The lawsuit brought by the board against the Duplin County Board of Commissioners for not funding the county schools resulted in a $4.8 million decision in favor of the school board. The commissioners lost the appeal and had also filed for the revue which was declined by the North Carolina Supreme Court which means the decision of the Appellate Court stands. The Supreme Court also granted the board of education’s motion to dismiss, thus clearing the way for the county to pay for $4.8 million to the schools.
According to county manager Mike Aldridge, the commissioners have been in discussion with each other during their regular meeting on Monday, April 19 and again in a special meeting held Thursday, April 22. “There are nothing but questions since we found out (about the court’s decision) last Friday,” said Aldridge. “We are scrambling to make a decision on how we will pay the lawsuit.” The manager went on to say that in Thursday’s meeting with attorney Neil Yarborough to discuss options for coming up with a plan to meet the demands of the suit. “The commissioners have directed the administration to come up with suggestions for them to consider in paying the $4.8 million,” he said.
“We have talked with several different agencies such as the Council of Governments and Department of Revenue to help us come up with suggestions,” continued Aldridge. “We are attempting to come up with options to give to the commissioners and let them choose which one they feel is the best to accomplish what is necessary for the situation.”
The manager also commented that the most likely scenario will be passing a supplementary tax to the citizens of the county to pay for the lawsuit. Another possibility is to take the funds from the general fund balance. However, Aldridge warned that taking the money from the general fund would put the county in a bad financial position in relation to the county being financially stable. “Either of these plans will definitely mean a tax hike for the citizens of Duplin County,” he said.
Aldridge estimated that the tax rate will have to jump 14 percent in order to pay the $4.8 million. The supplemental tax would be due for the current year in addition to what has already been paid and would be reflected in next year’s tax bill as well. Aldridge also indicated that the existing fund balance could not afford the deduction as it would put the fund below the recommended eight percent of the total budget required by the Council of Governments for a government agency to be in good financial standing.
The manager also shared that questions have arisen as to how soon the money has to be paid. “We have not received any instructions as to when the money has to be paid or what method it has to be paid,” Aldridge clarified. He did say that the best legal understanding they have received is that interest start to accrue after 120 days.
Aldridge also stated that the Duplin County Board of Education had already sent a letter signed by board chairman Reginald Kenan, demanding the money be paid immediately. “We are not certain if waiting for the county to come up with a plan will satisfy the board of education or the court system and here lies the uncertainty,” he said. “We have to safeguard against putting the county in a precarious position financially. It certainly not a good situation to be in.”
Kenan said Friday, “We are just waiting for a response from the commissioners. It is the feeling of the board that we are glad to get the money for the children for county to improve the quality of education in Duplin County.”
The commissioners will be meeting at 9 a.m., Monday, April 26, to discuss the matter more as well as conduct some other business matters. In the meantime, the school board will also be meeting in closed door session on Tuesday, April 27 to narrow the lists of candidates for the new superintendent.
To contact Billy Todd, call 910-592-8137 ext. 117 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.