The Montgomery County Board of Supervisors voted (4-3) to reallocate funds that were initially intended for the school system to pay for new ball fields in Riner and Shawsville ($390,000) and to provide additional support to the ACCE program ($150,000).
The decision sparked much debate between the supervisors as the vote fell along party lines, with the four republicans (Chair Chris Tuck, District B; Gary Creed, District C; Todd King, District D and Darrell Sheppard, District E) voting in favor of the measure.
Creed said he proposed the change because the schools received an extra $540,000 from the state that was not anticipated when the county advertised the proposed tax rate and budget two weeks ago.
Tuck also said he was not aware of the additional funds until after the advertisement, something school board member Connie Froggatt (District F) said is unlikely because the extra money from the state was announced shortly after the state passed the budget in late February.
“If they were not aware of the extra money, then maybe they should be attending the school board meetings,” Froggatt said after the meeting. “We have been planning our budget with the funds from the state and the county.”
Froggatt was especially critical of the timing of the announcement, which came just 24 hours before the school board will vote on its budget. They will now have $106.6 million to work with as opposed to the $107.1 million they had before Monday’s meeting.
Supervisor Mary Biggs (District F) was also critical of the decision, especially the timing.
“We held a public hearing last week, and not one person said to take money from the schools,” Biggs said Tuesday morning. “It sends a message to Richmond that we don’t need money [for schools]. That is what that money was intended for, not parks and recreation.”
Annette Perkins (District A) said that she believes there is a partisan divide in the board that should not be there, even going so far as to say that some supervisors might be colluding with one another.
“I’m getting a feeling there is a great division going on,” she said. “I am beyond upset. I was never told about this.”
Tuck said that he that the first he had heard about the possibility of moving funds around came last week when Creed mentioned it during last week’s meeting, and after hearing him state his case, decided it was the right decision.
Tuck also said that he believes the county could possibly give back the money to the schools in August using undesignated funds, and citing the $750,000 given to the schools last year.
“I have every reason to believe we’ll have $540,000,” Tuck said. “I do not believe it is the dire situation that was expressed [by MCPS], but everybody is entitled to their thoughts and opinions.”
Tuck said that he does not believe that partisan politics played a role in the vote.
“I don’t believe anybody up there voted that way because there is an ‘R’ (Republican) beside their name,” he said.
The ACCE program will allow students who graduate from a county high school with a minimum GPA of 2.5 adequate test scores and 40 hours of community service per semester attend New River Community College for free.
The programs director Angie Covey previously said that the program would cost an estimated $300,000 to fund, with the county ideally pledging $150,000 and the rest coming from donations, but Tuck said that he did not want to rely on money that may not come.
The county now has $250,000 towards the program and Tuck said he has a verbal commitment from Christiansburg Town Council for another $25,000 towards the program.
Biggs said that she believes the program is wonderful but that money should not have been taken from the schools to fund it.
The board also voted to keep the property tax rate at $0.89 per $100, and the total budget is $186,868,018 for FY 2018, which begins July 1.
The next meeting is at 7:15 p.m. Monday at the Montgomery County Government Center (755 Roanoke Street, Christiansburg).