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The superintendent said schools can use the $1.3 million for new school buses and a building, among other expenses.
Thursday, September 19, 2013
The phrase “carry-over” carries hackle-raising potential for some members of the Franklin County Board of Supervisors.
The phrase popped up again this week when county school officials sought about $1.3 million in carry-over money to buy new school buses, boost the division’s energy reserve fund, construct a building for computer servers now stored in a mobile unit and cover other capital expenses.
School Superintendent Mark Church opened his pitch Tuesday by noting that supervisors had been “very gracious in the past” with carry-over requests tied to capital expenditures.
Carry-over funds are appropriated dollars remaining in the school budget on June 30. By law, these funds return to the county’s general fund at the end of the fiscal year but schools can seek this money from supervisors for expenses in the new fiscal year.
Supervisor Ronnie Thompson has said carry-over money belongs to taxpayers and is not a “slush fund” for schools. School officials have provoked the ire of some supervisors when seeking the money for recurring expenses such as personnel costs.
But soon after Church described the division’s request Tuesday, the discussion ended without conflict.
County Administrator Rick Huff said the division’s request will have to be considered during a related public hearing when supervisors meet Oct. 15. Vincent Copenhaver, the county’s finance director, said state law specifies that if a locality considers amending its original budget by an amount greater than 1 percent, a public hearing is required.
Franklin County’s total budget for the current fiscal year is about $124 million and 1 percent of that amount is about $1.24 million. Copenhaver said the county has already appropriated nearly $1 million that was not in the fiscal 2013-14 budget to the Adult Education Regional Program. Many county departments are also seeking to spend money still remaining in their budgets on June 30 and those requests total $910,105.
In addition, the county had about $2 million more than anticipated remaining in its general fund as of June 30, Copenhaver said. The county wants to appropriate that money, Copenhaver said, to help cover principal and interest payments associated with new debt.
The public hearing would seek input on all these appropriations.
Supervisors have criticized the school division for not being able to better forecast how much money will remain in its budget at June 30 each year. On Tuesday, Huff said that the county’s unanticipated $2 million in unspent funds was tied both to savings and to increased revenue in some areas. For example, Huff said the treasurer’s office recovered about $764,000 in delinquent taxes after hiring a firm to tackle that task.
Traditionally, the school division has sought carry-over money for one-time expenses like buying buses or capital projects. On June 30, the schools had about $2 million remaining in local funds, a figure that included an energy fund balance of about $568,000.
Church said the bulk of the division’s current carry-over request would help buy 12 new school buses, a purchase that would require about $1.1 million. As proposed, carry-over money would cover about $660,300 of that expense. About $64,800 would come from a county reserve fund earmarked for bus replacement. And the county’s capital budget for school buses would pay the balance.
Church requested about $214,200 to boost the division’s energy fund reserve and about $220,225 to construct the building to house the computer servers. Finally, he asked for $25,000 to help establish a batting and pitching practice field for girls softball and about $117,335 for a reserve fund.
In separate discussion Tuesday, supervisors received an update from a communications engineering firm about possible upgrades to the county’s public safety radio communications system. The current system provides adequate coverage to only about 60 percent of the county. And the spotty coverage is considered potentially life-threatening for both first responders and residents.
Mike McGannon of Georgia-based Engineering Associates told supervisors that the firm’s research has determined that there are not enough VHF frequencies available to depend on those frequencies for an upgrade. He received the board’s approval to investigate the use of the 700/800 megahertz spectrum — an option that will likely cost more.
McGannon has told the board that establishing reliable portable radio coverage across the rural county’s 712 square miles of mountains, hollows, valleys and lakes will be expensive. An early estimate suggested the upgrade costs could range from about $15 million to about $26 million.