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ABC store diverts money that schools once got

Haywood County Schools will lose about $30,000 in yearly revenue now that the Waynesville ABC Board has decided build a second liquor store.

The town shares a cut of profits from liquor sales with the county and law enforcement. Haywood County in turn shares its cut of ABC profits with school system.

During the last five years, Haywood County Schools received on average $30,000 annually from Waynesville’s ABC operation, and during two of those years, the award was more than $40,000.

However, the school system will get exactly zero dollars this fiscal year. Profits normally made by the Waynesville ABC store will instead go toward building a new store beside the Walmart Supercenter.

The ABC Board has secured a $1.3 million loan spread over 10 years to build and open the new store. Any profits will likely be sucked up by the annual debt payments, at least for the first few years.Tthe school system stands to lose more than $300,000 in revenue during the next 10 years until the construction is paid off.

News that Waynesville planned to end its profit-sharing arrangement with the county — and as a result the schools — came as a surprise to Haywood County school leaders. The payments are ending, effective immediately, leaving a $30,000 hole in the school’s budget. The school system hadn’t been informed, however, and only learned about the profit distribution being suspended in the newspaper.

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The Haywood County Board of Education sent a letter to the ABC Board in September expressing its dismay and asking for more information on the matter.

“We have not received any direct information or documentation explaining the announced cuts. Without direct, accurate information, we cannot plan for our current or future budgets,” the letter reads. “We understand the distribution may be cut for 10 to 15 years. We hope this is not accurate because that would be devastating.”

School leaders spoke with Waynesville ABC Board officials, who apologized and explained that a miscommunication had occurred. The board said it had not intentionally neglected to tell school leaders about its plans.

A few years after opening the new store, the ABC Board hopes to start pumping profits back into town and county coffers again, said Earl Clark, chairman of Waynesville’s ABC Board.

“In the short term, it many affect the town and county a little bit. In the longer term, it will make money, I think,” Clark said.

In fact, if the new store equals more profits, as the board hopes, then it will mean more money for the school system each year, Clark added.

Haywood County Schools once received money from Maggie Valley’s ABC operations as well. However, those contributions dried up in 2005 when Maggie’s ABC Board decided to put the profits toward building a store in Dellwood. The new store opened in 2009, and Maggie is still working to pay it off.

The premise of the new store was to increase revenues off the ABC operation, but so far, that hasn’t happened.

Although $30,000 is not a lot of money in the grand scheme of things — the school system has a $14.36 million budget — it is just one more place the schools are losing money.

“It’s not a devastating blow, but it’s another straw on the camel’s back,” said Bill Nolte, assistant superintendent of the Haywood County Schools.

Unlike other monies given to the school system, Haywood County Schools were not restricted in how it spent the ABC store funding. It could pay for pens and pencils or maintenance or even an employee’s salary.

“It wasn’t line-itemed to pay for Bobby Joe or Susie Q,” Nolte said. “But, it probably would pay for a classified employee.”

During the last four years, Haywood County Schools has lost 129 full-time positions. Either people were laid off or open positions were simply not filled. If someone leaves a job, the school system must decided whether it is necessary to replace them, and given the decline in jobs within the school system, the answer is, more often then not, “yes”

“Most of them are (key) now because we have lost so many positions,” Nolte said.

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