Haywood County residents told commissioners just what they thought of funding reductions at a hearing last week over the county’s new budget.
Thirty people came to the meeting, where commissioners took comments on the 2011-12 budget, which decreases funding to schools by 3 percent.
Though fewer than a third of the crowd voiced their opinions, many who did either opposed the education slashing or chided the board for its increasing debt load, proposed increase to the tax rate and recent property revaluation.
Some, like Marietta Edwards, questioned where the county’s money was going.
“We need money for the schools. We don’t need fancy buildings, we don’t need these high expenditures,” said Edwards. “We need to be careful how we spend our money.”
Others came to plead only for the reinstatement of school funding, which they said was vital to the county’s educational success.
“We’re doing good things here in Haywood County,” said Tuscola High School Principal Dale McDonald. “But the budget has the possibility of losing some assistant principals. In five years, I will not be a principal at Tuscola High School. I’ll be retired. But you’ve got to have somebody ready to step in and fill those shoes.”
Commissioners noted that they weren’t responsible for line item cuts to school budgets. They just provide the funding figure, not specifics on how that money is used.
But school advocates said that regardless of where the cuts come from, they’d still be detrimental to the effort to school the county’s kids.
Commissioners countered the complaints — they understand, said board members, that cuts are never fun or easy. But when state is slashing around 10 percent, there are few options.
“This board takes handling the county money seriously,” said Commissioner Bill Upton, a former Pisgah High School principal and long-time superintendent for the county’s schools. “When I was in schools, it was how you handled the kids that was the most important, and now as a county commissioner it’s how you handle the billfold that’s the most important.”
Commissioner Kirk Kirkpatrick assured the assembled crowd that setting a higher tax rate — 54.13 cents as opposed to 51.4 cents last year — wasn’t a flippant decision by the board, but it’s how they’ll stay revenue neutral after a property revaluation as the whole state faces dire economic straits.
“What we have to do is weigh what we think is necessary and needed and try to establish the best budget possible with that. We don’t sit up here and establish a tax rate that we’re not going to pay as well,” said Kirkpatrick.
Though the hearing was a chance for citizens to voice their pleasure or grievance with the proposed budget, it was also a forum for commissioners to defend their decisions and fact check some ill-founded constituent complaints, such as the claim by one man that the county was subsidizing a cowboy church at the fairgrounds.
The proposed budget hasn’t yet been adopted by commissioners, but they’re expected to discuss it at their next meeting on June 20.