Budget change preserves some funding for schools

Published 9:00 am Wednesday, June 5, 2024

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Southampton County staff provided some updates on the proposed FY 2025 county budget on May 29 that included no overall increases but some reallocations, including a slight increase in local funding for Southampton County Public Schools to preserve $330,000 in state funding for the division.

The updates came at a special called Southampton County Board of Supervisors meeting Wednesday, May 29, that was held for the purpose of allowing a public hearing on the proposed fiscal year 2025 real property tax increase.

The board has proposed a cut in the real property tax rate from 89 to 71 cents per $100 of assessed value, but this will still result in a tax hike due to significant increases in the assessed value of land in the county.

County Administrator Brian S. Thrower’s initial draft budget submitted on April 10 stood at $86,516,708 with a proposed real property tax rate of 86 cents per $100 of assessed value.

Thrower provided a brief update at the May 29 meeting, first acknowledging the board’s adjustment of the proposed real estate tax rate to 71 cents.

“We did include the most updated version of the budget in front of you,” he said to supervisors, “and the total budget as it stands that y’all have preliminarily straw voted on is $83,660,702.”

“You also do have the budget timeline, so after tonight the only remaining meeting we have left is budget adoption for June 4,” he added.

Southampton County Chief Financial Officer Lynette C. Lowe provided some more details about the updated version of the budget that supervisors were looking at.

“At the last meeting, the personal property tax (rate) was moved back to the traditional $5 per $100 (of assessed value) that it had been for some time before COVID,” she said, alluding to a change the board had agreed upon in order to lower the proposed real estate tax rate from 73 to 71 cents.

“When we were at our last meeting, one of the bigger changes was we took $633,000 from the schools,” Lowe said, alluding to a change in local funding the board had agreed upon to move the proposed real estate tax rate, which was at 76 cents at the time, down to 73 cents.

Lowe explained why it was important to put some of that $633,000 back into the local funding amount for SCPS. 

“As I was computing items this past week and looking at the state budget, there was one piece of the local required match that was not calculated within that,” she said. “So we needed another $175,045 in order to keep from losing approximately $330,000 in state funds. 

“What we learned is there is a local match for basic aid, and there is a local match for incentive programs, and those incentive programs include things like pre-K and then the K through 3(rd grade) — it’s a reduction in classroom size to give the younger ones more individualized attention,” she continued. “Those type (of) programs are in the incentive programs this year.”

So she explained that county staff did not increase the county budget from what was talked about at the last budget meeting, but they did move some items around a little bit.

“The main thing is we put the additional $175,045 into the school budget, and we took out some money from the stabilization fund, and we did not have to take out the full $175,000 because there was an extra $49,000 that was produced by changing the water and sewer rates as was requested at the last budget meeting,” she said to supervisors. “So the large sheet that you have in front of you, all the items that changed are the ones that are highlighted. So those are all the changes from the previous meeting.”

Thrower added, “So, in effect, all your rates are still the same as what you asked for at the last meeting.”

In a Tuesday, June 4, email interview, Lowe answered questions and provided context for how the budget for SCPS has changed amid the county’s budget development process, which has featured many cuts.

The amount of FY 2025 local funding proposed for the school division’s debt service has remained constant throughout the process at $2,434,265. 

What has changed significantly is the FY 2025 local funding proposed for the SCPS operating budget. 

Lowe noted that level local funding for the FY 2025 SCPS operating budget would have been $10,225,215. Thrower’s originally proposed FY 2025 county budget proposed an increase in that amount to $10,736,476.

Entering the June 4 budget adoption meeting with the $175,045 added back in, the local funding for the FY 2025 SCPS operating budget was set at $9,115,046.

Lowe also shared the total amount in state funding that SCPS is set to receive for FY 2025, including the approximately $330,000 that she and her staff worked to preserve.

“Early on May 29 the state funding amount that had been provided to us was $25,317,142,” she said. “On June 3, a memo was sent to all county administrators detailing new state numbers. The latest, and hopefully final, state funding to go to Southampton County for FY25 is $26,456,135.”

There were only two people who spoke during the May 29 public hearing.

Southampton County Sheriff Josh A. Wyche Sr. said, “I just want to come up here and thank each of you for the hard work that you all put in, in trying to get this budget balanced, and the long hours that you all have sacrificed. Thank you all for everything that you all have done.”

Central District Supervisor and Board Chairman Dr. Alan W. Edwards asked County Treasurer Cynthia Edwards, who was one of the few in attendance at the hearing, if she had any comment, and she reiterated her advocacy for the board eliminating the solid waste fee.

“It should have been done a long time ago, and it still needs to be done,” she said.

Near the conclusion of the 18-minute meeting, Northwest District Supervisor and Board Vice Chairman William Hart Gillette said, “I would certainly like to thank Lynette, and (Christy Newsome’s) not here. But those two, as well as the other staff, put in a lot of hours, a lot of hours.”

Dr. Edwards said, “Lynette, we put you under a lot of stress this year. We appreciate your work.”

Lowe said, “You’re welcome.”