Kudos to Edgecombe County commissioners for listening to their constituents and making a tough decision to help navigate the county through one of the biggest budget challenges it ever has faced.
As Telegram staff writer Darla Slipke reported in Tuesday’s edition, the Edgecombe County board turned out for its meeting Monday night bearing an unenviable burden. Commissioners had all but signed off on a plan to cut $1.7 million from the proposed 2014-15 budget. The reductions would have meant the loss of 34 jobs in county government and significant funding cuts to Edgecombe County Public Schools, Edgecombe Community College and the Edgecombe County Department of Social Services.
The cuts also would have spelled big headaches in the future. Such a loss in county funding would have meant that Edgecombe County Schools no longer would have qualified for “low wealth” funding provided by the state to economically struggling counties. Had the budget cuts remained unchanged, Edgecombe County Public Schools would have lost every nickel of low wealth funding from the state by fiscal 2017-18. Superintendent John Farrelly called the potential impact devastating, and he wasn’t exaggerating. In the past school year alone, the Edgecombe system received more than $3.5 million from the low wealth fund.
Led by Commissioner Viola Harris, the Edgecombe Board voted to split the difference between huge funding cuts or a giant tax increase. Under the budget adopted Monday night, Edgecombe County’s property tax rate goes up by 3.5 cents to 89.5 cents per $100 valuation.
The commissioners’ decision to change the budget dramatically demonstrates the openness they have to the voices of constituents. More than a dozen people spoke during a public hearing before the vote.
Edgecombe County and Eastern North Carolina need jobs and a jolt to the tax base. Otherwise, counties like Edgecombe will be facing tough budget decisions for a long time to come.