Columbia County budget reviews show drastic differences in outlook

Friday, May 3, 2013 8:40 PM
Last updated 10:10 PM
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A pair of upcoming budget reviews in Columbia County are a contrast of feast and famine.

First up Tuesday is next year’s school system budget, where a combination of state funding cuts and rising student enrollment could trigger calls for a second tax increase in three years.

Later in the afternoon, county commission members – who have reduced tax rates four of the past five years – will discuss a budget in which the biggest question is how much tax revenue is expected to grow.

Years of state budget cuts have backed local school officials into a corner, said School Superintendent Charles Nagle. The preliminary $75 million budget for next year had been balanced to within $1 million when the state hit them with a $3 million increase in health insurance costs and a $7 million cut to “equalization” funding.

“They’re choking us off,” Nagle said. “If they want to cut off public education, they just need to say it.”

Thus far, Nagle said, he’s narrowed that gap to about $4 million using a dwindling supply of reserve funds, and on Tuesday, plans to offer school board members options for making up the difference.

“Basically, we’re going to just present the facts at that meeting and list out some priorities,” he said.

Options include reductions in noninstructional employees, including outsourcing; cutting more from the system’s reserves; raising the property tax rate; and employee furloughs – which Nagle adamantly opposes.

“You can’t keep putting the cost of education on the backs of the employees and say ‘you’re just lucky to have a job.’ That’s bull,” Nagle said. “I can more easily say that now that I’m retiring, but this community is going to have to make a decision. We’re already in the marrow. We’ve cut through the bone.”

For the county commission, the only talk of cuts for next year’s nearly $58 million budget is in the form of a comprehensive staff restructuring that could shift general fund expenditures to other county funding sources, with an overall result of more county employees added to the payroll.

“The county is growing so fast that we’ve got to make some changes to keep up with it,” said Columbia County Administrator Scott Johnson. “I’m trying to do that within the confines of the current budget.”

Details of that restructuring, however, won’t be finalized until the budget is adopted in June, Johnson said. Instead, he said, Tuesday’s budget session primarily will settle the expected amount of tax digest growth for the year, between 1 and 2 percent, and offer an opportunity for public review.

That session will be at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Evans Government Center Auditorium. School officials will review their budget at 8 a.m. Tuesday at the central office.

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Riverman1 05/04/13 - 07:41 am
One of Nation's Fastest Growing Counties

Being one of the fastest growing counties in the nation does present growth problems. However, I find Nagle's remarks petulant as a child in grammar school. He may not want to do it, but it's clear what has to be done. Cut administrative salaries down to assistant principals, get rid of para's, outsource services and increase class sizes.

soapy_725 05/04/13 - 09:52 am
How about looking at the "model"

of new school construction? Functional or elaborate? Look at the EHS building. Look at the new school on Gibbs Rd. Look at the CCBOE building. Do multilevel school building in CC require elevators? How many elevators? Who is deciding that school buildings are obsolete and then find they are serviceable?

Reminds me of the justificvation for the James Brown Arena. The Bell is obsolete and dangerous and must be torn down. Once the JBA was approved, suddenly the BELL could be made useable. Two construction projects for the price of one LIE.

The Academy of Richmond County is an old building. How do they perform such magic year after year? Maybe someone should look at who is behind all of the "NEW CONSTRUCTION" in CC.

Maybe someone should look at all of the vehicle license plates at CC schools when buses are near empty? makes you wonder when the school buses cannot get to the schools for personal vehicle deliveries.

Called CC BOE at their mansion about out of county students. They don't care. Every single body in a CC desk for 180 days means more revenue, more bureaucrats on the payroll.

Public Education is money making machine whose "core mission" is not education, but money, power and influence peddling.

Sweet son
Sweet son 05/04/13 - 12:12 pm

I agree with you on the call for cut in administrative salaries and also believe that they should be the ones eliminated and not paras. I know a teacher who currently has 22 pupils, a para-pro and herself in the kindergarten classroom. She has told me that she would not be able to teach anything without the help of the para. Behavioral problems with two or three of her students take her attention or the para's attention constantly. Twenty-two is enough! Outsourcing of some services would be a good idea but just don't fire all of the support people who have given their lives to the system.

Little Lamb
Little Lamb 05/04/13 - 04:58 pm
Keep Going

Definitely start with Riverman's suggestions, but they need to go three steps further: slash certified staff (i.e. teachers) county supplements in half. Furloughs are the coward's way out. A modest reduction in teacher salaries would show that all share in the pain.

Next, consider a four-day school week, Tuesday through Friday. That would automatically reduce salaries for the hourly bus drivers and lunchroom workers. It would also save on electricity bills, water bills, bus fuel costs, and other costs. In places where it has been tried, it also resulted in an unexpected benefit – absenteeism decreased.

Finally, increase the radius around the schools where students are expected to walk, ride bikes, or have parents drive them. The buses pick up students entirely too close to the schools these days. I would say it would be entirely appropriate for the "no-bus zone" to be 1.5 miles around each school.

Reverie 05/04/13 - 05:47 pm
you’re just lucky to have a job

Interesting quote. That is the exact comment that has been repeated by Richmond County education administrators when teacher allocations and furlough days are mentioned. Rumors are abound about more budget cuts and furlough days for RCBOE teachers. Teachers--BYO printer and ink next year. Oops it will probably violate that incredible print/copy contract. Columbia County--kudos to your sound management decisions. Richmond County--look at Detroit.

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