County To Keep Up Pressure On State Over School Funding

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Moore County commissioners Chairman Nick Picerno urged his fellow board members Tuesday night to keep up the fight in the new year for the state to meet its obligation on public school funding.

The board repeatedly adopted resolutions over several months and wrote letters to state lawmakers last year urging them to “fix the hole” in the state teacher funding formula. The commissioners also joined a growing chorus of calls from other counties around the state urging the General Assembly to restore the 40 percent of lottery funds that are supposed to go to public schools. Right now, only about 19 percent of the proceeds go to education, Picerno pointed out.

“Someone needs to hold the state accountable, why they are not giving us what they promised,” Picerno said in his comments at the end of the meeting.

The commissioners also went on the war path last fall when Moore was one of 21 counties left out of an expansion of the state sales tax.

“I’m still upset about that,” Picerno said. “It needs to be fixed. And it certainly needs to be explained.”

Picerno noted that Moore County sent letters to its three state legislators, Reps. Jamie Boles and Allen McNeill and Sen. Jerry Tillman. Only McNeill responded.

He said it seems that the county “wasted our time and breath.”

“We didn’t do this for show,” he said. “We want an answer. We deserve an answer.”

Picerno said Moore County is facing “some huge” capital needs for the school system.

“That money could be well spent here,” he said.

The commissioners voted to include a referendum on a quarter-cent increase in the sales tax on the ballot for the March 15 primary elections, which would enable the county to borrow money to pay for building new schools.

Picerno said he wants the county to conduct an audit to determine exactly what it is costing Moore County taxpayers “to plug the hole in the state teacher funding formula.”

“It is hurting you,” he said.

Last year, the board unanimously adopted resolutions asking the state to apply the formula used to determine its teacher allotment by grade level and by individual schools rather than districtwide. That would result in the school system being able to hire more teachers and reduce the burden on local taxpayers.

Also during the meeting, the county received its 2015 annual audit report showing that overall revenues exceeded expenditures by more than $2.9 million last year.

Crystal Roberts with Martin Starnes & Associates CPAs told the commissioners that they found no “significant deficiencies or weaknesses” in its internal controls.

The county’s available fund balance was $17.5 million as of June 30, 2015, which equals 20 percent of its budgeted expenditures and exceeds the state minimum requirement.

Picerno noted that while property tax revenues, which account for 62 percent of the total amount, actually decreased by about $1.5 million from 2014 to 2015, while sales tax revenues rose by more that $500,000.

“That is why we feel the sales tax is the way to go in funding our schools,” he said of its construction plan, which includes 10 projects with an estimated cost of $237 million.

Commissioner Randy Saunders pointed out that the largest portion of county spending, 37 percent, or $32.9 million, goes to education.

“That is our No. 1 economic driver,” he said of the school system. “To continue to improve ours has got to be our No. 1 priority. Hopefully the public will realize how important it is.”

The commissioners voted unanimously to accept the report.

In other business:

* The board presented resolutions honoring the service of three recently retired employees of the Sheriff’s Office — Maj. Ricky Whitaker, Lt. Cathy Williams and Lt. Victor Moore.

Whitaker started with the department in 1972 as dispatcher and rose to chief deputy before stepping down to work for the N.C. Department of Motor Vehicles. He returned to the county in 2003 and worked in jail administration, helping oversee the move to the new detention center.

Picerno noted that Whitaker spent 45 years in public service.

Williams joined the department in 1987 as a patrol officer. She rose through the ranks, along the way becoming the first female in the criminal investigations divisions, the first to be a detective sergeant and the first female lieutenant, among others.

Moore had a 20-year career with the department, starting out as a part-time detention officer. He became a deputy in 2005 and was promoted to lieutenant.

Also, Public Safety Director Bryan Phillips presented the state Cardinal Award to retired telecommunicator Wilda Hussey for her 30-years of service.

“These men and women are making sure we are safe,” Picerno said. “I can’t say enough how much I admire these people. They put themselves out there.”

* The board expressed condolences to The Pilot on the death of Senior Writer Tom Embrey, who died early Sunday after suffering a heart attack on New Year’s Day.

Contact David Sinclair at (910) 693-2462 or