Union County

Commissioners set rules for school budget requests

The Union County Board of County Commissioners raised the bar Sept. 8 for funding requests from the Union County Board of Education.

County commissioners unanimously voted to require a “presentation by a member of the Board of Education…whenever the (board), or its staff, requests action by the (county commissioners) on any matter that will require the transfer or appropriation of funds.”

As part of the same motion by Commissioners Chairman Richard Helms, commissioners also voted to amend the 2015-2016 budget ordinance. That amendment deletes a section that would allow the county manager to transfer up to 10 percent of school funds that had been designated for one school project to another school project without authorization by the commissioners. Now, any fund transfers must be considered and voted upon by county commissioners.

Helms preceded his motion by recounting events leading up to the board’s Aug. 17 meeting, when a board of education funding request was on the agenda but no one from the board of education was present to answer questions. John Collins, chairman of the board of education, later said no one from the school board attended the Aug. 17 meeting because questions that had been presented to him by Helms had been addressed during a two-and-a-half-hour meeting between staff members of both organizations.

The absence of a board of education representative at the Aug. 17 meeting provoked angry comments from Commissioner Frank Aikmus, who said, “I’ve got questions and there’s not a darn soul here to answer them.”

As a result of ongoing tensions between the two boards, Helms and Collins discussed holding a joint meeting of the two boards in early October. At its Sept.1 meeting, the board of education authorized Collins to schedule that meeting. However, the topic of a joint meeting did not make it onto county commissioners’ Sept. 8 agenda, the board’s first meeting since Aug. 17.

Helms said before reading his motion that “we’ve been back-and-forth with the board of education for several weeks” about funding requests for the school system.

“The integrity of the process to fund and allow transfers has been questioned, and personal attacks on our staff have been levied,” he said. “Therefore, in order to eliminate any further confusion, this action will clarify our expectation of the process that will be followed…That all funding and transfer requests…will be decided by the full board of commissioners at regularly scheduled meetings.”

He said the action would help enhance public dialogue and transparency.

Helms said board of education budget requests “should be addressed to the chairman of the board of commissioners, in writing. And then it will be placed on the agenda the next commissioner’s meeting.”

In other business, commissioners heard from more than a dozen residents about a 15,000-square-foot, indoor swim training facility proposed for the southwest corner of the intersection of Tom Short and Rea roads. The proposed center would sit on approximately 2 acres of a 9.05 parcel of land previously approved for a 75,000-square foot, three-story office building.

The residents spoke during a public hearing to amend the Planned Unit Development permit from the original plan, originally approved by county commissioners in 2006. The plan for the three-story office building fell through because of changing market conditions, and plans for the parcel’s remaining 7 acres are still undetermined.

The speakers included Melissa King-Pierce, the swim coach for Marvin Ridge High School, and parents of competitive swimmers whose teams have difficulties scheduling practice times in crowded facilities nearby.

“We are starving for pool space,” King-Pierce said.

A few residents objected to changes in plans concerning a wall that would provide a buffer between their Hunter Oaks neighborhood and the facility, but said they would have no problem with the indoor swim facility if the original buffering plans remained intact.

Commissioners did not take action on amending the permit. They left the public hearing open, and it will resume after adjacent property owners and the developer have had a chance to work together to address concerns.

Jane Duckwall is a freelance writer: jbduckwall@gmail.com.