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Wednesday, 28 April 2010 17:37

Haywood schools, HCC struggle to meet needs as revenues plummet

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With Haywood County’s revenues down by 4 percent, schools are looking at another year of disappointing budget allocations at the local level.

Preliminary budget figures show the Haywood County public school system might receive $335,000 in capital outlay funding from the county — a far cry from the $735,000 it requested.

Capital outlay includes any costs related to buildings on school property, from replacing roofs to regular maintenance to new construction.

Meanwhile, Haywood Community College might get $165,000 for capital outlay needs despite its request for $500,000.

To make matters worse, both figures are part of a budget that is short by more than $738,000.

“With revenues as flat as they are this year, we may even have to cut that some more,” said Commissioner Kevin Ensley.

But HCC President Rose Johnson stressed that the college’s capital needs are even higher than the $500,000 it requested this year.

“We are serving a student population of 11,000,” said Johnson. “The stress of doing that in facilities that need major renovations and repair is becoming very strong.”

For example, the college must completely redo its heating and air conditioning system in Building 300, where general education and natural resources classes take place.

Replacing the heat pumps alone would cost $270,000, with the total for the project nearing $560,000, according to HCC.

Recently, the air conditioning went out in the cosmetology building at HCC, which alone will take $17,000 out of HCC’s budget.

Some county commissioners had suggested dipping into the quarter-cent sales tax funds HCC receives to cover maintenance needs for the time being.

Johnson and the board of trustees vehemently oppose the idea, stating that money from the quarter-cent sales tax was passed solely to fund new construction at HCC — and that’s exactly what it will be used for.

Johnson said with a growing population of students, that money should be used to build a creative arts building that meets the needs of today as well as the future.

“If we began to defer funding from that fund, then we are really sliding behind meeting the needs for the campus,” Johnson said.

Commissioner Kevin Ensley said all organizations should understand that the commissioners’ hands are tied.

“This year, we’re just trying to hang on,” said Ensley. “What they receive will reflect what the economy is giving us right now.”

Ensley says a tax increase to bring in more revenues is absolutely out of the question, considering how much citizens are still suffering under the recession. “Having to do with less, we can’t ask for more,” he said.

Commissioner Mark Swanger agreed, stating that he is “confident” that there will not be a tax increase this year. He praised department heads, along with Finance Officer Julie Davis and Assistant County Manager Marty Stamey, for cooperating under a tight budget.

Though public schools receive money from both the county and the state, HCC meets all of its capital needs from county funding alone. Drastic cuts in the county budget means the college is helpless in completing necessary maintenance.

Donna Forga, vice-chair of HCC’s Board of Trustees, said she like many others feels let down with what the county has pledged.

“We recognize the financial situation that the county’s in, that every organization is in right now, these are times that we’ve not seen financially,” said Forga. “While we understand that, we’re disappointed in that.”

A depleting reserve

Haywood County public schools have grown accustomed to seeing money flow in steadily from both the county and the state, but they’ve had to make a tough adjustment since the economic downturn.

Before the recession, Haywood’s school system annually received $600,000 from the county to support its capital needs. In addition, the board chipped in another $135,000 annually to meet its 25 percent match requirement for state per capita funds.

From the state, the school system drew in $500,000 each year in lottery funds, and $500,000 more in per capita funds, which are based on how many students attend Haywood’s schools.

Public school leaders have saved up this money from multiple sources for quite some time, but since county commissioners slashed their budget, they’ve had to dip into the pot.

“If it wasn’t for the lottery and the [state per capita money], we wouldn’t be able to do quite as much as we can do now,” said Tracy Hargrove, maintenance director for Haywood County Schools.

Despite the recession, commissioners have managed to come through with the 25 percent local match for state per capita funds, as required by law.

The county board recently approved allocating $106,500 to replace a flat roof at North Canton Elementary and begin an HVAC and electrical upgrade at Central Haywood High School.

Even though the school system now holds $1.16 million in lottery funds, it has devoted all but $286,000 of that money for two turf projects, according to Finance Officer Larry Smith.

Money is slowly but surely running out.

Assistant Superintendent Bill Nolte said the county has received no state per capita funding this year, and they will likely receive none next year as well.

“There’s just not a lot we can plan for,” said Nolte.

Hargrove said the schools will just have to prioritize with the money it is getting.

“It’s like anything else, you can always use more money,” said Hargrove. “Is there anything that’s live or die that’s being pushed out? No. We can survive.”

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