The Union County Board of County Commissioners voted against the proposed 8.69-cent tax increase for Union County Public Schools following a budget public hearing where they heard concerns from local residents.
After the UCPS Board of Education proposed a budget of nearly $89.9 million for general expenses and $97.7 million for capital, which also included $71 million from last year’s jury award, the county released its proposal of $85.4 million for expenses and $19.5 million for capital expenditures. The county’s plan to fund capital projects included a dedicated portion of the UCPS tax rate to fund capital projects over the coming years. If approved, the new tax structure would fund about $20 million in UCPS capital projects per year, totaling about $139 million by 2020, according to a presentation at the June 2 meeting.
“The idea would be, instead of taking that $91 million all in one bite, we could work through a multi-year plan … and establish something more affordable,” Union County Finance Director Jeff Yates said at the meeting.
County leaders say a significant tax increase of about 9 cents, which would all go to fund UCPS, would be necessary if the entire proposal from the school board is included in the budget. Commissioners voted 3-2 to remove the proposed increase, with Chair Frank Aikmus and Vice-Chairman Jerry Simpson voting in favor of the increase, but commissioners could decide to include some kind of increase prior to approving the 2014-15 budget.
Although he didn’t mention the proposed tax increase in his comments, UCPS Board of Education Chairman Richard Yercheck addressed commissioners during the public hearing and spoke about the different cuts the school system would have to make if the county’s proposed UCPS budget is adopted. According to Yercheck, UCPS would have to find another alternative for paying $462,000 in increasing utility costs and would not be able to give additional supplements to principals or teachers who work at high-priority schools.
“It’s difficult to get teaches to work in our high-priority schools because there is a high burnout rate there, so (we like to) offer those folks a little more money to go over there and spend a little more time with kids who need a little more attention and effort,” Yercheck said.
The school system also would not be able to fund a salary increase for locally paid personnel across the county. Union County and many municipalities in the county are working to give employees a salary increase following a time when many had to freeze salaries due to the recession.
But Monroe High School Assistant Principal Carole Alley says high priority schools aren’t the only thing preventing the county from pulling in good, quality teachers.
“As a school administrator I have seen first hand how difficult it is to recruit and maintain good quality teachers in our schools. We are competing with South Carolina and Mecklenburg (County) where the compensation is higher,” she said at the public hearing.
Other residents addressed concerns about providing the funding for high quality education throughout the county, the need for the board of county commissioners and board of education to have further discussions to find a middle ground, the difficulties teachers and students have when working with a limited budget and more at the public hearing.
The county will hold another public hearing for residents to speak about the budget as a whole, UCPS funding and the county and UCPS tax rate on June 16, a Monday, at 7 p.m. at the Union County Government Center, 500 N. Main St. in Monroe. County leaders must approve a budget by June 30 or pass emergency legislation to continue county business until a 2014-15 budget is adopted.