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Commissioners pass on additional teacher supplement funding

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County Manager D. Scott Elliott talks with commissioners before a budget meeting on May 20, 2019. (Molly Urbina/The Daily Reflector)

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By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

The Board of Commissioners on Monday voted down a motion to further raise a proposed tax increase to fund additional pay supplements for Pitt County teachers in the 2019-20 fiscal year budget.

Commissioner Christopher Nunnally proposed adding 1.6 cents to a proposed 3.3-cent property tax rate increase in order to raise $2.3 million for teachers. That would be enough to raise the local supplement to 7 percent of the base salary paid to Pitt teachers by the state.

“We are falling way behind in the area of teacher supplements and being competitive with young teachers; we are losing them, losing them to Wake County,” Nunnally said. “Obviously we can’t jump up to 16, 17 percent right away, but I would like to think this commission, if we are putting education as a priority, that we are serious about investing in our young professional population.”

Pitt County currently funds a supplement of 5 percent of the state base salary for experienced teachers while new teachers get a supplement of a little more than 3 percent.

The increase of 3.3-cents per $100 of property value for the fiscal year beginning July 1 will fund mandated increases in employee health insurance, employee retirement benefits and raise revenues for the industrial development commission. Adding the 1.6 cents for teachers would create a 4.9-cent increase, or a tax rate of 73.5-cents per $100 valuation.

The county’s current property tax rate is 69.6 cents.

Nunnally, along with Commissioners Mary Perkins Williams and Alex Albright voted for the 1.6 cent addition; Commissioners Lauren White, Mike Fitzpatrick, Beth Ward, Ann Floyd Huggins and Tom Coulson voted against the addition.

“When did the teacher supplements become the responsibility of the county,” Coulson said. Wake County and other counties discussed during budget workshops earlier this month all have higher costs of living, requiring a higher supplement, he said. The Board of Commissioners has increased its school funding, it’s up to the Board of Education to determine how it’s spent, he said.

County Manager Scott Elliott said a proposed $1.8 million increase in county funding already in the budget for the school system covers increases in fixed expenses facing the school system.

The budget discussions were held two hours prior to the board's regularly scheduled 6 p.m. meeting.

During the public comments period of the regular meeting, Kylene Dibble, executive director of Parents for Public Schools in Pitt County, and Lauren Piner, social studies teacher at South Central High School and president of the Pitt County Association of Educators, asked the commissioners to fund the 7 percent pay supplement for teachers.

“I am aware there is only one pie and it can only be cut into so many slices,” Dibble said. “Until we begin valuing teachers by giving them appropriate resources, necessary supplies and the support they need monetary and otherwise, teachers will continue to leave the profession and college students will continue to choose other majors.”

It’s not fair that counties are bearing the financial burden of funding decisions the General Assembly has made regarding education spending, Piner said. It’s not fair that local leaders have to choose between funding safety improvement for school facilities and funding teacher pay supplements because both are necessary, she said.

“I’m pretty certain no one has ever been excited about a tax increase in the history of the world, but I would like to frame the issue of increased taxes not as a financial hardship but as an investment into our community as well as our future,” Piner said.

The next scheduled action involving the county budget is June 4 when the Board of Commissioners holds its public hearing on the proposed 2019-20 budget.

“I hope there will be a strong outpouring for support for our county to step up and play with the other competitor counties,” Nunnally said. “We claim to be a leader in education, best in the east, and I hope through this process we will start to see movement toward adopting policies that reflect that.”

Social Services Director Jan Elliott discussed performance measures her agency will have to meet as part of a new memorandum of understanding all counties are signing with the state in an effort to improve outcomes for clients.

Elliott initially requested 24 new positions in her budget but on Monday narrowed down her request to nine positions. Scott Elliott initially recommended funding four spots but added another four; a foreign language interpreter, two social workers for adult protective services and guardianship and an income maintenance worker.

Scott Elliott said after re-evaluating the amount of investment earnings the county received this year he increased the anticipated amount of investment income revenue expected in the new year and appropriated it for the additional positions.

Bob Milam, president of Eastern Pines Fire-Rescue, explained why his organization is seeking a 2.75-cent increase in its fire district tax to fund construction of a new fire station.

The existing building, which is more than 30 years old, is deteriorating, Milam said. The exterior walls are detaching from the building, 75 percent of the windows are water and moisture damaged, the septic system is failing, there are additional plumbing problems and the foundation and concrete pad are deteriorating. The deterioration will only continue because the building sits on poor soil that needs to be excavated and replaced.

A new building will be larger, allowing all trucks to be located in one structure, improving response times.

The new structure also would continue to serve as a community hub, a place where homeowner associations, scouting groups and businesses can meet, and where the county can have an election day polling place.

Contact Ginger Livingston at glivingston@reflector.com or 252-329-9570.

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