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Ayden commissioners reduce school funds


By Amber Revels-Stocks
The Times-Leader

Sunday, June 17, 2018

AYDEN — A local appropriation for the Ayden schools stirred debate among the Ayden Board of Commissioners during final approval of the town’s $19.7 million budget for fiscal year 2018-2019 at Monday’s meeting.

The proposed budget included $3,000 a piece for Ayden Elementary School, Ayden Middle School and Ayden-Grifton High School. The approved budget changed those numbers. Each of the three public schools will receive $2,500 a piece with both of the town’s Head Start programs receiving $750 each.

“I know we ran into a problem the other year where (the Head Starts) couldn’t seem to have enough funding to have a decent graduation for the kids. I remember Commissioner (Phyllis) Ross jumping on board and wanting to do something about that,” said Mayor Pro-Tem Ivory Mewborn. “If we would allot that much to each Head Start, it would be a very good thing. These are very formative years for our children.”

If the town gave money to the other three schools, it needs to give money to the Head Starts, Mewborn said. Ross, a retired school teacher, suggested the board discontinue funding for the elementary, middle and high school altogether.

“I’m all for helping the kids, but as you know, we are not obligated to donate any money,” she said. “We’ve been donating money to the schools illegally for several years now, and if you figure that up, that’s $135,000 that we’ve been given the schools when we’re not supposed to be.”

The town has allotted $3,000 annually to the schools since 2003. Ayden Manager Steve Harrell determined recently there were no statutes in place to allow the board to do that.

This changed with the newly passed N.C. budget, though. The state budget included language enabling municipalities to donate to their local schools.

“In my opinion, the county takes care of the schools and the state takes care of the schools,” Ross said. “ ... I really think we should just stop doing it. None of these other towns are doing it.”

Pitt County Schools Superintendent Ethan Lenker recently sent a letter to several municipalities requesting meetings to discuss school safety. Some of those meetings have included requests for funding to support school resource officers.

Several municipal police departments and the Pitt County Sheriff’s Office provide officers but there are not enough to staff all schools full time.

Mewborn made a motion to give $2,500 each to Ayden Elementary School, Ayden Middle School and Ayden-Grifton High School and $750 each to both Head Start centers. Commissioner Johnny Davis seconded the motion, which passed 4-1 with Ross opposed.

The budget has no fee or tax increases. The property tax, electrical rate, water rate, sewer rate and storm water rate will all remain the same as the 2017-18 fiscal year rates. The property tax rate will remain 54 cents per $100 valuation.

The stormwater rate will remain at $3 a month for residential customers and $6 a month for commercial customers. Instead of raising rates, the town will move $35,000 from the Powell Bill funds over to the stormwater fund to assist with street cleaning and ditch maintenance.

The budget includes loan proceeds of $168,000 for six police vehicles in the general fund. No payment is budgeted in the coming year because the town will request an annual payment with the first payment not due until after July 2019, next fiscal year’s budget, according to Harrell. The annual payment will be approximately $44,445 a year on a four-year term.

A $65,000 appropriation to construct restrooms at Veteran’s Park, originally removed from the recreation department’s capital outlay to allow for the purchase of the police vehicles, was restored since no payment for the care would be due this fiscal year.

The fund balance appropriation was decreased to $159,950. Several commissioners, led by Mayor Steve Tripp, worried the town relied too heavily on the fund balance.

Employee pay will be adjusted by one of three methods, according to Harrell. All employees will receive a 2.2 percent cost-of-living-adjustment, a pay progression increase or a salary market adjustment depending on which is the most. This will be a total pay increase of 6 percent or 0.8 percent of the total budget.

The budget also includes $30,000 under code enforcement to contract the cutting of private lawns. Now, when code enforcement cites a violation on a private owned lot that needs to be cut, public works is cutting the grass. The town cuts about 80 privately owned lawns, according to Harrell.

Under the new budget, a private contractor will cut the lawns and the town will bill the owners. If the owner does not pay the bill, the town will place a lien against the property. This puts the town in line with other municipalities in Pitt County and will allow town employees to tend to town needs, according to Harrell.

The Times-Leader serves southern Pitt County including the towns of Ayden, Grifton and Winterville.