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Letter: Balancing the county budget on the backs of children
Dr. Frank Morgan, Camden
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During the upcoming budget process, Kershaw County Council has the opportunity to correct a situation that was not originally handled by council in a fair and appropriate manner.

Until recently, the Kershaw County School District has received two-thirds of all Fee in Lieu of Taxes (FILOT) agreements with businesses.  Likewise, when a FILOT agreement had to be renegotiated and a refund paid, the district was expected to pay two-thirds of the refund.  Over the past 10 years or so, the district has repaid more than $1.5 million that had already been spent on teachers, supplies, library books, and other things needed to educate students. Interestingly, there was no choice in the matter for the district. The county simply took the money.

However, this longstanding arrangement changed with the KershawHealth FILOT, which amounts to approximately $1 million per year. The district’s normal share of this amount would have been about $660,000.  Over the past two years, this would have meant more than  $1.2 million to fund teachers and school resource officers; and expanded academic, arts and workforce programs. As it developed its budgets for both fiscal years 2017-18 and 2018-19, council chose in a fit of political expediency to use the entire $1 million of the KershawHealth FILOT revenue to balance its own budget.

Regrettably, the school district was not informed about this and only learned what had happened because of changes in government accounting regulations. The intentional lack of transparency remains troubling.  What is equally concerning is that all of this occurred while council was strongly pressuring the district to fund an even larger share of the cost of school resource officers.  Isn’t council the entity that is supposed to fund public safety?

When the district became aware of this situation, the county’s response was that because the schools had never received any funding through tax revenue from KershawHealth, the money wouldn’t be missed.  Interesting logic. So if Kershaw County ever does get a major company to come here, would the same logic be used to prevent the schools from receiving any of the FILOT revenue involved? Is it even legal to withhold FILOT revenue from the schools? Some very reputable legal sources have told me it is not. Should litigation be pursued to resolve this question?

During a presentation I made to council this past spring, Chairman Julian Burns stated that the financial arrangement with KershawHealth is not a FILOT. This doesn’t make sense.

If a payment is being made to the county by KershawHealth in place of a conventional property tax payment, then it’s a FILOT and the school district should receive its normal portion. It’s not complicated.

It is clear that for the past two years, council has seen fit to balance its budget on the backs of children. I would respectfully ask council to use the upcoming budget process to make this right and give the schools its fair share of the KershawHealth FILOT. I also hope and trust that parents, teachers, and education advocates will join in this request. It is simply the right thing to do, especially in an All-America community.

(By the way, the schools played a huge role in our community winning this coveted designation.)