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Franklin County Public Schools were hoping for the 2-cent tax increase, as it would help fill a budget gap of about $1.5 million.
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
ROCKY MOUNT — Mark Church looked grim. So did Sarah Alexander.
Church, superintendent of Franklin County Public Schools, and Alexander, a school board member, reacted Tuesday evening after the board of supervisors voted 6-1 to leave the county’s real estate tax unchanged.
Supervisor Bobby Thompson, who works in a leadership role at Ferrum College, was the lone voice suggesting the schools needed additional funding just to maintain where they are. His colleagues said they were not willing to add to the financial burdens many residents still face even as the regional economy shows some signs of recovery.
Supervisor Charles Wagner said people continue to lose homes and jobs in Franklin County.
“When you look at the big picture … I can’t support a tax increase,” Wagner said.
School officials had hoped for a 2-cent increase because the revenue generated, about $1.2 million, would have gone to the school division. But supervisors voted Tuesday night to leave the real estate tax at 54 cents per $100 of assessed value, and the board adopted the budget of about $124 million proposed weeks ago by county staff.
“We’re disappointed,” Church said. “Clearly, our community seemed in support of the tax increase. It was needed to keep our schools operating at their current level.”
Now, based on estimates reported by its finance department, the school division faces a budget gap of about $1.5 million. School officials have said that reality will likely require eliminating jobs and programs.
Supervisors listened during a public hearing April 16 as many county residents spoke in favor of the 2-cent increase, citing the need to support the school division, and many others expressed opposition, decrying the potential financial effect on people on fixed incomes and small businesspeople already stretched to the limit.
There was no shortage of passion.
Alexander said the school board is obligated to provide every child with every opportunity for an excellent education. She said the supervisors’ vote Tuesday night makes that impossible.
“As our schools go, so goes our county,” Alexander said. “And I feel like we are shortchanging the future of Franklin County.”
Before supervisors voted, Chairman David Cundiff said he was struck during budget discussions with the schools by the high number of students who are eligible for free and reduced-price lunches. He said that suggested to him that there are many families in Franklin County striving to make ends meet.
“Maybe I’m wrong. … I can’t put a burden on people who are already struggling,” he said.
A 2-cent increase in the real estate tax would have raised the tax on a home with an assessed value of $100,000 by about $20.
County resident Delia Heck, a faculty member at Ferrum College, attended Tuesday’s meeting.
“I think the students who most need the services are the ones who are going to be hurt the most [by school budget cuts],” Heck said.
For example, she said, if a pay-to-play fee is established for athletics and other extracurricular activities, some families might not be able to afford for their children to participate.
The county budget for the current fiscal year totaled about $121 million and the county’s contribution to the school division totaled about $30.3 million.
The $124 million budget supervisors adopted Tuesday night will include a contribution to the schools of about $31.6 million.
The school board has scheduled a budget workshop for May 1 at 6 p.m.
“We will work with our school board and try to reduce our expenditures to meet the revenues we have available,” Church said.
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