Maggie police under the gun in budget talks

The Maggie Valley Police Department will see minimal cuts to its new budget despite multiple discussions about whether the small valley has more officers than it needs.

The budget was cut by $55,000 to $854,000. The town will postpone replacing two police cars.

Time to take out the long knives

Suppose this was your household budget:

• Annual family income………………....$23,400

• Money family spends annually….....$35,900

• New debt added to credit cards……$12,500

• Outstanding credit card balance ..$154,000

• Total cuts to family budget………….......$385

Looks like the budget from hell, right? This household with its skyrocketing debt stands precariously on the brink of bad credit, bankruptcy, and ruin.

Now add 8 zeros to all of the above numbers, and you have the current U.S. federal budget (World Magazine, May 19, 2012).

Or shall we say the current financial situation of the United States. You see, we Americans haven’t seen a real budget, balanced or otherwise, in years. The Republican House under Paul Ryan recently proposed a plan that would balance the budget by 2040. The Senate shot down that plan, but offered nothing in its stead. In fact, the Democratic Senate hasn’t offered a real budget in four years. This spring President Obama sent his own recommended budget to the Congress, where in March the House defeated it 414-0. Last week the Senate followed suit by a vote of 99-0. Congress apparently found a few flaws in the president’s proposals.

Both Congress and the president have drawn up other plans for fixing the deficit. Some of our elected officials have called for raising taxes on the wealthy. This sounds like a good idea because the truly wealthy possess so much more money than the rest of us, and they probably don’t deserve it, and anyway, we need it more than they do. So goes the reasoning of some of our citizenry. But eventually we realize that the amount so raised amounts to only a pittance of the debt we owe and such an increase will result in a shift of capital overseas, leading to even less wealth and fewer jobs here at home. (If we are honest, we might also tell ourselves that some talented people have worked hard for their money and that we are thieves to steal it away).

Others call for making cuts to the budget. Some want to reduce miliatary spending and foreign aid. Why, after all, should the United States give $2 billion to Egypt again this year? Why can’t something be done about our wasteful military? Some want to cut or change social programs. Why do we require a Department of Education for the nation when every state in the union already has such a department?

Here the legislators who wish to cut programs face different obstacles than the tax advocates. They are met on one side by political opponents who decry their lack of compassion for the poor and the elderly, and on the other side by lobbyists who are all for cuts as long as they aren’t aimed at those who employ them. Try extending the age of eligibility for Social Security, and you’ll have the American Association of Retired Persons slicing you into small pieces. Propose reducing military benefits or closing overseas military bases — we have hundreds of them — and the lobbyists will take you apart.

Meanwhile, the rest of us watch, enraged at the failure of politicians to find a cure, cursing their knavery and greed. We blame them for our economic woes, for the loss of our AAA credit rating, for a federal government drunken on dollars and corrupted by power. We regard these leaders as fools, rogues, and thieves, and many of them indeed fit those descriptions.  

Yet surely some of the fault lies with us. We vote these people into office; we demand they protect us from the natural ills and woes of life; we want what we want without regard to the cost. We don’t want to pay taxes and certainly don’t want to pay more taxes, yet we want food stamps, extended unemployment benefits, “free” medical care, clean air along with plenty of oil. In 2008, a radio commentator reading children’s letters to candidate-elect Obama best summed up our expectations with this line from a seven-year-old: “President Obama, please make it rain candy.” For decades we have enjoyed that rain of candy. Now the rot of that sugar is destroying us.

Some historians point to Ancient Rome as a warning for us, that crumbling empire with its bread and circuses for the poor, its failed price and wage controls, its unwieldy taxes. But we needn’t stare 1,500 years into the past to see what’s coming. We have only to look across the Atlantic at present-day Greece, Spain, and Italy, all of which are falling apart from the same construct we have erected here: burgeoning social programs, uncontrolled spending, and massive debt. We can look closer to home at California, which while being crushed by enormous debt staggers toward bankruptcy by enacting more government programs.

“Money talks, b***s**t walks,” so the saying goes. We can buy into the lies of some politicians, and we can lie to ourselves, but in the end the figures and the money don’t lie. There’s a bill coming due, and when it arrives, our arguments about taxes and government services won‘t matter. There won’t be enough of us left to tax, wealthy or otherwise, and there will be no more social programs.

It’s time for us to ask every politician, from our mayor to our president, from our senators in Raleigh to those in Washington, what they intend to cut from the budget and how they intend to make government more efficient. If they aren‘t up to the task, then it’s time to elect women and men with long knives, axes, and swing blades, courageous men and women who can chop away at the kudzu of ridiculous regulations, excessive spending, and out-of-control programs. As for the rest of us, we can either pitch tantrums like a three year old when these cuts are made, or we can suck it up and act like grown-ups.

(Jeff Minick is a writer and teacher who lives in Asheville. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

Haywood County wrangles over health care costs

Rising health care costs were the catalyst for two budget decisions by Haywood County commissioners, one that will hopefully save taxpayer money and the other a stopgap measure to keep up with employee health insurance.

Commissioners were forced this week to pay an additional $150,000 into the health insurance fund for retired employees who are under 65 — twice what was budgeted.

Commissioners seemed surprised over the increase.

“Should we be concerned about this?” asked Commissioner Kirk Kirkpatrick. “We have a liability, and it is going up. It is more than twice the budgeted amount.”

The rise is due mostly to an increase in the number of retired workers under 65. When the county down-sized its work force during the recession, it offered early retirement options to workers under 65, and so the number of former employees in this category has now risen. The county only pays a portion of the health insurance for employees who retire before 65.

Stamey said the cost for retired employee health insurance would almost certainly continue to rise, however. The county also had to pay an additional $27,000 into the fund for employees over 65.

He hopes switching to almost exclusively generic drugs — unless a brand name is prescribed for medical reasons — could provide huge savings and is working on implementing that change.

Commissioners also voted unanimously to enter into a contract with Southern Health Partners to provide medical care for inmates at the county jail.

This fiscal year, the county will spend an estimated $230,000 on medical care for inmates, from dental work to prescription meds to doctor’s check-ups. By contracting out the lion’s share of inmate health care to a private firm, the county hopes to knock about $25,000 off its costs.

The contract with SHP is $134,888 a year but doesn’t cover everything. In addition to doctor and nurse visits, it only covers the first $30,000 in hospital visits, pharmaceuticals and specialist care. After that amount runs out, the county will be on the hook for whatever additional costs are incurred in those areas.

In addition to the contract with SHP, the county is budgeting another $70,000 for inmate medical care.

Commissioners still hope the contract can save a few dollars.

Haywood’s detention facility averages about 75 inmates a night, and the county is legally obligated to provide medical care for inmates under its watch.

While the coming year’s projected savings are modest, commissioners say the contract should help.

“We all hope this will reduce inmate healthcare costs and provide a solution to overall rising costs,” said Commission Chairman Mark Swanger.

— By Scott McLeod

Haywood County employees given first dibs on new money in budget

During budget discussions earlier this year, Haywood County commissioners were adamant about their commitment to give county employees a boost after three years of no raises and frozen retirement contributions.

Commissioners stayed true to their word, based on a proposed budget released this week. The county will partially restore a 401K match, contributing 1 percent of employees’ salaries. The county won’t be giving across the board cost-of-living raises, but will give merit raises to some staff of up to 2 percent. The 401K match for some 500 county employees will cost $195,000.

This will be accomplished without raising taxes. The county’s budget has modest natural growth in revenue of $1.3 million — thanks to construction that’s added to the property tax base and an uptick in consumer buying, which means more sales tax.

The total overall budget is nearly $66.6 million. It is still down by more than $1 million compared to 2007-08, meaning the economy is slowly bouncing back but still is shy of pre-recession numbers.

The 1 percent 401K contribution is a far cry from the 5.5 percent match the county did during the 2008 fiscal year. When the economy went sour, it temporarily stopped contributions to save money.

“We are trying to phase it back,” Stamey said.

Something new this year is a one-time extra bonus for law enforcement officials. Officers will receive a bonus check, equivalent to one percent of their salary, on the anniversary of their hire date. The total cost will be about $38,000.

Haywood lends helping hand to schools, but not enough to make up the gap

Haywood County commissioners have increased funding to the county school system this year for the first time in four years, but with cuts in state and federal funding, the boost from the county won’t be enough to help plug the schools’ budget hole.

The county is chipping in an extra $350,000 toward in the operating budget for Haywood County’s elementary, middle and high schools.

But, the school system will see an almost $400,000 cut in state money, the loss of $1.7 million in emergency federal funding extended to schools during the recession, and a reduction in lottery money for building maintenance and construction, said Assistant Superintendent Bill Nolte.

“We are starting a couple million in the hole,” Nolte said, adding that schools are grateful for the money from the county.

Haywood County schools will receive $14.3 million next year for operating expenses and $256,000 for capital projects. The county slashed the capital budget for school maintenance four years ago by two-thirds, and has yet to restore it. Schools have a troubling backlog of repairs as a result.

The school system presented a nearly $900,000 wish list for capital projects, listing several critical items including a new school bus and roof repairs at its meeting with commissioners more than a week ago.

Instead, commissioners decided to direct their increase in school funding to operational costs for the schools.

“You will see a little bump,” said County Manager Marty Stamey. “I wish we could do more at this time.”

The increase is designed to get the county back on track with a funding formula that had fallen by the wayside during the recession.

“We were able to go by the formula until the economy went over the cliff,” said Board Chairman Mark Swanger.

About eight years ago, the county brokered a deal with the school system designed to curb what had become an annual fight over how much money the county would pony up.

“It seemed like there was always a fight,” said Commissioner Kevin Ensley, adding that talks are more agreeable since both parties approved the formula.

Under the deal, the county would use a formula based on student population to determine school funding each year. The formula also built in a 1 percent increase year to year. But, it has been frozen for the past four years.

As the economic prospects have started looking a bit sunnier, officials were grateful for the help from commissioners.

“We would be pleased to be back on the formula,” Nolte said. “The economy is still not recovered so if they have the revenue to put us back on the formula negotiated several years ago, we would view that as very positive and be every thankful for that.”

Unlike the county school system, Haywood Community College did not ask commissioners to increase its operating budget this year but requested that the board would allocate any additional funding to capital projects, such as road repairs and building renovations.

HCC presented the board with more than $2.6 million worth of capital projects at a recent budget meeting on its ultimate wish list, but only asked for $500,000.

“They commented that they knew that that could not be funded, but they wanted to make use aware of what those needs are,” Swanger said.

In the proposed budget, the county will allocate $176,000 to HCC’s capital projects — an increase of $56,000.

Besides the schools, other department’s budgets remained relatively on par with this year’s numbers.

(Reporter Becky Johnson contributed to this story.)

Haywood grapples with medical costs for inmates

Marty Stamey, like any county manager, takes pride in crafting a water-tight budget: one that squares up the minutia of how many reams of computer paper and tanks of gas county employees will use on one side of the ledger with property tax and sales tax flowing in on the other.

But no matter how persnickety Stamey is in his forecasts, there is one irksome line that’s simply a roll of the dice. So he just crosses his fingers, gives it his best guess and hopes like heck a jail inmate won’t need open heart surgery.

Whether it’s a simple cavity or a serious brain aneurism, any medical ailment that befalls inmates while awaiting trial lands on the county’s tab. Even medications inmates are on, whether its insulin for diabetes or blood pressure medicine, are filled courtesy of Haywood County taxpayers.

Haywood isn’t alone. All counties are saddled with what Stamey called perhaps the “most unpredictable” area of the budget.

The county will spend around $230,000 in medical costs for inmates in the current budget year. Most of that is for hospital bills and visits to specialists, for everything from X-rays to dental work. But, the sum also includes an in-house nurse, a retainer for an on-call doctor and prescription meds.

The costs and hassle of managing inmates’ medical needs has become so complicated, however, the county has decided to outsource the job to a private firm.

The firm, Southern Health Partners, manages medical care for inmates at 190 jails and prisons in 13 states. Half of North Carolina’s 100 counties contract with the firm.

Haywood County will pay the company $134,000 a year for basic medical care to inmates. The contract isn’t all-inclusive, however. It mostly includes nurse and physician services provided at the jail, such as health assessments and dispensing daily medications taken by inmates.

The fee only covers the first $30,000 in hospital bills, visits to specialists and medications. Anything more than that, the county will still have to pay for.

The county has earmarked another $70,000 in its budget for that, so when it comes to the total cost of providing medical care for inmates, the county is budgeting $205,000 —compared to $234,000 now — a small net savings.

Regardless, it’s worth it simply not to deal with it, said Haywood Sheriff Bobby Suttles.

“Even if it is a wash or is a little bit more, it is still a good deal in the long run,” Suttles said.

The county still faces a potential legal liability if something goes wrong with the medical care provided to an inmate. The county currently faces a lawsuit from the family of a female inmate who died. She was rushed to the hospital after collapsing, but the family blames the jail for not paying closer attention to her condition and failing to take action sooner.

Contracting with a firm to handle medical care won’t absolve the county from being targeted by such suits, but the firm would at least be named in the suit along with the county as a co-defendant.

“The whole point of this is to get our risk down and our performance up,” said Julie Davis, the county finance officer.

The firm should deliver a higher standard of medical care and expertise. That will hopefully translate to fewer trips to the hospital as the staff brought in by the firm will be able to more confidently handle health care needs.

Stamey said the firm will do a better job determining when an inmate truly needs to go to the hospital.

“Sometimes they probably don’t need to go, but to be on the safe side, we probably send them on to the hospital,” Suttles said.

Jailers also will get training on how to handle medical needs when faced with them.

There could be other hidden savings as well. Any inmate going for medical care has to be accompanied 24-7 by a deputy. When a deputy is taken off his regular assignment to escort an inmate to the hospital, a back-up deputy is called in to cover the hole.

“That’s running me into money,” Suttles said. “I think in the long run it’s going to save.”

Being able to provide more health care at the jail instead of sending the inmates out for care is where the $30,000 in hoped-for savings would come in. Also, helping to save money on hospital bills for inmates is a new health care network for jails, formed under the N.C. Sheriffs’ Association.

Currently, the county has to pay the out-of-pocket rate when taking inmates to the hospital or to see specialists. Under the Inmate Medical Costs Management Plan through the state sheriffs’ association, the county would be eligible for a discounted rate, much like the discounted rate insurance companies are able to negotiate.

There’s roughly 75 inmates bunked up in Haywood’s jail any given night. Some are there serving short sentences, like a week-long stint for DUI convictions. But, most have only been charged with a crime and are still awaiting trial.

If convicted, they are sent off to state prison to serve their time and are no longer a health care liability for the county. If they aren’t violent or considered a flight risk, and they get out on bond while awaiting trial, they likewise aren’t the county’s problem.

It seems to Suttles like more inmates than ever are on medications now or have health problems. Buncombe, Transylvania, Henderson and McDowell counties all contract with the same firm.

Strapped by budget cuts, Haywood schools suffer from building upkeep backlog

When the maintenance director for Haywood County Schools received news that a transformer at Pisgah High School stopped working last Thursday, it seemed apropos given the grim portrait of the schools’ budget he and other education officials would paint for county commissioners later that day.

The school system has made a plea to county commissioners to more than triple what it’s getting now for maintenance, repairs and building upkeep. While a sizeable increase, the school system has been barely scraping by in recent years. It’s capital budget was slashed by two-thirds when the recession hit four years ago.

This year, the school system says it needs its former funding levels restored — plus some — to help dig itself out of the maintenance backlog. It needs $839,000, including such critical things as a new bus, roof replacements and emergency sidewalk repairs.

“Most of what we need there is for emergency things that seem to always come up,” said Tracy Hargrove, maintenance director for Haywood County schools.

One of those emergency needs is the $20,000 transformer that failed at Pisgah High School — a cost that the school system had hoped to delay until the next fiscal year.

“We have several projects that are relatively critical that we have been kicking down the road a little bit,” Hargrove said.

Not to mention, the county’s 22 buses are wearing down as the numbers on the odometer quickly tick higher and higher. Bus drivers are sometimes forced to swap vehicles if classes are scheduled to take a field trip as some of the buses fair better than others.

And, next year, schools are projected to receive 53 percent less funding for capital projects than they did in 2008, Hargrove said.

The school system is also dealing with a depleting fund balance, the amount of money it has left at the end of the year that essentially makes up its savings account.

The school system ended the 2010-2011 fiscal year with a balance of $4.2 million. But, funding cuts have since drained that reserve. Officials estimated that the schools will only have anywhere from $500,000 to $1 million leftover at the end of the next fiscal year.

“It will only last a year or so and then we’re in trouble,” said Assistant Superintendent Bill Nolte.

Like other departments in the county, schools have been forced to prioritize renovations and improvements and make cuts where they can.

During a meeting with county commissioners last week, Haywood County Schools asked for a total of $14.33 million from the county for the next fiscal year — a more than $1.7 million increase compared to this year. That includes the increase to its building maintenance and repair fund, plus funding for classroom operations, such as teacher salaries.

“I feel like we were very deliberate (when laying out the budget),” said Anne Garrett, superintendent of Haywood County Schools.

 

Squeezed at both ends

The schools are looking to the county to help make up funding shortfalls at the state and federal level. The state has engaged in a odd funding formula, where it allocates money to schools and then asks for some of it back during the year, called a “reversion.” Reversions are intended for austere budget emergencies, but have become a standard annual practice by the state.

“That is why it is disingenuous,” Mark Swanger, chairman of the board of commissioners, said of the state’s contribution to education.

Education officials have been taking the bulls by the horns when they can because they don’t know what funding they will receive the following year or how much they will have to revert back to the state.

“It’s like Charlie Brown and Lucy with the football,” said Commissioner Kevin Ensley.

Part of the state’s allocation to schools comes from lottery money. The money is supposed to supplement the schools’ budgets, but many officials have stated that it only supplants funds that the schools should be receiving anyway.

“We haven’t gotten any additional funding since the lottery started,” Nolte said.

Meanwhile, commercials are advertising that lottery money is helping pay for teachers’ salaries. A fact that school officials say is simply not true.

In addition to the loss in federal and state funds, county governments will have to pay for an additional five school days to comply with an unfunded state mandate that increase the number of days from 180 to 185.

“Five days, we have to fund out of our local budget,” Garrett said.

Commissioners did not indicate where they stand on the schools’ request, but will be revisiting the issue soon as the budget for the coming fiscal year is finalized.

HCC makes pitch for bigger budget to county commissioners

Haywood Community College officials have requested an additional $380,000 in county funding this year — all of which would help pay for renovations and new construction on campus.

Similarly to Haywood County Schools, the college has been strapped by recession-drive county budget cuts and now wants its funding restored to past levels. College leaders said the extra money is necessary to cover “projects that can’t wait any longer.”

Campus buildings continue to deteriorate because of a decline in funding that every county department experienced when the economy went sour, school officials said. Historically, HCC received around $500,000 for capital projects, maintenance and upkeep from the county. This year, it received $120,000.

So, the community college is hedging its bets by asking for money for the school’s most pressing projects rather than presenting the entire kitchen sink — which for this year alone includes $2.6 million in improvements.

“We realize we are not going to come in here and ask for $2.6 million,” said Bill Dechant, director of campus development.

College officials met with commissioners last week to present their budget requests.

Board of Commissioners Chairman Mark Swanger asked school officials what other sources of funding they receive for capital improvements.

HCC receives energy rebate funds, grant funding and has saved or reallocated a small portion of its operating funds, Dechant said.

Among HCC’s most important projects is a makeover of the 3300 building, which is currently a machine shop. The structure, which will house classrooms and labs for the natural resources department, needs roof repairs as well as a new entrance.

“Our number one priority … is renovation to our 3300 building,” Dechant said. “Our entrance is very similar to a phone booth.”

There are also sections of cracked pavement and potholes that need repair, an outdated phone system, roof repairs for at least four other buildings, HVAC upgrades, stormwater and sewer line repairs, a new Timbersports facility and demolition of the old sawmill.

It also wants to implement an emergency response system. Emergency alert systems have become a commonplace part of college life ever since the Virginia Tech Massacre in 2007 as administrators want avoid a potentially catastrophic situation.

“There isn’t a way to reach everyone on campus,” Dechant said.

HCC also plans to tear down the sawmill, which originally sat on the outskirts of campus but has become more centrally located as the college has expanded.

“It’s not the kind of eyesore we need,” Dechant said.

Parts of the demolished structure will be sold for scraps.

Tuscola High School counters rumors that advanced courses have been curtailed

Despite rumors that cuts at Tuscola High School in Waynesville could reduce the number of advanced courses, academically gifted students will have just as many courses to chose from next school year.

Tuscola will lose five teaching positions, which is likely what fueled the buzz among students that fewer honors courses would be offered. Parents mounted a campaign imploring the school not to cut the number of upper level classes.

School administrators say this was never the case, however.

“I think there has been some misinformation, and it just spread like wildfire,” said Stephanie Goodwin, an assistant principal at Tuscola.

To combat the rumors, the school even scheduled a mass pre-recorded phone call to parents. Robocalls are usually used by the school system to share information on everything from snow days to school-wide testing. This one assured parents there would be no cuts to advanced course offerings next year.

Kim Turpin was among the parents who voiced concerns after hearing the school was reassessing both the number and variety of upper level courses it offered. Her daughter is eyeing Stanford but to get in she would need plenty of Advanced Placement courses — essentially university-level courses that count toward the students’ college course credits.

“If you have smart kids, why wouldn’t you feed your smart kids?” asked Turpin. “They need to provide courses so they can go out in the world and be competitive.

Turpin said it is also important for the overall reputation of the school system.

“Anyone you are wanting to attract as a professional in your community, they are going to be looking at your school system,” Turpin said.

Tuscola is offering Advanced Placement, or AP courses, in four areas this year. Next school year, two new subjects will be added — so in essence there are more AP courses being offered next year, both in the variety and sheer number.

Every January, Tuscola High School surveys students to see what AP courses they are interested in for the coming school year. The line-up is built accordingly.

“Student interest drives our schedule for those upper classes,” Goodwin said. “The only way we reduce the number is if we don’t have student interest.”

Unfortunately, if there aren’t enough students interested in a particular AP course to comprise a full class, the school can’t offer it.

“There has been a reduction of funds the last two or three years in the public schools and you have to get the most bang for your buck,” said Danny Miller, the high school curriculum supervisor for Haywood County Schools. “If you had only five or six kids interested in a course, whether it is AP or say business law, it is hard to take a teacher’s block of time and dedicate it to that.”

That is the case with some AP courses, such as AP Physics and AP World History, which only have a handful of students express interest each year, so the course is offered online only.

Haywood County has roughly 2,000 students at its two high schools. While Tuscola High School historically has been larger than Pisgah, reallocation in recent years has led to a reduction in the number of students at Tuscola and an increase at Pisgah. That in turn led to Tuscola needing fewer teachers.

“Our class sizes will be larger next year,” said Tuscola Principal Dale McDonald.

The teachers taken away from Tuscola have not been added to Pisgah, however.

Despite the loss of teachers in the schools, students won’t be left without enough classes to fill their school day.

“Even with the massive cuts, we’ve had I can’t imagine that high-performing students won’t have plenty of honors or AP course offerings,” Bill Nolte, the assistant superintendant of Haywood County Schools, said. “The capacity to offer the courses has not changed.”

The students still have to be taught, and so a teacher standing in front of a particular class can just as easily teach an honors curriculum for an allotted class, according to Nolte.

While the number and variety of AP classes are based on student interest, the school also vets students to ensure they are eligible for the courses.

“You have to recognize this is a college-level class while you are in high school,” Goodwin said.

Even for honors courses, students have to qualify. The application process is based on a combination of test scores, grades in the current academic year and teacher evaluations. For honors English courses, students have to take a tailor-made test to get in. Based on those results, there will be only two honors English courses for sophomores at Tuscola next year compared to three this year.

While parents have expressed concerns that the testing has weeded out the number of students eligible for honors English, Nolte said it is important to make sure students end up in the appropriate level course at the beginning of the school year.

“Otherwise they will want out of the course midway through, and there won’t be a regular English course to jump to,” Nolte said.

Dr. Kristen Hammet, a veterinarian in Waynesville, has been an advocate of offering advanced courses in high school.

“We do need to offer the kids courses; they need to be able to get in top level schools,” said Hammet. “If these kids can’t compete, they can’t get into the Dukes and the Princetons and Davidsons.”

But, it’s more than that, Hammet said. She sees academically gifted students as a special-needs group. They crave a challenge that, if unmet, can leave them floudering and can lead to them checking out intellectually.

“These kids need these courses,” Hammet said. “It has been shown that if the gifted and intellectually and academically gifted kids are not offered courses that meet their challenge, they are at greater risk of dropping out, or become more depressed and more suicidal.”

HCC implores legislators to restore budget cuts

Haywood Community College leaders told a gathering of elected state leaders this week that students and the economy would suffer if funding cuts to the college continue.

While college leaders were making their points about funding, state legislators participated in their own partisan finger pointing about who was responsible for the state’s budget shortfalls.

HCC President Rose Johnson invited legislators to a brunch at the community college this week to give the college an opportunity to discuss budget priorities important to HCC specifically and the community college system as a whole.

High on the list for college leaders was the loss of state funding. HCC’s state funding cuts will amount to $2.3 million in four years: $297,000 in 2009-‘10, $396,900 in 2010-‘11, and $809,000 in 2011-‘12. The projected reduction for 2012-‘13 is $833,000.

Johnson implored legislators to restore this funding. However, if the budget passes with reduction included, Johnson asked legislators to continue to allow college to decide where the cuts would come from, as they have done in the past.

Democratic and Republican legislators in attendance publicly sparred over the state budget cuts, a harbinger of what will likely be a hot button political issue in the coming campaign season.

Rep. Phil Haire, D-Sylva, placed blame for the community college cuts squarely on GOP leaders in the General Assembly. He said the decision to eliminate the half-cent sales tax last year cost the state almost $1.4 billion in revenue, more than enough to have fully funded education at past levels.

Sen. Jim Davis, a freshman Republican from Franklin, countered that the previous Democratic leadership had landed the state in a fiscal mess. Spending reductions were the only way to balance the budget, he said, admitting that the cuts were tough measures taken to address a tough situation.

HCC leaders also asked county commissioners to restore the allocation for capital building projects and maintenance to $500,000. Haywood commissioners reduced the college’s building and maintenance fund to $120,000 as part of general belt tightening driven by the recession.

County Commissioner Chairman Mark Swanger said commissioners knew they were obligated to protect taxpayers’ investments by maintaining buildings, and he hoped tax revenues would increase this year and more could be provided for HCC. The county is in the midst of budget workshops now, however, and Swanger said it was too early to make any commitment about potential funding increases.

Others attending included Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Spruce Pine; Rep. Ray Rapp, D-Mars Hill; county commissioner Mike Sorrells; and representatives from the offices of U.S. Sens. Kay Hagan, D., and Richard Burr, R.

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