Editor’s note: Former Hyde County Commissioner for Ocracoke, Tom Pahl, responds to the latest turn of events in the funding dispute between the Hyde County Board of Education (BOE) and the Hyde County Board of Commissioners (BOC).
This is an unfortunate situation which could have and should have been avoided, in my opinion.
The BOC, which I was honored to sit on for four years, is statutorily required to prepare its budget, including the BOE portion of that budget, in open session, including the convening of a public hearing in order to assure that all citizens, taxpayers and interested parties have multiple opportunities to weigh in on the budget before it is adopted.
That the Hyde County Board of Education (BOE) failed to communicate its vital needs and its deep concerns about the BOE share of the budget at any time during the BOC budget process, including at a special joint meeting of the two boards, has resulted in the horrific impasse that we now see between these two boards.
For years the BOC has been tempering increased budget costs by tapping into its reserve fund instead of raising taxes, and rightfully so, as, for a long time, that reserve was higher than it should have been, according to state auditors.
But, since Hurricane Dorian (2019), that practice has tipped away from being responsible management to the dangerous practice of funding operations out of necessary savings.
Every time increased operations costs are funded from the reserve, the can is kicked down the road, and represents a future increase in taxes, unless those costs are reduced or offset from another revenue source.
Clearly, this budget year was the year that the BOC decided to bite the bullet and increase property taxes (by $.10) rather than to further deplete the reserve fund and kick the can down the road again.
In addition, they proposed a significant cut to the BOE appropriation, based on their understanding that there was a surplus showing in the BOE budget. The BOE did not attempt to object to or correct that understanding, though it was apparently a misinterpretation of the status of the BOE budget.
That is where the process went off the rails. In fairness to the BOE, we need to acknowledge that they were in the throes of an administration change and were working under an interim Superintendent. But off the rails, nonetheless.
I won’t reiterate the process that has followed, as it is spelled out clearly in the Ocracoke Observer articles, but the result was for the BOC to go back to the table and finally agree to fully fund the original BOE request, drawing $400,000 from the reserve fund, and despite their efforts not to…again kicking the tax-increase can down the road.
Now, the BOE is going back to the BOC again and demanding an additional $75,000. I think that is unfortunate and will unnecessarily damage the already bruised relationship between the two boards.
In my opinion, there is plenty of fault to go around and I feel that it is time for the BOE to step back and withdraw this last request in the hopes that next year the two boards might work together responsibly BEFORE the budget is finalized to provide adequate funding for all of the county’s needs.