Moore County’s operating budget for Fiscal Year 2021 is one step closer to approval as the board of commissioners concluded a public hearing Tuesday. A final vote is expected at a meeting on June 23.
The budget presented by County Manager Wayne Vest calls for no change in the tax rate, no program cuts and no layoffs, despite a sales tax shortfall and drop in revenue because of the economic effects of the coronavirus. The recommended budget stands at $168.3 million.
The meeting was conducted entirely online, with as many as 65 people connected through the internet via computers and mobile phones. Online meetings have become the standard as governments abide by social distancing guidelines.
In May, Vest presented a recommended balanced budget to the board of commissioners. Multiple work sessions and public hearings were conducted in May and June to work out the details of how monies will be spent to support county services for the coming year. As required by North Carolina law, the county operating budgets must be balanced each fiscal year, from July 1 through June 30.
During the public input portion of the meeting, Laura Williams, clerk of the board, read 33 written comments into the record from community leaders, school teachers, students and the general public.
All but two of the letters urged the board to provide additional funds for education in the budget. Most all the letters struck the same message, citing similar concerns over class size, support for digital learning and backing a raise for non-classroom support staff.
The letters in opposition to increased school spending warned against the effects of increasing property taxes and the need to control spending. Expressing support for additional money for education were Ed Dennison and Libby Carter, representing the Moore County Board of Education and Anthony McCauley, CEO and Founder of MALES of Distinction. They spoke via live video using the county’s online meeting software.
The recommended budget calls for level school funding at $30.35 million. One-time costs associated with the opening of McDeeds Elementary School are not included in the likely amount allocated to schools next year. McDeeds Elementary School opened to students in September of 2019.
The budget presented Tuesday also includes $750,000 for school repairs and another $750,000 for the purchase of computers used by teachers and students. Those are the same amounts that have been budgeted by the commissioners in the previous five years.
At a meeting of the Moore County Board of Education in May, a budget request of $36.05 million was approved. That would have been a $3.46 million increase over the current year. The reason for the jump was to support proposed salary increases of 6% for school support staff and to hire additional teachers, according to Moore County Schools.
Vest also informed the commissioners of stimulus funds earmarked for education under the CARES Act. Earlier this year, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act was passed by the federal government. The law is intended to address the economic fallout of the coronavirus by providing money to K-12 schools. According to information from the State Board of Education, Moore County is eligible for more than $2 million in emergency relief funds.
Feature photo: Wayne Vest presenting the recommended balanced budget.
~Article and feature photo by Sandhills Sentinel Reporter John Patota.