Thursday, July 15, 2010

Lawmakers' lottery shuffle hurt counties

Counties are still sorting out the fallout from the shifting around of N.C. education lottery funds state lawmakers did this legislative session to help save teachers' jobs statewide. But some have already calculated the damage.

Johnston County Manager Rick Hester told WRAL-TV Wednesday that his county will lose almost $2.3 million in capital expenses for its school construction needs. "I think frustrating and disappointment would be the best words (to describe our situation)," he said. The county has invested about $350 million to build, renovate and expand school buildings over the past decade. Bonds paid for the building. "We have to make $33 million worth of (bond) payments this fiscal year, no matter what happens," he said.

Mecklenburg County may be in the same boat. It's education lottery funds are also used for bond indebtedness on school construction. When lawmakers designated education lottery funds that counties used for school construction needs for teacher jobs instead, they were hurting instead of helping some school districts and counties. Mecklenburg County commissioners are discussing cutting the local money they've allocated to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools by the amount the state has taken for teacher jobs. That could be as much as $9 million.

Some counties aren't hit as hard. Wake County, for example, loses only $101,835 because of the lottery funds shift. Meanwhile, Cumberland County loses $3.6 million, Durham County loses $2.2 million and Orange County loses $1.3 million.
Many counties will likely have to postpone school construction projects or find other cuts so they can make their bond payments.
Johnston County officials said they aren't sure how they will balance their budget, but they don't anticipate job losses or tax increases.
"We did not think that on July 14 we'd already be in the process of trying to figure out how to recoup $2 million somewhere," Hester said.