10/20/09 — Duplin commissioners reject request for funding for schools

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Duplin commissioners reject request for funding for schools

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on October 20, 2009 1:46 PM

KENANSVILLE - Duplin County school board member Reginald Kenan appeared Monday before the Duplin County Board of Commissioners, asking commissioners to reconsider a budget amendment to pay the school system's custodians and clerical staff.

Kenan was not sent as a representative by the school board, but personally sought to address the issue out of his concern for the children, he told commissioners.

"We dearly need that transfer," he said.

The state removed from its budget this year all funding for janitors and clerical workers, and school system Chief Finance Officer Joann Hartley previously asked commissioners to approve shifting $727,000 from another fund to pay the salaries. Commissioners voted down the proposed budget amendment during their Oct. 5 meeting.

"As I get older, I understand the problem in education is not children, but adults," Kenan said. "... we understand times are tight. If the money's already allocated to us, what is the problem to transfer it for our children?"

The school board is not seeking additional funding, only a transfer of existing funds, he said.

Duplin resident Jimmy Dixon commented on the issue during the public comment period.

"They need to take this fight to the state. The state took these funds away," Dixon said.

And the school board previously diverted money intended for maintenance and repair to pay for other things, Dixon said.

"You might call it beating a dead horse, but I don't think the horse is dead," he said. "Be very careful, the state is trying to shift the burden of a lot of stuff to the counties, and we can't afford it."

The board did not take any action on the issue.

Commissioner David Fussell also spoke during the public comment period, holding up a copy of Time magazine and referring to an ongoing series in that publication about the economic difficulties the city of Detroit is facing. Detroit raised taxes and undertook programs it could not afford, causing its current downswing, Fussell said. He encouraged the commissioners to avoid making the same decisions.

"I am proud of this board. We did not do like the state," Fussell said. "Recession is not the time to be raising taxes."

The commissioners discussed the best way to handle the legal fees associated with leasing Duplin General Hospital to a larger health care system. At best, the fees will cost an estimated $20,000 but might also end up costing the county as much as $120,000, county attorney Wendy Sivori said. She predicted that based on current figures, the legal fees will likely be about $50,000.

Fussell suggested working out an agreement with the leasing entity to have the new system pay for any legal fees associated with the lease, and Ms. Sivori agreed.

"That would be one of the costs I would definitely figure into it," she said.

The county and hospital officials working with the legal representative on the lease process are "trying to keep his costs down as much as possible," Ms. Sivori said.

However, mental health care costs in Duplin County are going up as state funding is decreasing, Eastpoint Director Ken Jones told the commissioners in a special presentation about the mental health agency's funding.

The total county contribution this year was $224,474, he said, divided into paying for a walk-in crisis center, transportation, indigent care and involuntary commitment hospitalization. The agency serves about 12,000 clients across this region of the state, Jones said.

About 90 of the children in Duplin County group homes could be in danger of having to go to a different facility due to the funding problems. Programs for the developmentally disabled are also hard-pressed to provide services. The agency is taking steps to streamline those programs, but "it's a difficult time to eliminate these services right now," Jones said.

Eastpointe served 758 new Duplin clients last year.

Commissioners also approved the Senior Center's general purpose plan agreement and adopted a Minority Business Participation Outreach Plan for the Albertson water and sewer district and for water districts B, D, E, F and G. The board then went into closed session to discuss economic development.