BY LAURA DOUGLASS
The Moore County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved the $180.1 million budget for fiscal year 2022 during a brief meeting June 17.
Property taxes will remain the same at 51 cents per $100 valuation. The Advanced Life Support tax, which funds the Emergency Medical Services paramedic system, also remains the same at four cents, and there is a one-cent increase in the countywide fire tax to 10.5 cents.
The budget, which began July 1, holds Moore County Schools’ local funding at its current levels with $30.35 million allocated to operations, $750,000 for capital outlay, $750,000 for digital learning, and $17 million toward repaying debt for school construction.
County Manager Wayne Vest said education spending represents about 45 percent of the overall budget, which aligns with previous allocations. Two years ago, the county approved an additional $740,000 to offset costs related to opening McDeeds Creek Elementary School, but Vest said it was understood at the time that that was a one-time specific funding increase.
Following the 5-0 vote, Vice Chair Louis Gregory responded to criticism the board has received from some education supporters. The district had asked for an operations budget of $32 million.
“At our public hearing, I was amazed to hear it said that nowhere does education seem to be a priority with us county commissioners. That is not true,” Gregory said.
Gregory mentioned construction of new elementary schools for Aberdeen, Southern Pines and Pinehurst — voters overwhelmingly approved borrowing $103 million for those projects — as well as commissioners approving a major expansion of North Moore High School and opening McDeeds Creek Elementary.
Gregory said the county budget also allocates $250,000 to Sandhills Center to fund three mental health providers dedicated to the school district. During the pandemic, the county assisted using federal coronavirus aid to support a remote school lunch program and additional funding for Parent Teacher Organizations to distribute where it was needed most.
“We work very hard to make sure each student obtains a quality education. That is one of my passions, to make sure that our schools enable the children to have a safe place to obtain an education no matter where they live,” said Gregory.
County Commissioner Catherine Graham also bristled at criticism the board has received over public safety spending and some of the newly added county staff positions.
“Frankly, that stings … Education is a priority but we want those kids to be safe and all of our citizens to be safe. When I call 911 and ask for a sheriff, I appreciate and expect to hear from the Sheriff’s Office, as do all citizens,” Graham said. “I do not think we are overfunding (public safety). I appreciate our law enforcement and will do my best while I sit on this board to continue to support them.”
Contact Laura Douglass at (910) 693-2474 or firstname.lastname@example.org.