County commissioners approve budget after 3-2 vote

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 25, 2013

SALISBURY — Despite protestors calling for commissioners to restore school funding, county leaders adopted a budget that cuts schools by the proposed $225,000.
The budget passed with 3-2 vote at Monday’s meeting of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners. Chairman Jim Sides and Commissioner Jon Barber opposed the budget.
Commissioner Chad Mitchell, who was not present for last week’s 2-2 deadlock, said he would vote to approve the budget if county leaders agreed to give the schools any additional revenue that the state budget might bring the county. That motion passed 4-1, with Barber dissenting after he said the schools need even more funding.
Rowan County could get more than $800,000 if the proposed House budget passes, according to information from the N.C. Association of County Commissioners.
With Mitchell’s motion, schools could recoup that $225,000 in lost revenue if the state budget provides such an amount to the county.
But County Manager Gary Page warned that the Senate’s bill, on the other hand, would take roughly $1.4 million out of the county’s pocket if it passes.
“If they were to compromise tomorrow, we would still probably lose money,” Page said. “I hope like everybody else it’s the House budget.”
Mitchell opened Monday by saying his only real issue with the budget was the school cut.
“It was not a bad budget,” he said. “I thought it was a good budget.”
Rowan County had its own “Moral Monday” as about two dozen protestors held signs and applauded loudly after some county leaders discussed the need for funding.
Barber’s comments, specifically his remarks about teacher unemployment, drew praise from the crowd.
“In my opinion, anything that we can do to keep those people off the unemployment line — which is going to cost taxpayers even more money — is better,” he said.
Barber angled for increased funding for schools this year, despite Page’s budget that outlined a projected drop in enrollment as the reason for cuts.
Barber said he couldn’t vote for Mitchell’s motion that would give schools the $225,000 if the House budget passes because he said schools needed more.
“I can’t support this simply because I know we can do better,” Barber said.
Sides agreed with Barber in his disagreement with the budget — but for a very different reason.
Sides hoped to convince commissioners to cut a proposed $43,000 increase to the Rowan County Economic Development Commission out of the budget.
Sides told the Post last week the organization needed to be re-examined before more funding was provided.
“I’m 99 percent satisfied with it. There’s just 1 percent I couldn’t agree with,” Sides said last week. “The EDC funding. An additional $13,000 in funding this year, plus the $30,000 Mike wants for a new position. I think it’s time we look at the EDC in relation to its set up, its make up and its function — what we expect out of them. It might be that we need to do something different than what we’re doing.”
But Sides’ motion died without a second.
Holding signs criticizing school funds that have been cut in recent years, the protestors, calling themselves “Rowan Concerned Citizens,” said more attention needs to be brought to the funding issues for local school systems.
Whitney Peckman, an organizer of the group, said Monday’s protest wasn’t solely about convincing commissioners to tear up the proposed budget, but to be a voice for the schools in the future.
“What we are hoping to do is to gather together and put a face on our concern for future budget issues and future decisions made by county commissioners in regards to education,” Peckman said.
Another organizer, Emily Perry, said public schools across the state can’t afford more cuts without significantly impacting the education for students.
“We don’t want our children to be under-educated and uneducated. We can’t afford to cut. We can’t do that,” Perry said. “We understand about the cuts in Raleigh, but these guys talk to them and they need to let them know that on a local level we’re not going to tolerate any more of this. There are things you can do.”
Following Monday’s vote, Peckman said the meeting went as expected.
“I think that we got as much as we could expect considering that the process had already come to a conclusion,” she said.
The group said they intend to gather at future commissioners’ meetings, starting with a July 1 hearing.

Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.