County eyes $132K more for schools

Sparty Hammett Pasquotank Manager

By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Monday, May 28, 2018

Pasquotank County has found about $132,000 more in revenue it can share with Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools, County Manager Sparty Hammett reported last week.

County commissioners tentatively agreed May 21 to spend $13.8 million in the county’s 2018-19 budget on the ECPPS district. The amount includes $11.2 million toward ECPPS' operating expenses — about $68,000 more than provided this budget year — and finances $2.6 million of the school system's $3.9 million in capital projects, such as heating and cooling system replacements and continued purchases of Chromebook tablet computers.

Though commissioners did provide more money for school operating costs, Superintendent Larry Cartner had requested almost $12 million earlier this month, citing increased personnel costs and increased contributions to charter schools operating in the county.

After commissioners met, Hammett said he spoke with Cartner and the superintendent warned the district would “go backward” without a larger increase.

That prompted Hammett and county Finance Officer Sheri Small to reconsider the county's property tax revenues — and project they'd come in about $132,000 higher than expected.

“We reviewed the collection rate and increased the percentage based on the trend,” Hammett said in an email.

During an interview Friday, Hammett and Small further explained they budgeted for a 96-percent collection rate, but they've revised that up to 96.5 percent, based on collections for 2017-18. A half-a-percent increase in collections will generate a significant amount of additional tax revenue given that Pasquotank’s property tax base is, according to county budget reports, more than $3.2 billion.

Hammett said he informed county commissioners of the additional revenue, and they supported using it for school funding.

ECPPS spokeswoman Tammy Sawyer declined last week to say whether the additional $132,000 will be enough for the school district. The ECPPS Board of Education needs to meet and discuss the budget again, she said in an email.

Were an urgent shortfall arise in next year's school district budget, ECPPS may be able to cover some of it with its reserves. Sawyer reported ECPPS had a $1.5 million fund balance as of June 30, 2017, though she said ECPPS was “unaware of what amount we will enter 2018-2019 with at this point.”

In addition to increased school funding, next year’s tentative county budget provides more funding for Pasquotank-Camden Emergency Medical Services and the Pasquotank Department of Social Services, among other departments. It also includes employee raises.

Next year’s draft county budget does not raise the property tax rate. That rate is currently 77 cents per $100 of valuation.