Kudos to Herald Reporter Billy Ball for enduring a deadline-busting BOC meeting Monday night, then managing to beat the Founding Fathers to press in reporting at least some of the results from the marathon meeting.
As Billy has already reported (on-line) the County BOC voted a $62,689,722 budget for Lee County, including renewed support for $500K in additional funding for public schools over what the county manager originally recommended. The school totals will now include an appropriation of $15,838,050 for current expense (including the $500K increase), plus a capital expense appropriation of $1,430,331, not to mention the $8,703,664 we taxpayers must pay in debt service for the county (90+% of which is for school buildings). All totaled, the county has agreed to spend a record $25M on public schools from local tax dollars, unprecedented in county history. So, how will the public school officials spin this level of spending? Desperate? Tragic? Scandalous? Pick an adjective.
One unexpected victory for conservatives on Monday night was the UNANIMOUS vote to audit the Lee County Public Schools this FY. Following on the heels of public comments from Sheila Barber, Charles Staley, Frank Del Palazzo, and other conservatives, all demanding accountability for our school spending, the BOC agreed to order a third party performance audit of the LCSS over the course of this FY (to be completed before March 2012), which will be followed by a performance audit of all other county departments in FY 2012-2013.
One major disappointment during the evening’s fireworks, was the condescending statement of Commissioner Hayes, calling the standing room only audience a “peanut gallery,” after they chuckled at one of his vainglorious pronouncements about the county budget. One person in the audience reminded Mr. Hayes they were CITIZENS. to which Hayes muttered something about having them silenced. (This was reminiscent of commissioner candidate Mike Womble’s demeaning retorts to the civic center audience during last fall’s campaign debate. That one worked out well, huh, Mike?)
Interesting to note: the Temple Theater was restored to $6000 of funding from commissioners for the next year, finally achieving success on the fourth vote, after three times failing to gain a plurality. Even more interesting– only one commissioner voted to fund the Temple Theater at that level on the third such vote: Commissioner Womack, who offered that the Temple should be funded out of the commissioners’ payroll. Funny, Richard Hayes was passionate about giving this entertainment organization money from YOUR pockets, but not his own. It’s now a matter of record. Check it out when the digital recording of the meeting is posted for public viewing.
Commissioners agreed to bankroll a new joint-use building for the Boys and Girls Club and the CCCC campus on Church St. to the tune of $50K. If the Sanford Housing Authority application for a CDBG grant is successful, that $50K in local match will finance the new building valued at $2.5M.
Despite passionate arguments in defense of the Economic Development Corporation (EDC), the BOC narowly voted in favor to pull out of the organization and to move the funding for a new economic growth office under the county manager effective December 31, 2011. The EDC is slated to transition into a new construct with greater accountability to the BOC. The county manager will have six months to sort out how to staff and manage county efforts to achieve future economic growth across the county.
While the overall obligation for taxpayers was a bit higher than conservative commissioners would have liked, clearly this final BOC budget meeting was step in the right direction. Strained taxpayers appear to be making some headway in their advocacy at the county level. Let’s hope these patriots keep filling seats in the “peanut gallery” for future meetings.