Fix schools now, or later?

I stopped by the Orange County Commissioners retreat Friday afternoon to hear howNancy Oates commissioners planned to prioritize and pay for expenses on their wish list. As the discussion about whether to put a $125 million bond referendum on the ballot versus what’s called “pay-as-you-go” unfolded, I realized some commissioners took the “retreat” literally.

The county has two ways of paying for big-ticket items: issue a bond, which is like an option to borrow, or allowing the board of commissioners to use its power to shift around priorities and raise taxes if it looks like it won’t have enough money to pay its bills.

Each method has pros and cons. Both require a tax increase. The interest rate on a bond can be locked in, and the length of time to repay it is longer than if the board of commissioners borrowed money without a bond. A longer timeline reduces the pressure on the county to come up with the money to make its annual debt payments, because the payments are lower, but the total interest paid is more. Think of a 30- vs. 15-year mortgage.

Pay-as-you-go enables commissioners to reprioritize expenses and gives them more flexibility on how they will spend their money, unlike a bond, which has to be spent only on what the voters approved. Commissioners get the money faster with pay-as-you-go because they don’t have to wait for voter approval. The interest rate on money borrowed via pay-as-you-go is negligibly higher, about $1,000 per million borrowed, but commissioners can pick and choose what to spend on and may not have to borrow as much. Less debt burden eases the pressure on annual budgets.

All commissioners agreed that spending money on school maintenance is top priority. The state has cut funding for schools, and SAPFO (a law that requires more schools be built as the population of school-age children increases) meant that money was shifted to adding capacity and requests for maintenance were turned down. The county budget does not have school maintenance built into its budget the way it has maintenance for county office buildings covered.

So now we have old schools with mold problems, HVAC systems that break down and, in one instance, flooding problems that made the gym unusable. The sooner the problems are fixed the better. Clearly, pay-as-you-go would be the most expedient route.

But one by one, all commissioners except board chair Earl McKee leaned toward a bond. If voters pass a bond referendum, commissioners can respond to complaints of the resulting tax hike by saying, “We didn’t raise taxes; the voters raised taxes.” Hence, the “retreat” — from accountability, common sense and doing what’s best for our children. A bond would delay school maintenance until after the 2016 election (state law won’t allow bonds on the ballot in odd-year elections). Ironically, the discussion took place in a newly refurbished meeting room that cost taxpayers $1.5 million, money that could have been spent on school repairs.

I left the meeting with renewed respect for McKee. His moral compass is leading in the right direction. If only he can convince his colleagues to follow.
– Nancy Oates

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
Leave a comment

47 Comments

  1. Terri

     /  February 2, 2015

    Once again I object to the mischaracterization of the Whitted Bldg. For those who may not recognize the name, this is the old Orange Ciunty library building. It is located in a low income neighborhood of Hillsborough and now houses multiple county functions, including the Health Dept. For the price of the renovation, northern Orange County groups now have access to a large meeting room that was designed to serve multiple purposes. Over the holiday, the local neighborhood had a gathering and everyone could attend because there was no charge. Northern Orange County does not have the wealth of the south. Please stop complaining that they actually got something nice for a change.

  2. bonnie hauser

     /  February 2, 2015

    Nancy -thanks for opening up the conversation on the bond referendum – clearly a ploy to get voters to approve a tax increase.

    Orange County has 32 schools across both school systems. How did they get into this state of disrepair? When the commissioners approved funding for their meeting room and tens of millions of dollars for other facilities improvements, no one asked “is there enough money for our schools”? The facilities problems are not new. Yet there’s been no process for planning and funding improvements.

    What disturbs me most is that the commissioners are pushing hard for a bond. They should be pushing hard for a plan. Politics Politics Politics

    And yes – Earl McKee rocked.

  3. many

     /  February 2, 2015

    Terri, I think the point is not “us vs. them”, or “something nice vs. not”, but more about root cause, priorities and the way things are funded.

    The county did a poor job communicating the historical importance of the site and the Whitted Building as well as the overall purpose and scope renovation. As a result, the new meeting room (very nice BTW) was allowed to be isolated and too prominent in the discussion.

    It seems like (and I think you have pointed this out earlier) that school building maintenance funding is a gaping hole in the way the county plans its budget and miscalculates the cost of development in the towns to the taxpayers.

    Fixing the missing school maintenance line item in the budget is the root cause and should be the focus. Floating a bond vs. paygo is as Nancy observes, is purely political cover.

  4. Terri

     /  February 2, 2015

    I think frame this as bond vs tax increase creates a false choice by itself and trying to link it to the Whitted Bldg is just wrong on many levels IMHO.

    Maintenance is an ongoing expense and needs to be built into the capital improvement budget for each school. Why hasn’t that been done? Legally, the schools nor the county can just move money between capital and operating budgets so I assume, perhaps incorrectly, that the schools haven’t asked for that funding or they asked and were rejected. At any rate, the money isn’t there and the problems have to be fixed.

    If what I’ve read is true, the extent of current problems will probably take more than a tax increase can cover in the short term. So to me, the decision to go with a bond makes sense.

    But they also need to be budget for ongoing capital improvements/repairs once the current problems are repaired and that’s where the tax increase will come in unless some new, unexpected funding comes around in the meantime.

    Elected officials have to make tough choices. They have multiple constituencies and personally, I’m glad that they don’t always give the schools what they want. Schools could suck up the entire county budget. (I understand that denying the schools makes me sound like an ogre and will irritate people, but until growth starts paying for itself, that’s the dilemma we are in.)

  5. Nancy

     /  February 2, 2015

    Just to reiterate: Both a bond and pay-as-you-go will require a tax increase. The commissioners will raise taxes to generate money to repay the bond.

  6. Bonnie

     /  February 2, 2015

    Terri you are right that the schools should have been asking for the money all along. Why haven’t they? The problems aren’t new. Where’s the plan? With 32 campuses, this should be an ongoing expense item.

    Nancy’s point is very important. “Pay as you go” is simply an alternative form of debt financing. It’s how they funded Northside, Culbreth and all of the county’s facility improvements. Maybe we need a different term.

    the bond comes with a 4-5 point tax increase – right before a reval. If our real estate markets are showing a modest sign of recovery, the bond will clobber it.

    And yes, elected officials – not voters- have to make tough choices, including how to fund schools and by how much.

  7. Terri

     /  February 3, 2015

    Actually, I think this is a decision the voters should make. This discussion is a good explanation of why. The electeds made a decision to provide a community center for northern Orange and look at the flack they are catching. Large debt should be a community decision.

    But I also think the local governments need to take a more educative role in helping the community understand why current taxes and fiscal planning aren’t sufficient. Is it really because of growth? Despite what many of them felt about Frank Clifton as a person, they all praised him for digging them out of fiscal problems. Does this bond initiative continue the good practices he put in place or drop us back into old ways?

    Please note that I do not think this is the county’s problem alone. The bulk of the need comes from CHCCS where they already get a supplement in addition to their county budget. If they still can’t afford to maintain their facilities, there is a much deeper problem than whether to go with a bond or tax increase.

  8. Mark Marcoplos

     /  February 3, 2015

    Both approaches require raising taxes and have validity. One plus for a bond referendum is that it is an opportunity to engage and educate the citizenry. And just as both approaches have validity, so can support for either proposal be characterized as “politics”. It’s usually the approach that someone doesn’t agree with that gets that tag.

  9. many

     /  February 3, 2015

    Terri

    Philosophically I believe Municipal Bonds should be issued for purposes that are outside the realm of pure governmental function, not day to day operations and maintenance.

    I agree completely with your comment about Frank Clifton. He is a realist and as a taxpayer I was sorry to see him leave. I am also sorry to see Clarence Grier leave, Clarence has a matter of fact way of framing fiscal issues that makes the choices clear cut and understandable, a feature sorely lacking in other county discussions. I hope the new county manager (Bonnie Hammersley) will also be a strong advocate of clarity and fiscal responsibility.

    We agree that schools should have maintenance line item in the budget and are part of the cost of day-to-day business. As an aside, I understand individual community centers might have little chance of passing a county wide vote and so I can understand why they did what they did without agreeing.

  10. Fred Black

     /  February 3, 2015

    It would be one thing if this was simply a school facilities maintenance issue, but clearly it’s broader. What public buildings in OC or the towns have a sufficient maintenance budget? Is it simply that politicians have their fingers on the pulse of the voters?

  11. bonnie hauser

     /  February 3, 2015

    Maybe you should try reading the budget. http://www.orangecountync.gov/finance/documents/op_budget/2014-15/1415_approved_budget.pdf

    Capital budget starts on page 297. My favorite page is 302 – which implies that the county is overspending on its own facilities at the expense of schools.

    BTW – There’s no documentation for the $330 million claim anywhere. CHCCS received a report last year that supported options ranging from 50-$160 million for school fixes/enhancements – which has been reduced to a spreadsheet with only the high number. The data for OCS is nowhere to be found. Maybe the real issue is we need better capital planning. I suspect $50 million or so over the next 3 years would go a long way to get our schools in good repair. The wildcard is Chapel Hill High – which shows at $52 million.

    I’d be happy to let the voters weigh in – if they are given the entire capital budget and allowed to decide. The politicians pick schools hoping no one will notice that the reason they need money for schools because they overspent on everything else.

    I think we generally agree that school maintenance should be funded as a priority. The schools haven’t been asking for the money and the commissioners haven’t been offering. That’s a problem that has to be fixed – and IMO if the voters support the bond, they are telling politicians that “we support business as usual. Here’s more money” . A vote no – says – start talking and planning. If you need more money, then put on your “big boy pants” and increase taxes

  12. Terri

     /  February 4, 2015

    “The politicians pick schools hoping no one will notice that the reason they need money for schools because they overspent on everything else.”

    Surely you aren’t naive enough to think the politicians develop the budgets…

  13. Fred Black

     /  February 4, 2015

    I have read the budgets Bonnie. Do you really believe that Chapel Hill has overspent on facility maintenance? The state of public buildings says otherwise.

  14. Bonnie

     /  February 4, 2015

    Fred I believe that $52 million for the town operations center is over the top, Raleigh is building one now for $38 million to serve a city 10 times larger. I believe a nice library could have been built for something less than $17 million

    Similarly it may be time for CHCCS District to move out of the Lincoln Center and turn it back into a school. Maybe an independent facilities manager needs to take a look at both school districts and come up with a 5 or 10 year plan

    Terri. The commissioners approve the budget and raise taxes too. That’s the job.. They don’t do a very good job asking questions and the reports are designed to obfuscate and confuse, The two school districts present vastly different style budgets that make it impossible to compare the two, The staff reports are cumbersome and confusing. And the commissioners, bless their hearts, don’t know the right questions to ask to create better transparency,. The good news is that Bonnie Hammerslly is trying to fix some of that.

    When the fire chiefs and the public got involved with Emergency Services, we cut $20 million from the capital budget. The new Sheriff appears ready to cut the size of the jail and maybe even the .federal prisoner program. .

    “Trust” is not meaningful fiscal policy

  15. Fred Black

     /  February 4, 2015

    Bonnie, please read what I wrote. I’m talking about maintenance dollars, not building an operations center, libraries, or even public art. Maintenance.

  16. Bonnie

     /  February 4, 2015

    Sorry Fred – I have not looked at the towns budget or spending on facility maintenance. But the overspending on facilities is part of the reason there’s not enough money for basic maintenance – like the police station. In that case, the town has no one to blame but itself,

    The issue at hand is the gross negligence is planning and funding the maintenance of 32 school campuses. That means roofs, HVAC, and a host of other routine issues that need attention as any building ages.

  17. Terri

     /  February 4, 2015

    It’s not the county’s responsibility to plan for school CIP items Bonnie. That responsibility–our the gross negligence you reference–resides with the school systems themselves. All the commissioners do is authorize the budget.

  18. many

     /  February 4, 2015

    Stated another way; both the county and the town have a habit of approving a gold plated Cadillac facility, while not accounting for the increased cost of operations and maintenance dollars, Maintenance.

  19. bonnie hauser

     /  February 4, 2015

    So the commissioners arbitrarily constrain school spending at 49% and while they are busy spending their 51%, the school’s plan budgets that exclude maintenance. And magically – commissioners say “bond” and $330 million of “school maintenance costs” show up.

    So voter options are: condone fiscal negligence and vote for higher taxes to fund it (kind of like a fix for a junkie) – or call it out for what it is and insist that it be fixed. (tough love and a road to recovery)

    Haven’t you all figured out that if you want no development and fancy libraries and offices, then all that’s let is high taxes. Its not a supply-demand argument, its just math

  20. Terri

     /  February 4, 2015

    Why would you want to give the schools an unlimited ceiling when you’re complaining about their irresponsibility in CIP planning?

  21. Bonnie

     /  February 4, 2015

    I don’t want to give the schools an unlimited ceiling, I’d like to see a legitimate budget that separates capital and operating and that clearly lays our spending and priorities,

    As we’ve all said, let’s start with something simple – pull the facilities maintenance out and fund it separately as a priority. But we have to have a way to vet the numbers, For example, a centralized pre-k at the Lincoln center is not “essential maintenance” ($16 million). I’d be all in favor of hiring an independent consultant to look at all the schools and provide an opinion. There are other ways to get an honest appraisal.

    The second thing I’d do is force the schools to present budgets in a standard way and with clarity of key line items. I don’t mind funding a raise in teacher pay but I’m growing more concerned about the size of the two district staffs.

    Its not just the comissioners. This community cares deeply about public education and deserves a clear picture of how their dollars are being spent.

    So eliminating the 49% is not about unlimited funding for schools- it’s about finding a more precise set of indicators that provide assurances that we are funding high quality education.

    How can we get there if voters continue to condone the money pit.

  22. Terri

     /  February 4, 2015

    There already is a legitimate budget that separates capital and operating expenses. You may not like it, but it’s still legitimate.

    You make it sound like having a maintenance budget is easy and common. But I can tell you that the University doesn’t do this either. They fund new buildings but not the maintenance once it’s built. In fact, I’d bet most of us don’t do that for our homes either. As far as I know the county has always had the money to replace large systems when they are needed (which may be after they have failed). So perhaps we should separate maintenance into separate categories: maintenance and preventive maintenance (PM). PM is really the issue here and I know the county has established an active PM program for their own buildings.

    I would be happy to support the requirement that both school systems have their own PM program which would help inform the capital improvement program and might even extend the life of some major systems.

  23. Bonnie

     /  February 4, 2015

    I don’t believe any of its easy- which is why the politicians should step aside and ask for an essential facilities maintenance plan – 5 years – and begin to think about how they might shift some other things around to pay for it. The elected officials cannot be expected to vet facilities maintenance – but they can set some expectations and oversight,

    A key difference between UNC and the county is that UNC is one accountable entity. The county is aggressively funding maintenance of its assets, it’s the schools that are suffering.

    When the county decided to fix its own buildings around 2006, they imposed the 49% restriction on schools and spent many tens of millions to fix their buildings. Maybe it’s time to shift the pendulum back, delay some county projects, and free up funds to fix the schools.

    You’re on the right track – there needs to be ongoing allocation of funds for school maintenance – whatever it is (roofs, HVAC, and other basic maintenance). Right now there’s. $3 million pay as you go item that funds things like buses and paint, it’s not nearly enough

    If leaders spent half the time on policy that they did on the bond, we’d probably have something that would improve everyone’s confidence in facilities and spending on schools,

  24. Terri

     /  February 5, 2015

    Again, it’s not the commissioners responsibility to dictate policy to the school boards. It’s the school boards responsibility to negotiate funding for their changes in policy.

    I stand behind the 49% cap. Everyone one has to make hard choices and giving schools alone half the county budget is very generous and indicative of the local commitment to education. If it’s not enough to cover operations and CIP then we need to look at revenues and growth policies.

  25. Bonnie

     /  February 5, 2015

    The 49% cap is arbitrary and results in either systematically underfunding schools or committing us to an ongoing series of tax increases.

    If the model was competent and included capital, then the maintenance would eat at the schools operating budget. Plus it’s too simplistic to manage $200 million a year of spending. (Plus at least $100 million more from the state and Feds)

    IMO, the two school districts and the county have got to work together to create new policies that mange capital separate from operating and balance priorities across schools and county government, I believe such a policy would take 2-3 years to develop, and in the meantime, I’d like to see essential capital needs and teacher pay funded,

  26. bonnie hauser

     /  February 5, 2015

    Oh and the 49% policy is exactly why the commissioners are funding beautiful meeting rooms, geothermal HVAC and excess rural parks while our schools remain in embarrassing disrepair and functional failure.

    “let them eat cake!”

  27. JWJ

     /  February 5, 2015

    Possible not intelligent question.

    When you all use the term “maintenance” are you talking about renovations to fix a building (new roof, shore up the foundation, new HVAC) that would be a capital expenditure and be depreciated?

    Do you mean annual operating expense maintenance issues such as HVAC repair, patch holes, etc?

    Or do you mean both?

  28. Bonnie

     /  February 5, 2015

    Definitely the first. Not sure how they handle the accounting for the second. Might be expensed or capitalized as pay as you go- either way, that seems to be covered.

    Where I get lost is what constitutes “essential maintenance” and when is it needed, There’s a lot of expensive “wants” on the list of needs but voters won’t see the difference

  29. many

     /  February 5, 2015

    My guess is that there is staff or yearly out sourced contracts for the second. The first should come out of Capital Reserve. However there should be set aside or rainy day fund and there should be no need for a bond for an HVAC or a roof that has a predictable lifespan or duty cycle.

    BTW I agree with Terri the 49% should be enough to cover the whole enchilada. If a new school is needed there should be enough additional tax to cover it within the 49%

  30. Bonnie

     /  February 6, 2015

    I agree that there should be enough money without a bond but because of excesses on both sides, there’s not. Managing around an arbitrary percent fails to provide checks and balances and does nothing to advance the needed discussion on spending and priority setting.

    Thank goodness the commissioners started to question the percent a couple of weeks ago.

    Try this. Why does the county need 51%?
    Today the schools have 32 campuses, 3000 employees serving 20,000 students every school day, The county has 900 employees, no police, fire or garbage collection, a 911 call center and a bunch of ambulances, sheriff/jail/ courthouse, and county library and mostly out of town parks.

    There are many strategic issues that need attention plus there are issues due to state cuts. Without flexibility to anticipate and response to changing circumstances, leaders will (must?) resort to increasing taxes for schools.

    If they decide to do it, it will take a few years for leaders to fix the schoolfunding policies. If you like 49%, how do you address/fund immediate issues?

  31. Terri

     /  February 6, 2015

    Try this. The schools serve children 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, 9 months per year. The county serves those same children plus their parents as well as all of us who don’t have children 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 12 months a year.

  32. many

     /  February 6, 2015

    First task; Separate the wants from the needs. Too hard to see what is going on, and too easy to believe that some of it is just piling on.

    Second; Insist that the schools have the same budget line items and categories, even if those line items are zero. I think this would be very revealing.

    Third Insist on a clearly articulated identification of and plan to fix or replace items that are nearing their useful life at least ten years out. Twenty would be better. Include those long term needs in the budget.

    Fourth; Insist that the schools live within the 49% budget cap. I know that there have been cuts, but everyone (except the much maligned 1%) have taken a hit. I find it very hard to believe there are not places where significant savings could be achieved without affecting the quality of education.

    Fifth; Strongly suggest the two schools systems look for redundancies in administrations, not teachers to fill gaps and wring out inefficiencies that we all know are there.

    Sixth; Recognize that money is not the solution to everything. Look to successes elsewhere. Chapel Hill is not an island (even though there is an island mentality). So much real innovation and so many solutions to similar issues are out there.

  33. Bonnie

     /  February 6, 2015

    Many I fully agree with the first three points, I agree with rest too but believe that it will take two-three years to work them out. And if it done well, they are likely to develop better controls than 49%.

    I’m pretty sure that leaders could cut a lot of redundancies and excesses and free up needed funds for teachers, tutors, and other needed services,

    I just don’t know what it’s going take these leaders to work together openly and strategically, if voters support the bond, it’s a vote to keep things just as they are, The same is true with the towns.

    BTW – most county services are sized and used for very small subsets of the population.

  34. Terri

     /  February 6, 2015

    Wants vs needs: is the senior center necessary? No. Neither are libraries. So both are ‘wants.’ How do we separate ‘acceptable wants’ from extravagant wants?

  35. Fred Black

     /  February 6, 2015

    It’s easy Terri, we simply ask if it enhances the quality of life, whatever that is!

  36. bonnie hauser

     /  February 6, 2015

    There’s no simple answer about needs vs wants. Sometimes its about the priority of the projects themselves, sometimes its about chevy vs cadillac, sometimes its about how big.

    Consider

    uplift Chapel Hill High and delay a centralized Pre-K at the Lincoln Center and the Blackwood Farm and other county Parks ($25 million)

    uplift Orange High and delay uplift southern human services and Revere Road ($15 million)

    100 bed jail vs 250 bed jail (a topic the new Sheriff is exploring that would save $15 million)

    Gold plated convenience centers vs decent centers that are paved with compactors (creates $1.6 million a year – which equates to $20 million in debt capacity)

    Lets not forget the option to sell off underutilized assets, and to consolidate/share offices – especially for staff that is in the field doesn’t need dedicated office space.

    All better options to me than a bond and tax increase.

  37. Terri

     /  February 6, 2015

    Society benefits more from money spent on pre-K education than any other education focused investment.

    Jam employees into small, ratty offices–big turnover, big cost.

    I’ve never seen a gold-plated convenience center, but I only use Ferguson and occasionally Eubanks. Where would I find the gold-plated ones? Are those the ones (really one 1 I think) that offers food composting?

    I can make a legitimate argument against most of the items you think are so clear cut. And that’s where the BOCC gets stuck. They have to make the hard decisions and the value judgments.

    (HaHaHa, Fred! :))

  38. bonnie hauser

     /  February 6, 2015

    Pre-K education (need) is not the same as a centralized Pre-k center (want). When you conflate issues, its not a legitimate discussion. I’d like to see professionals, not politicians making some of the tough choices. But the politicians need to ask for a plan. It can be win-win.

    Office sharing is state of the art. For example, OC Social workers now have 2 offices yet they spend most of their time in homes, with therapists, and driving around. There are many similar examples. Offices are passe.

    Check out the $2 million convenience center at Walnut Grove . and then go to any of the paved centers in Chatham or Wake – nice centers with compactors – built and run at a fraction of the cost.

  39. many

     /  February 6, 2015

    A need is something you must have, something you can’t do without. A want is something you would like to have.

    Defining “wants” vs. “needs” is an essential money management skill and it applies in both the private and public sector. This is why there are broad budgetary categories called discretionary and non-discretionary. Value judgments on the discretionary side are part of the job of government leaders, but NOT at the expense of non-discretionary spending.

    Affordability is the issue. You would not go on a vacation with your rent money….or would you?

    Based on Fred’s well established flippant responses, I now understand how we ended up spending $16.23 million dollars (+$450 per sq foot) on a library that could not open because of inadequate operational funding (Annually $400,000 higher than before). “..it enhances the quality of life, whatever that is!”

  40. Terri

     /  February 7, 2015

    Chapelboro is reporting that the CHCCS school board approved a $15.9 million capital investment plan for the next five years at their meeting on Thursday night.

    “The district would like the extra funds to help pay for new buildings and school expansions to meet increases in student enrollment at an estimated cost of $214 million over ten years. The funds would also help pay the estimated $91 million in other maintenance costs over the next ten years.”

    CIP money should not be used as extra funds for new buildings or anything having to do with increased enrollment. Growth needs to pay for itself or we’ll just keep arguing about this issue over and over again.

  41. Bonnie

     /  February 7, 2015

    Good point Terri. Another distortion in the bond game is the revenue forecasts don’t count the impact of growth. So they push for a tax increase instead.

    Their is a great deal of confusion about what’s capital and what’s operating. In general anything that has to do with building maintenance and expansion of buildings is “capital” and should be in the CIP. . If it’s not CIP, it’s part of the per pupil spending which covers operating expenses (salaries, supplies, etc).

  42. Terri

     /  February 7, 2015

    In general anything that has to do with building maintenance..is “capital.”

    That’s not true. There are lots of maintenance projects that are operational. Generally, capital is defined by an amount, such as anything greater than $10,000. I’m not sure how the county or the schools define it.

  43. Bonnie

     /  February 8, 2015

    Terri that’s not correct, There are rules about what’s capital and expense. For example, consultants are an expense regardless of fee. Salaries too, Capital expenses are about maintaining assets like buildings, vehicles and equipment. Operating expenses are the costs to use them. (Fuel, people, supplies)

    There’s pay as you go capital which is a running annual amount for predictable expenses like buses and computers. Large projects like Culbreth are listed and approved individually. I’m not sure, but I think one of the problems may be that there’s no place for large maintenance projects.

  44. Terri

     /  February 8, 2015

    The “rules” are what I was referencing Bonnie. Of course, my only experience with capital budgets is with OWASA and UNC so I’m sure you know better.

    A school board member has notified me that in Orange County, maintenance and SAPFO driven expenses are lumped into a single CI budget for each of the school systems. A flat fee is assigned for maintenance; growth (or SAPFO) costs are added in and those two together constitute the ‘funded’ CIP. Then there is the list of unfunded projects. They are part of the CIP even though they aren’t funded. For CHCCS, there is a $214M unfunded project list. The funded portion is $91M with $3M per year for maintenance plus a new middle school and a new elementary school in 2023.

  45. Bonnie

     /  February 8, 2015

    Yes again the policy is ludicrous and IMO builds in underfunding schools and overspending on county capital,

    Can you get a list of the projects behind the capital request? If you compare them to prior years, it appears that new projects are popping out of the woodwork.

    As you know, I’m all in favor of freeing up capital for the schools and would like to see the county defer plans for offices, parks, and a few other items. I believe that there’s$50-70 million of low hanging fruit which would go a long way to fixing our schools

    It would help if the schools adhered to spending policies. Standard facility designs, standard materials, as other cost controls shared by both districts.

    Then back to your important point, if enrollment is growing, so should taxes. That should free up more money for debt

    As you can see, the policies are inadequate and need to be updated. It’s the job of leaders to set the goals and then get out of the way so that the professionals can work things out, That assumes leaders can create a context of trust and openness between schools and with the county.

  46. Terri

     /  February 8, 2015

    Policy is an officially codified practice. The 49% ceiling is a “practice” adopted because the schools had absorbed all county taxes for years and the rest of county needs/wants were ignored. The practice can be rescinded temporarily or permanently whenever the BOCC members agree by simple vote to do something different.

    If enrollment is growing, there needs to be 1) higher impact fees on developers and new residents and 2) better reporting via SAPFO. The whole idea of growth paying for growth is that current residents shouldn’t have to pick up the cost of new schools and other services. If there is new or enhanced services needed in response to current resident wants/needs, then taxes should be raised.

    As I’m sure people are sick of hearing me say, the intention behind SAPFO was to help balance the impacts of growth and give the schools and elected officials the information necessary for making growth related decisions. Unfortunately, the policy is not working because the school board (CHCCS) feels it isn’t their responsibility to control growth.

  47. Bonnie

     /  February 8, 2015

    Actually the 49% practice was adopted to free up funds so the county could repair it’s failing facilities, That’s how they funded Gateway Center and other offices in HB, the new courthouse, the library in HB and even the meeting room. The policy is less than 10 years old. I’m glad a few of the commissioners are questioning it,

    I don’t agree with your approach to growth but I agree it needs to be part of the conversation,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *