At a special meeting on Thursday, the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners reviewed the millions of dollars flowing in and out of its administration and discussed ways to make it more financially secure now and in the future.
“We pride ourselves on being a very fiscally conservative county, and we’ve enjoyed that,” Commissioner Jimmy Keefe said.
Currently, the county allocates 10% of its annual expenditures — or $31.8 million — to an unrestricted fund balance within the general fund. On Thursday, county staff were asking to increase that “savings account” to 15-20%, which is well above the state’s 8% requirement.
The state is requiring 8% from the general fund so counties can pay for a month’s worth of expenses, should something drastic happen financially.
Keefe, however, expressed concern about the increase in the county savings account to 20%. “Five percent is millions and millions of dollars,” he said. “I would like to see the money invested in the community.”
At 10%, the current savings account is $31.8 million, according to chief financial officer Vicki Evans. At 15%, it would be $62.5 million.
Evans said increasing the fund balance percentage to 15-20% would help the county do better financially statewide and give the county more leeway to allocate funds to special projects.
In response, Keefe made a motion to increase the county savings account to 12-15%. Commissioners Toni Stewart, Michael Boose and Larry Lancaster agreed, while Commissioner Jeannette Council dissented without an explanation of her reason. Commissioners Glenn Adams and Charles Evans were not present for the vote.
County on Request for Full School Funding
In addition to the general fund, the county also has a dedicated fund for schools using sales and lottery taxes.
Using a predictive model, DEC Associates, a financial planning firm, said it would likely be possible to allocate $220 million to schools over multiple years, half of the $440 million requested from schools in County County. Cumberland to carry out repairs and renovations.
“Vickie and I asked DEC to show you what we can afford with this model,” County Executive Amy Cannon said. “It’s not the $440 million.”
Commissioner Glenn Adams said he wanted a list of school system priorities. “I don’t know if I can say, ‘I’ll give you X dollars,’ if I don’t know if that’s critical or not,” he said.
Adams added that he plans to give the school system less than $125 million, or 72% less than the school’s request. “At some point, we have to figure out how much of the repairs and renovations we’re willing to do,” he said. “That’s when we can afford, but that’s what we’re going to do.”
Also, on Monday, the school system asked county commissioners for approval to apply for a $50 million grant for a new EE Smith High School, which was not part of the school’s original $440 million request. . If granted, the county will have to provide a 25% counterpart.
“I know the number we find won’t be enough,” Keefe said.
Money for Gray’s Creek?
In addition to general and school funds, the county also has a capital investment fund, which it uses for projects. Currently, the county has $291 million in capital improvement funding. It has already allocated $26 million to projects, which means it has $265 million left.
However, data presented Thursday by DEC Associates showed the county plans to dip into its fund balance, or savings account, for the next 20 years.
“I don’t like to see fund balance drawdowns this low,” said Doug Carter of DEC Associates. “We have to work on that a bit.”
DEC Associates made this prediction without including the estimated $7 million for the Gray’s Creek water project, which county commissioners are currently considering.
If the county commissioners decided to do the Gray’s Creek project, “That’s when we hire future councils because we’ll have the debt service,” Keefe said. “Our numbers would be amazing if it wasn’t for them.”
The council has not made any decision regarding the future of the Gray’s Creek water project.