Teachers, school board members and other staff packed the Anson County Board of Commissioners meeting chambers Thursday night during a public hearing on the proposed fiscal year 2014-15 budget.
Anson County Schools Superintendent Michael Freeman appeared on behalf of the Board of Education, staff and children in Anson County schools. He thanked the board for their record of support and stated that a key challenge is recruitment and retention of qualified teachers. “We had hoped to follow what you did last year and wanted to increase teacher supplement, which would mean $73,102 in additional funding from the county,” he said.
He also requested an additional $73,892 for general operating expenses.
Commission Chair Anna Baucom proposed that the board have a discussion about putting a quarter of a penny sales tax increase on the ballot for November and designate those additional funds for public education.
“We cannot mitigate damage done to public schools or the whole education system by this General Assembly,” Baucom said. She added that Senator Gene McLaurin and Representative Mark Brody have been very supportive of Anson County and its schools. She asked the crowd of mostly teacher and staff if they would be willing to work for and advocate for people voting for the quarter of a penny sales tax. Everyone stood up and cheered.
Commissioner Jim Sims, former educator and superintendent, stated, “Take all the technology you can find, nicest building and greatest instructional supplies, and you put an incompetent teacher or teacher assistant in there and children will not learn.”
Commissioner Vancine Sturdivant echoed the thoughts of Commissioner Sims and added that she has always been a strong advocate for education, and she challenged County Manager Lawrence Gatewood to find the additional money for Anson’s schools.
The board unanimously approved a motion for the county manager and staff to look into putting the quarter of a penny increase in sales tax on the November ballot. County Manager Gatewood stated that the quarter of a penny or ¼-cent sales tax increase would generate as much as $300,000 and could go to supplement teacher salaries and purchase needed educational equipment to support Anson County Schools.
Jimmy Dennis also appeared before the commissioners to request funding for the Historical Properties Commission so they can carry on business of historical preservation in Anson County. They asked for $5,000 to pay for secretarial services, office space, telephone and equipment needed during the coming year. Further, they requested if the old hospital buildings are sold, some of those funds be made available to the preservation committee.
The commissioners agreed to take the request under further advisement.
In other business during the hearing, Vice Chairman Ross Streater stated that he liked the budget but did not like the amount of fund balance the county is using. County Manager Gatewood responded that the county has used fund balance very carefully over the last several years and the goal is not to dip below $5 million, “which will give us a nice safety net and keep us in good standings with the Local Government Commission.”
County Manger Gatewood added that he’s not concerned about fund balance dipping below $5 million. Rita James, IT director, added, “We actually ran a fund balance report this week and confirmed that we’re in very good shape.” County Manger Gatewood said that he is more concerned about the county’s poor property tax collection rate, which is somewhere between 92-93 percent and still one of the lowest collection rates in the state. Further, the average property tax collection rate for the state is around 95 percent. Tax Collector Joe Dutton and his staff are now responsible for processing garnishments and Gatewood said he hopes this will help increase collections. The Recommended Budget for fiscal 2014-2015 includes:
1. No change in the property tax rate
2. $28.5 million in total funding
3. County-paid health insurance for full-time employees
4. 2.5-percent cost of living increase for county employees
5. $793,879 for South Piedmont Community College
6. $4,152,632 for Anson County Schools (requested increase is still under review)
7. $125,000 for the final payment on the animal shelter facility
8. $110,000 for repair of the methane control system at the former Lilesville Landfill
9. $157,500 to begin design work for the proposed Agri-Civic Center
10. $20,000 to develop a facilities plan for a proposed DSS and Human Services facility
11. $7,500 to develop a facilities plan for a proposed ACTS base
In other matters, the commissioners approved the Uptown Wadesboro fireworks request for the July 3 Summer Jam celebration.
The commissioners will next meet on June 26 at 6 p.m. to approve the budget.