Harnett Commissioners Say No More Capital Money To School Board

Additional funding not in the forecast

The Harnett County Commissioners are unlikely to give additional capital projects funding to Harnett County Schools.

The situation arose during Tuesday’s work session by the Harnett County Commissioners after an informal email between county Finance Director Kimberly Honeycutt and school finance officials was discussed.

In the aftermath of the recent rash of hurricanes, school officials have told commissioners informally, safety issues need to be addressed, along with a way to pay for any repairs, in addition to annually anticipated repairs such as replacement of water heaters and other large-cost items.

“They called me the other day and told me the Erwin Elementary School had the floors buckling and with this hurricane the floor was buckling even worse and it seemed to be a safety issue and I was called by a school board member who wanted to know about getting monies for that,” said Vice Chairman Howard Penny. “I told them, well, you’ve got a million-some dollars to buy buses with, so I think that would qualify if you need that.”

According to Ms. Honeycutt and County Manager Paula Stewart, the school board has begun invoicing the county for purchases related to the appropriated $1.28 million, invoices which include the purchase of two activity buses and a skid loader.

The school board indicated to commissioners earlier in the budgeting process they wanted to purchase several more pieces of equipment, including an additional four standard school buses and a fork lift. Under maintenance, the school board indicated it wanted to purchase four work trucks and a bucket truck. Under custodial, they also indicated an intent to purchase a riding autoscrubber, two more utility trucks, a cargo van and a dump trailer, which would use nearly all, if not all, of their allotted funding under capital projects for the year 2018-19.

“The original letter they sent us regarding what they were planning to do with it included purchasing all new vehicles,” Ms. Honeycutt said. “I think conversation has come up about water heaters, things like that we know happen from year to year. I just wanted to make you aware they’ve started spending some of that million dollars.”

Ms. Honeycutt reiterated to the panel during the recent budget talks it was made clear to the Harnett County School Board no other money was going to be placed in the schools’ coffers.

She said they knew prior to the recent email from her counterpart at Harnett County Schools no more funds were available.

“It seems like every year they have to put in a chiller, they need water heaters,” Ms. Honeycutt said. “I know the discussion had been made this is what we’re giving you for capital, this is it.”

During the meeting, Commissioners Chairman Gordon Springle told Ms. Honeycutt perhaps a letter should be drafted listing the items Harnett County Schools included in its capital projects fund request during budget talks.

“My suggestion would be send a letter back to them listing the items they want to purchase and say you do understand this is all the money we have allocated for the year,” he said. “If you have any other maintenance issues for water heaters, chillers or whatever, you have to decide how to pay for it, we don’t have any money, this is it.”

Following Tuesday’s meeting, Commissioner Springle said during budgeting a formula was created to meet the capital needs of the schools and the school board was given $1.28 million to spend how they saw fit to cover capital expenditures. The total funding is not static under the formula and will change from year to year.

“How the school board and superintendent decide to spend that money is entirely up to them,” Commissioner Springle said. “However, we do know in the past they’ve had issues come up, maintenance issues, that had to be funded.

“If they’re going to send us a list of things they’re wanting to buy that’s going to exceed that amount, or equal that amount, and not take in consideration any future maintenance issues we asked them to keep that in mind,” he said.

“There’s not any more money,” he said. “We did this to let them be able to budget their money like we budget ours. The point is I understand they have needs, they have to prioritize their needs like we do ours.”

-The Daily Record