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Council hears ad hoc committee presentation

Posted: May 28, 2018 6:18 p.m.
Updated: May 29, 2018 1:00 a.m.

Kershaw County Council heard a report and accompanying recommendations from Councilman Sammie Tucker Jr. and Kershaw County Board of School Trustees member Todd McDonald during its May 22 meeting.

McDonald and Tucker co-chaired an ad hoc committee formed earlier this year to study growth/funding and school security issues. In addition to McDonald and Tucker, committee members including county councilmen Dennis Arledge and Al Bozard, school board trustees Matt Irick and Mark Sury, Elgin Mayor Melissa Emmons, Camden City Councilman Jeffrey Graham, Kenneth McCaskill from the town of Bethune, business owner George Gibson and Kershaw County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Amy Kinard.

Both Tucker and McDonald praised the work of fellow committee members as well as members of the public who attended meetings, noting that dialogue and conversations were productive and open minded.

“It really was a great experience,” McDonald said. “The more we peeled the onion, the more ideas flowed – and that’s what it takes.”

The committee was formed because Kershaw County is growing rapidly, yet due to unfunded mandates and the current education funding model, this growth is threatening the Kershaw County School District’s ability to fund schools and services -- including School Resource Officers -- at present programming levels.

One conclusion everyone can agree with is the fact that the state’s passage of Act 388, which shifted the funding burden from homeowners to businesses and a 1 percent sales tax, has been disasterous, McDonald and Tucker said. Yet, prior to Act 388, the state legislature had only fully funded local governments four times in 44 years, contravening its own statute.
Nonetheless, Act 388 made the situation worse both in actual funding and in conditions placed on local governments regarding funding mechanisms.

They also reviewed the S.C. Attorney General’s opinions regarding SRO funding. What they found, McDonald said, was that the AG had indeed opined, twice, that SROs cannot be funded through property tax revenues. However, the AG also stated in an opinion issued in July 2017 that “…our prior opinion did not conclude that a county or municipality is prohibited from financing SROs by using tax revenues from a separate source … it is this ofice’s opinion that a court would likely find local governing bodies may contribute or donate public finds for the costs of providing SROs to a school district so long as such funds do not include revenue from property taxes on owner-occupied residential property.”

“We also reviewed the county’s Vision 2030 and discussed strengths, weakneses, opportunities and threats that impact education, schools and growth, and from these discussions and resource reviews we discussed possible action items or solutions to these challenges and segmented proposals into immediate, mid-range and long range activities,” McDonald told council. “These, of course, are non-binding -- ultimately the decisions rest with you.”

The recommendations are phased; the first phase recommendations include:

Immediate recommendations:

• Freeze the current SRO funding as currently divided between the county and district for two years.

• Establish a joint committee to discuss needs and funding.

• Utilize a specific growth formula for school funding.

Mid-range recommendations:

• Officially adopt the growth funding formula.

• Phase in SRO costs over a five- to seven-year period from the county to KCSD.

• Apply pressure to the state to meet required funding as determined by state law and provide for the shortfall caused by state underfunding in past years.

• Study and discuss the use of builder impact fees in order to generate more funding for the county and district.

Long-range recommendations:

• Establish a committee to further explore options to address growth.

• Create and hire someone to fill a county retail economic development position.

• Develop joint planning and other ventures between the county, district, municipalities (Bethune, Camden, Elgin) and the Kershaw County Chamber of Commerce.

The ad hoc committee also dived deeper into the areas of mental health initiatives and SRO funding.

Recommendations from the district and law enforcement to the ad hoc committee included:

• Creating and hiring someone for the position of mental health coordinator, with the hiring of more mental health counselors being a possible necessity.

• Finding a way to expand the district’s joint venture with the University of South Carolina and LiveWell Kershaw to provide mental health counselors beyond the North Central area where the venture currently focuses.

• School-based anti-bullying/climate programs and initiatives developed with school improvement councils and other community stakeholders.

• Hiring three additional SROs for the district’s three high schools and eight additional SROs for elementary schools at a cost of $1.1 million for the first year and $781,000 per year in recurring costs. (This would presumably after the current and Fiscal Year 2019 freeze.)

• Purchasing 51 radios -- two per elementary school, three per middle school, four per high school, three for the Applied Technology Education Center (ATEC), and two for the Continuous Learning Center -- to be compatible with law enforcement radio systems at a first-year cost of $214,000 and $13,056 per year in recurring costs.

In order to fund the mental health coordinator and additional school resource officers, the ad hoc committee discussed two options:

• Implement a $10 vehicle fee, exempting vehicle owners who are 70 years of age and older; or

• charge an $85 flat fee to all taxpayers.

Other business discussed:

• Council passed first reading, by title only, of the fiscal year 2018 budget. Councilman Jimmy Jones voted against it, saying he believes the public needs to know exactly what is in the budget at every step in the process.

• Council passed a proclamation honoring Lugoff-Elgin High School Band Director Glenn Price and thanking him for 44 years of service.

• Council heard recommendations regarding ATAX funds distributions.

• Council heard a presentation regarding millage increase request from the Kershaw Count School District.

• Council voted to reschedule its June 12 meeting to June 14 so as not to conflict with primary and general elections being held on June 12.

• Council passed first reading of an ordinance authorizing an agreement between Kershaw County and Central Carolina Technical College regarding use and maintenance of the CCTC campus facilities.

• Council heard a presentation regarding Mental Health Month.

Kershaw County Council meets at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, June 14, in the County Government Center. Meetings are open to the public.

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