Iredell County Commissioners pass resolution to continue toward quarter-cent sales tax increase proposal

At a special meeting of the Iredell County Commissioners Tuesday, the board held an open conversation to discuss the merits of asking voters to approve a 1/4-cent sales tax increase on the November 2018 ballot. More than 100 people attended the meeting, including several public educators wearing red shirts.

Commissioners Chair Gen. James Mallory stressed the meeting was not to decide whether or not the measure would be on the ballot, but rather to give local education representatives more context for the revenues such a measure might produce and ask for their feedback on what their needs are for them.

Commissioners Marvin Norman and Gene Houpe, who serve on the board’s Education Committee, opened the meeting by raising their concerns about school safety in light of a rash of recent violent events in our nation’s schools.

Education administrators share safety needs

ISS and MGSD Superintendents Brady Johnson and Steven Mauney, Mitchell Community College Vice President for Advancement James Hogan, and Iredell County Sheriff Darren Campbell attended the meeting and were asked to speak to the board.

“I know each of you [commissioners] understands the link between public education and economic growth,” Mr. Johnson said, as he introduced a number of funding challenges he faces within Iredell-Statesville Schools. Much of their funding from the federal and state governments is restricted, and some of their mandates are unfunded–which in turn leads to tough decisions locally.

Even seemingly positive things, like teacher salary increases, can cause local budgets stress, Mr. Johnson continued. Since many teachers are paid from local funding, and not state funds, salary increases have to be made up from local budgets. “A three percent raise will cost the district $750,000 in local funding.”

As a result of these demands on local funding, Iredell-Statesville Schools has had to make up the difference in cutting positions. Mr. Johnson pointed out the system has eliminated more than 100 positions in recent years, including mental health counselors, librarians, social workers, and school resource officers (SROs).

Dr. Steven Mauney of the Mooresville Graded School District agreed, saying his school district faces the same challenges in terms of position shortages, unfunded mandates, and school safety concerns. The sales tax revenue, Mauney noted, “would be very helpful as we manage our budget process in the next several years.”

Mauney went on to stress that the most helpful funding from the county commissioners would be unrestricted in its purpose. That went against the general attitude of the board, which explicitly centered the conversation on school safety. Mauney continued that he would have to work with his board of education to determine the best uses of the funds if the voters ultimately approved them.

Both Superintendents Mauney and Johnson thanked the commissioners for the open and productive conversations they’ve had regarding school funding, and agreed the relationship between the school systems and the county had improved greatly.

“We can’t do it all.”

Several commissioners noted that the county faced other expensive needs in the near-term, and Gen. Mallory said that the county would have to be strategic in choosing what it did to address school safety. “We can’t do it all.”

Other commissioners noted that while nobody wants to raise taxes, student safety was paramount.

“We talk all the time about how students are our future,” Commissioner Tommy Bowles said, “but they’re Iredell County citizens right now. If a kid is attending school [in Iredell County], we need to ensure they’re safe.”

Commissioner Houpe asked the board to approve a resolution that would help the issue of raising sales taxes move forward. The resolution, as Houpe proposed, splits revenue from the potential sales tax increase, with up to 75 percent going to support school safety and security and 25 percent remaining with the county.

That “up to” language was thoroughly examined by Bowles, who asked for clarification about whether the board was promising all 75 percent of that revenue moving forward.

The answer, in short, was no–the county commissioners will provide up to that amount, and the board will revisit the allocation annually. “Sales tax revenues fluctuate,” noted Commissioner Jeff McNeely. “We need to have the funds in hand before we promise them to anybody.”

After another conversation to ensure the public would have an opportunity to weigh in–which was decided upon as a public hearing on June 19 and a potential vote to place the matter on the November ballot coming in July–the resolution passed unanimously.

What’s Next

Representatives from the administrations and boards of Iredell-Statesville and Mooresville Graded District Schools and Mitchell Community College will meet tonight, Wednesday, May 30 at 6:00 pm at Little Joe’s Chapel in Troutman. The meeting will help determine the educational systems’ plan for how to use potential funds.