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New budget clashes likely between Union county commissioners, school board

MONROE It looks like new budget clashes are looming between Union County commissioners and the school board.

Last year’s budget battles led the school board to sue the county for more funding, and a jury awarded the district $91 million, a verdict the county continues to appeal.

Earlier this week, the school board approved a budget that included most of the jury award as part of its capital funding request, which totaled $97.7 million. The board also approved seeking general operating funds of $89.9 million.

The current real estate and personal property tax rate for the county is 66 cents per $100 of valuation. Funding the entire school board request would boost the tax rate to $1.09 — a 66 percent increase, county officials said.

“It’s pretty clear that would shut down the county,” Commissioner Jonathan Thomas said Friday. He called it “completely inappropriate” to add the bulk of the jury award into the budget mix.

Commissioners said they want to work with the school board in prioritizing funding needs, and the two boards will hold a joint budget meeting next Wednesday.

Unlike in prior years, commissioners will split the budget into two parts when coming up with the tax rate: one part covers school funding and the rest covers all other county functions, such as parks, the sheriff’s office and human services. School board Chairman Richard Yercheck said he wanted to see more details about that plan.

“My trepidation is that the school district would get blamed for a tax increase,” he said. “If the county chooses to raise taxes, it’s not solely because of (one department or agency.)”

At a 3 1/2-hour meeting Friday, commissioners were briefed on County Manager Cindy Coto’s recommended 2014-15 budget. Her budget did not include the school district’s request. The school district’s request will formally be submitted within the next week.

Coto said no county department got everything it sought.

County operations in the fiscal year that starts July 1 will not result in any tax increase, said Jeff Yates, the county chief financial officer.

Residential water and sewer rates will increase by 6.5 percent each year for the next three years, mainly to cover system maintenance and improvements. The average monthly customer bill will increase from $48.50 to $51.90 in the new fiscal year.

In other budget highlights:

•  The county will add about 13 full-time employees, including six in social services.

• There will be an increase in pay, spread over three years, for sworn personnel in the sheriff’s office.

•  The county launched a budget website at www.unioncountync.gov that includes options for public comments and to ask the county budget questions.

Bell: 704-358-5696; Twitter: @abell
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