget allocation for two years. The new legislation also mandates the school district’s funding, at a level close to where commissioners had landed.

During this budget season, county commissioners first approved increases in the district’s funding – but not at the level the district wanted. Commissioners then withdrew those increases before restoring them and even increasing part of the allocation.

The school district is now in line to receive $19.5 million for capital expenses and $87.1 million for general operating funds. The school board had asked for $97.7 million for capital and $89.9 million for general expenses, with the majority of the jury award included in its capital request.

As it stands, the school district funding would result in a 14.3 percent tax increase. Other options could be in play, including using rainy day reserve funds or issuing general obligation bonds, or a combination of methods.

The state legislation also locks in a similar schools funding amount for the next budget, along with increases for inflation and student population growth.

Union County Finance Director Jeff Yates said he was concerned about the impact those future increases would have on the county budget and tax rate. The county also no longer has a say in what specific projects the school board spends its funds on.

Commissioners are expected to decide how to pay for the school funding increases, and take a final vote on the overall budget, at their June 30 meeting.

The total county general operating budget for 2014-15 is $266.2 million, a 3.7 percent increase over the current year.

Bell: 704-358-5696; Twitter: @abell

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