Union County commissioners restore education funding

The twisty path of Union County’s budget plans took another turn Thursday when county commissioners said they would restore school district funding they had rejected earlier in the week.

But commissioners, who gave tentative approval to the funding, did not decide how they would pay for the additional funds – and a tax increase remains one option. The board also asked staff to look at other choices, including issuing new general obligation bonds, dipping into rainy-day reserve funds, or some combination of the three.

Commissioners Chair Frank Aikmus said his counterpart on the school board, Richard Yercheck, told him there were enough votes on the school board to demand mediation over the budget. Mediation is a step that needs to be taken before the district is allowed to sue over the disagreement.

Yercheck could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Last year, the school board sued over the budget and won a $91 million verdict, which the county continues to appeal.

This year, the school board included the majority of the jury verdict in its request for capital funds, which totaled $97.7 million. The school board also sought $89.9 million for general operating funds.

Instead, county staff recommended allocating $19.5 million for capital and $85.4 million for general funds, which would have led to a 13.2 percent tax hike. On Monday, commissioners rejected that plan.

But on Thursday, the county board restored the additional capital funds and increased the general fund allocation to $87 million.

The new totals would raise the tax hike needed to cover those costs, from 13.2 percent to 14.1 percent over the existing rate, if no other options are used.

The existing tax rate on real estate and personal property is 66 cents per $100 of valuation. That would move to 75.29 cents under the current plan, with all of the increase for school costs.

“Our goal is to provide the level of funding to the schools that taxpayers can afford,” Aikmus said.

Commissioners also renewed their request that the school district prioritize all capital projects, including those covered in the $91 million verdict.

A public hearing on the budget is set for June 16. Aikmus said he did not expect a final vote to approve the plan until June 30, the last day of the fiscal year.