Members of the Carroll County Board of Supervisors did not hide their disdain Monday night over an apparent miscalculation by the Carroll County School Board that board members say could have possibly saved a tax increase.
Before tackling an appropriation to the Carroll County Public School System for $575,502, the board held a public hearing for Fiscal Year 2016-2017 that was advertised with tax hikes of two cents to the existing real estate tax levy of 66 cents per $100 of valuation and 35 cents to the existing personal property tax rate of $1.95 per $100 of valuation. Shockingly, no one from the public spoke about the proposed tax increases, but the night was not short on fireworks.
The real sparks began to fly when board chairman Joshua Hendrick opened up an item for discussion to appropriate $575,502 in basic aid funds from the state to the school system as a result of an increased Average Daily Membership (ADM) of students above what was originally budgeted for by the school system. According to Hendrick, Carroll County’s ADM went up from what was budgeted for in September of 2015 to March 31, 2016 by “130 or 131 students.” Supervisor Bob Martin wanted to know if the school board didn’t have an idea of that number before Monday.
“They probably had a fairly accurate idea in September of last year but their final budget as set by the state is based upon the March 31 ADM,” Hendrick said.
Supervisor Rex Hill, who served on Carroll County’s Budget Committee this year along with Hendrick and Interim County Administrator Nikki Cannon, said had that number been known during the budgeting process “we probably could have had some savings to the county.” Hill said Carroll County is ranked 107th out of 134 counties in Virginia on the Composite Index, which figures a county’s ability to pay for education.
“We are only required to spend about $6 million and we are spending $12 million. We are in the top 75 percent in the state of what we give to education,” Hill said. “That is a concern to me, especially when we go into the budget process and their numbers are not accurate, they are not up to date so we can make an educated decision on what the budget should be. It was being under-budgeted on their end and that really concerns me.”
In other words, Supervisor Robbie McCraw said the school system is going to receive $575,000 more than what they already received. For comparison, the county had a shortfall of about $500,000 in its budget this year, leading to the proposed tax increases.
“We could have saved the county $575,000 if it had have worked out in the budget process and that is my concern,” Hill said.
Cannon noted it’s not unusual to have an ADM adjustment. It’s a figure you will never get right on the money during the budget process, she said, noting the year before the school system overestimated its ADM, causing a shortfall. She said the budget last year was based on an ADM of 3,620 students, but the actual ADM was 3,751.
“The thing that bothers me, I knew it was going to be a tough budget year and it appears not as tight as we thought. I know without mentioning any names we had some folks on the board that thought it was do-or-die and they sweated blood to try to make the budget work out,” Martin said. “It sort of puts a sour grapes’ taste in your mouth…If the school board comes in and said we suddenly checked under the golden goose and had a nest of golden eggs we didn’t know about it, it just makes you scratch your head. What will it be next year?”
Supervisor Phil McCraw said the county has already approved the school budget for next year. If they appropriate the money to the school system, they can spend it anyway they wish, he said.
“If we do that, maybe we need to just put it out there with the caveat that although we can’t tell you how to spend it, next year when it comes budget time we are going to remember you all were appropriated that five-hundred-and-whatever-some-thousand dollars it was and we are going to have to take that into consideration when our budget committee starts working on the school budget. That is the only way I see around this,” he said. “I am not trying to control school money, but here we are. We had a public hearing tonight and I was shocked no one came talking about a tax increase trying to raise revenue because the bottom line is QSCB cost our budget to be completely out of kilter, which was put into place a few years ago.”
The QSCB funds McCraw referred to are for the Phase III renovations of Carroll County High School and Carroll County Middle School. He said since the county has the opportunity to have the state funds appropriated, “we don’t need to turn our nose up at it.” However, he said somebody from the school system better have some answers.
“We need to approve it and let’s let them have it, but let’s make it public right now, right here, that next year’s budget cycle, we know that money went there and we are talking about raising taxes. And you know, for some of us, raising taxes is not a horrible deal. I don’t think anyone likes it, but we have a lot of citizens in this county having trouble to make it work now, and a tax increase is going to kill them. It just kills me to think about having to raise taxes simply for the reasons we are having to, and then all of a sudden this money shows up at the last minute,” McCraw said. “It would be nice if we hadn’t already passed our school budget that we have incorporated that into doing our budget. If the budget committee had been aware that was going to be a factor, the whole budget process would be totally different because you are talking over half a million dollars.”
Robbie McCraw said supervisors are getting “beat up about tax increases.” He wanted to know if the county could take that $575,000 off the school budget, how much would the tax increase be for the current budget.
“Zero,” Hendrick answered.
“Yeah, and that is what I am saying. I am sorry, it makes me mad and it gripes my butt to think about what they are doing to be honest about it,” he said. “I think they done it and was deceitful about it. I am sorry, but I just feel that way.”
Hill then made a motion to have someone from the school board to meet with the county during its June 27 meeting to approve the county budget. That way it would still be before the end of the fiscal year and supervisors could get some answers from the school system. Hill’s motion passed unanimously, with Martin adding comments to his yes vote.
“(I vote) yes…with reservations,” he said. “I expect somebody to be down here from the school board office to let us know why the mistake was overlooked.”
“I don’t think it was overlooked,” Hendrick replied.
“I don’t either,” McCraw said.
Hendrick noted Martin’s terminology of mistake about the miscalculation.
“It was brought up during the budget process. It was known an ADM adjustment was going to happen, but an exact figure was not available, its impact was not available, whether or not the money had been spent was not available,” Hendrick said.
Carroll Supervisors are scheduled to meet June 27 at 6:30 p.m. to approve the budget and to set tax rates.
Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on Twitter@AWorrellTCN