By MIKE WILLIAMS
The Pulaski County Board of Supervisors on Monday night unanimously approved a nearly $157 million county budget for 2022-23.
The budget includes no tax increases, while maintaining a real estate tax rate of .74 cents per hundred dollars of assessed value.
The budget’s general fund, which pays for most of the county’s day-to-day operations totals just over $57 million.
The rest of the budget is distributed as follows: just over $3 million goes to an Internal Service Fund (county garage, IT, etc.); $4.8 million for the capital improvement fund; $5.5 million for school debt service; $69 million for schools; $7 million for the Social Services Board; $4 million for the Comprehensive Services Fund, and $5.6 million for the Economic Development Authority Fund.
Before formally approving the county budget, the supervisors first adopted a resolution appropriating school funding.
County Administrator Jonathan Sweet reviewed first the budget process, calling it “very interesting,” with changes in state and county leadership at the beginning, and the legislature’s delay in settling on a state budget.
He said the school system originally requested some $1.6 million in additional funding from the county, but in the end the state provided more school funding than was anticipated, which lowered the school board’s request to about $914,000.
Sweet said the county references the school system’s request as “priorities,” while the school system references them as “stated needs.”
“Looking at those ‘stated needs,’ the Board of Supervisors employed the maximum amount of creativity with respect to the limited resources available to Pulaski County and articulated an approach to solving that $914,000 needed by way of this resolution.”
Sweet read the resolution, stating “it is the intent of the board of supervisors to again locally fund the school system at an historic amount which will equate to yet another year of increased annual funding.
“This increased local funding will be bolstered by a robust School Capital Funding Plan [adopted by both boards] as well as continued significant contributions to service the debt on the construction, improvements and renovations of our public school facilities at a total of $5,536,260.”
Sweet continued that the increased local funding is also met by “historic levels of state funding to include more than $3.42 million in additional monies above the current level and more than $9.1 million in unanticipated federal funding for more than $12.5 million in new state and federal funding.”
He continued that the school board is requesting $914,000 above its current funding from the county of just over $16 million – in addition to the increased state and federal funding.
“The Board of Supervisors has the responsibility to adequately fund our public school system, as well as to ensure resources are available to fund, invest in and support a litany of county functions and services to include but not limited to law enforcement, emergency services and public safety, public libraries, public recreation, community assets and community and public services.
The resolution outlines the county’s local funding for education as $15.6 million for operations, $456,000 in “recovered costs” for services provided by the county to the school system, $417,000 in School Capital Funding from retired debt service and $5.5 million in school debt service payments for a grand total of $21,978,819 in school funding.
Sweet said the board is making available as an “operational reserve” for the school board’s stated priorities, the amount of up to $904,294 as collected in new cigarette tax revenues for the remainder of the 2022 fiscal year and as anticipated to be collected by the end of the 2023 fiscal year.
That amount, Sweet said, would be deposited into the School Capital Fund.
He said that would push total school funding for next fiscal year up to $22,883,113 for a grand total appropriation of state and local funding up to $70,028,464.
Chairman Laura Walters commended everyone involved in building the budget.
“The huge increase in state funding is celebrated as a win for all Pulaski County including our schools,” she stated. “I’m pleased we were able to allocate more than the school funding amount requested by our school board to create a resourceful use of our new cigarette tax allocation, which we previously had designated for schools without the additional use of taxpayer funding. This enables us to fund all of the school budget request including the paras for kindergarten classes to give our young citizens an improved foundation for their upcoming school years.
“Though we allocate funding, the school board chooses whether to implement this program or not. The Board of Supervisors can only fund the school board in general, and by law cannot determine what the school board chooses to fund.”
Sweet followed by saying the full amount of school funding that is needed “is available” as well as an additional $417,000 from the School Capital Plan.
Robinson District Supervisor Jeff Reeves commended all county departments and administration for their work on the budget in what he called “a year of unprecedented inflation.”
While inflation has surpassed eight percent nationally, Reeves said the county has been able in this budget to hold its spending increase to less than 2 percent, including raises for employees.
“I think that’s very commendable, and I think at the same time we need to realize that the school board budget has increased in operations by 7 percent. If you include the ESSER funding from the federal government, they had almost a 20 percent increase.
“I think that is a pretty big discrepancy between how the county has managed its money and how the school board has managed theirs,” Reeves said.
Draper District Supervisor Dirk Compton said the Board of Supervisors is working to keep taxes down.
“I think we did a good job trying to meet everybody’s needs and in trying to plan for future problems and inflation,” Compton said.
Cloyd District Supervisor Adam Hall also thanked staff, administration and his fellow board members for their work on the budget.
“One of the keys was going back to zero-based budgeting. It made for a more efficient budget and a more effective budget,” Hall added.
Massie District Supervisor Andy McCready, who was sworn in at the beginning of Monday’s meeting, decided to abstain from voting on the budget, while expressing his appreciation for being chosen to fill the Massie seat following the resignation of John Travis.
Saying he appreciated the work of staff and supervisors on the budget, McCready said no one could come onto the board just days before and review six months of work on the budget then cast a vote.