The Gloucester County Board of Supervisors approved a $69.57 million budget for FY21 during Tuesday night’s electronic meeting.
The budget for FY21 was approved by a 6-0-1 margin, with Mike Winebarger abstaining. Also, the supervisors voted unanimously to keep tax rates at their current levels for the coming year.
During the meeting, the board decided to level fund Gloucester County Public Schools at $26,930,277 (the FY20 amount), while initially withholding $479,674 of that total, with ability to later allocate that amount once the county has a better handle on the budget situation and the economy as a whole.
The motion made by board member Ashley Chriscoe regarding level funding of the schools was initially intended to tie school funding to student enrollment or Average Daily Membership. ADM-based funding is typically only done at the state level; however, certain members of the board felt that it would be prudent to use ADM while deciding the budget.
The number of students who attend Gloucester County Public Schools has declined steadily over the years, and the $479,674 reduction in funding reflects that enrollment drop. “I do not feel that it is our obligation to fund students that are not there,” said Winebarger.
The vote for the appropriation of funds was 4-3. Members Chriscoe, Winebarger and Mike Hedrick and chairman Phil Bazzani voted in favor of level funding the schools while initially withholding $479,674 of that amount. County Attorney Ted Wilmot explained that legally the board does not have to appropriate all of the $26,930,277 at one time.
Board members Christopher Hutson, Robert Orth and Kevin Smith voted against the proposal. Hutson stated that cutting the budget for the schools would put the schools at a disadvantage given that their state funding had already been cut. “I know that the past couple of years the board of supervisors and the citizens of Gloucester have given more to the schools, but that is our responsibility,” said Hutson.
The decision of the budget adoption and appropriation of funds was made after a citizen comment period that included 42 written comments and five voicemails. A majority of the written comments came from concerned teachers and families who felt the board failed to properly represent the schools.
The five voicemails expressed similar attitudes to the board. Multiple people stated that they felt insulted by some of the comments made during a previous board of supervisors’ meeting that alluded to teachers not working hard at this time. One voicemail in particular singled out Bazzani, and the caller assured him that she was in fact working hard to teach from home.
Bazzani took a few moments to address the multitude of comments. He said that he never meant to criticize or insult the teachers of Gloucester County. Being a teacher at CNU, Bazzani said he understood how difficult the transition to working from home has been. He stated that he only asked for clarification on the school’s expenses. “No one on the board is questioning teachers’ efforts,” he said.
Bazzani said that he does want to fund the schools, but feels that the current state of the economy is too uncertain to do so. He stated that it’s the board’s job to look out for the taxpayers of the county. He said that the school board presented the board of supervisors with a budget that overstates the number of students enrolled.
“This board needs to adopt a budget reflective of the actual number of students enrolled in our schools,” said Bazzani.
The board will have a joint meeting with the planning commission at 7 o’clock tonight.
The next regularly scheduled board of supervisors’ work session will be on May 19. At the work session, it is anticipated there will be a public hearing to consider a proposal not to penalize taxpayers who pay their real estate and personal property taxes late, as long as they do so before Aug. 14.
An article in last week’s Gazette-Journal incorrectly stated that not penalizing residents who pay their taxes late this year had been decided; however, such a decision first requires a public hearing to be held.