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Mecklenburg County Supes delay action on school request
SoVaNow.com / July 03, 2013Mecklenburg County supervisors are refusing to re-appropriate $22,000 for the school division to cover a shortfall in its maintenance and operations budget without first hearing from Superintendent of Schools James Thornton, who was out of town and unable to attend a meeting of the Board of Supervisors’ budget committee on Monday.
During a fiscal year-end review by Donna Garner, Mecklenburg County Public Schools finance director, it was determined that the school system had overspent its maintenance and operations budget by $22,182, all to pay for electricity. Garner also found that $24,000 raised from the sale of old buses and equipment was never put back into the budget. As a result, she asked supervisors to apply most of the $24,000 to cover the electricity bills.
Supervisor David Brankley said he was reluctant to approve the request without an explanation has to how the schools overspent for electricity at the same time as the Central Office pays a consultant to monitor their energy usage. “You pay $120,000 to a company to save the schools money on electricity and fuel. My question is, are you really saving any money?”
Garner said she was not prepared to answer that question at this time. She is currently performing an analysis of their energy expenditures, comparing the current year’s spending to what was spent before the schools hired Energy Education, Inc. She added that last year, Energy Education claimed to have saved the school system $10,000, but Garner said she was doing her own independent analysis.
In response, supervisor Glenn Barbour quipped, “For $120,000 you think you’d save more than $10,000.” Brankley asked fellow supervisors to consider doing their own review of the school divisions’ energy savings. “I don’t’ think they [Energy Education] are being held accountable.”
Supervisors also learned, for the first time, that the school system would be returning at least $500,000 from its 2012/2013 appropriations. County Treasurer Sandra Langford said her records showed that the amount coming back from the schools was closer to $616,000. Regardless if the amount, the money will be deposited into the County capital account for the school buildings.
The monies, according to Garner are from “local revenues not budgeted for, including $50,000 in ROTC payments, $100,000 in refunds and rebates, and payments from other counties and other state agencies, and $150,000 in federal money from ‘No Child Left Behind’ initiatives.
Budget and Finance panel chairman Gregg Gordon said he was pleased that the school system was returning the money to the county instead of spending on items not previously budgeted. Still, supervisor Dan Tanner wanted to see a comparison of the amount budgeted versus expenditures for each line item in the schools’ budget.
Supervisors also agreed to defray any decision on whether to appropriate $220,000 for the school system to hire a consultant to begin the process of locating land for and designing a consolidated high school.
In other business, members of the budget and finance committee agreed to recommend a supplemental appropriation of $461,325 for the regional jail. Wayne Carter, county administrator, explained the reason behind the need for additional money. “This was our first year operating the regional jail. We had calculated our costs by looking at the average number of prisoners housed in Mecklenburg jails over the past three years. That number was around 142 inmates per day. We are now averaging approximately 190 inmates per day. Since we are obligated to pay for our own inmates, we need to appropriate the additional money.”
Even though the county has to spend nearly $500,000 more than originally anticipated to house its prisoners, Carter said, housing prisoners in the regional jail is still cheaper. Without the regional jail, the county, which did not have sufficient space to house its prison population, would have had to pay to send the prisoners to other area jails. He added that in his 24 years of service with the county, this is the highest number of inmates Mecklenburg has ever had to house.
The committee also agreed to hold a public hearing on whether to increase the county’s transient occupancy tax from 2% to 5%. The monies raised from the tax must be designated for tourism related expenditures. Carter said unlike Mecklenburg, most of the surrounding localities already charge the maximum allowable rate of 5%.
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