UNION COUNTY, N.C. -- A Union County school board leader Monday accused county commissioners of using “scare tactics” and “spin doctoring” as they appeal a verdict that gave the board $91 million in additional county support.
The two sides had been locked in a budget fight, and were about $9 million apart, when they began a two-month trial to settle the issue. Last week, commissioners announced that they were appealing the recent Superior Court verdict that ordered the county to pay $91 million in addition to what it had set aside for schools.
Commissioners said they need to appeal what otherwise would lead to a “catastrophic” one-time tax increase of 42 percent. That would generate $64.4 million, with the remaining $26.7 million coming from the county’s rainy day account in the general fund.
In a statement on the school district’s website Monday, school board Chairman Richard Yercheck said threats of a big tax hike “are clearly scare tactics. … Unfortunately, the spin doctoring has already begun.”
He told the Observer that the county has the ability to use various accounts to cover the award without raising taxes, including $89 million in “enterprise funds” paid with user fees for such services as water and sewer.
“The money’s there,” Yercheck said. “There’s no reason to raise taxes. You can’t put that on the school system.”
He urged the county to drop the appeal, which could take months to reach the U.S. Court of Appeals.
County officials strongly objected to the notion that they have additional money for the verdict beyond what they already detailed. And they said they have an obligation to use enterprise dollars only to support services that those fees cover.
Yercheck’s statements came on a day when commissioners were poised to give the school board $5.4 million in additional support for capital needs. County leaders also want the board to agree to joint meetings so both sides can develop a healthy working relationship. (The vote at the commissioners’ meeting Monday night had not occurred by the Observer’s deadline.)
“We’re extending them an olive branch while they sit down at the computer and pump out this type of rhetoric” on their website, Commissioner Jonathan Thomas said Monday afternoon. “Chairman Yercheck is more interested in writing letters than reaching out to settle this issue.”
Yercheck did say the school board would gratefully take the additional capital money and would be happy to have joint meetings.
Commissioners said they were giving the school board more money now because during the trial the board detailed capital needs, primarily involving extensive roofing problems, that had not been presented during the budget process.
In June, commissioners approved a $298 million budget that included about $82 million in general operating funds for the district and $3 million for capital needs.
Because the budget verdict is under appeal, the system will receive what the commissioners approved in June and not the $91 million award, school board attorney Richard Schwartz said.