Budget workshops: schools seek funding, summer camp returns

By Catharin Shepard • Staff writer • Hoke County Parks and Recreation will bring back its summer camp programs after apparently working out a plan with Hoke County Schools to once again use the school system’s facilities to host the camp.

When Hoke County Commissioners met last month with department leaders to hear budget presentations, several commissioners spoke strongly in favor of bringing back the popular camp sessions. The camps were put on hold in 2020 due to the pandemic, but local leaders felt the time was right to attempt to bring them back.

Initially the school system did not want to have outside groups using the facilities – a precaution taken during the pandemic – but commissioners sought to communicate with the school system to work out a plan to do so once more. After the budget presentations, held over three days on May 18, 19 and 25, that seemed set to happen.

Following the first two sessions, Commission Chairman Allen Thomas posted on his Facebook, “Hoke County Parks and Recreation will be having Summer Camp this year! Special thanks to the Hoke County School System for allowing us to use one of their facilities. More details coming soon!”

During Parks and Recreation Director Dr. Sad’a Rascoe’s budget presentation, she and the board members also discussed working to expand some Parks and Recreation sports teams. The director and commissioners were considering a plan to send sign-up information about sports teams home with students through school classrooms in the future, in order to better spread the word about what’s available.

For information on the latest Parks and Recreation programs for kids, adults and senior citizens, visit https://www.hokecounty.net/161/Parks-Recreation.

Additionally, the county opened the splash pad water playground this week for the summer season. The splash pad is located inside the county sports complex on Red Springs Road. The hours of operation for the season are Monday – Saturday 10 a.m. – 7 p.m., Sunday 1 p.m.- 7 p.m.

School budget requests

Hoke County Schools’ local budget request for the 2022-23 fiscal year asked for more funding than was suggested in the county manager’s recommended budget. The county manager’s proposed budget ordinance outlined $625 per student, with an estimated 9,500 students, for a total of about $5.9 million. The school system requested $675 per student, with an estimated 9,500 students, for a total of about $6.4 million. It will be up to county commissioners to determine how much of that amount in local tax dollars will go to the schools.

Among school capital improvement projects on the docket for the upcoming year are installing fencing at East Hoke Middle School to help with traffic flow, a new maintenance storage building, HVAC work at the school system main office and other maintenance and repair work at various schools. The school system requested a capital outlay contribution from the county of about $1.2 million, which is also the amount in the manager’s proposed budget.

Superintendent Dr. Debra Dowless also discussed a plan in the works to connect Rockfish Hoke Elementary School to the county sewer lines. The county has been working on several sewer line expansion projects to make sewer service connections more available in more parts of the county, particularly the Rockfish area.

Dowless said the school system is looking into costs associated with switching the elementary school to county sewer.

“We love the idea of being able to connect Rockfish Hoke to sewer. Right now we’re just looking at some design ideas and possibilities, and looking at quotes of what that design could look like to most efficiently connect the sewer lines to Rockfish Hoke. We are very excited about that project,” she said.

The school and county leaders did not get into details about the plans for an on-site replacement of the Gibson side of Hoke County High School, but did briefly discuss the plan. The school system has received a total of $40 million in grant funding from the state education lottery needs-based school construction funds, and plans to use it to build a new facility at the crowded Hoke High campus.

Budget public hearing

The first draft budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year came out to a total of just over $64.3 million. The initially proposed draft includes a five percent cost of living pay increase for county employees. Four out of five of the county commissioners verbally acknowledged they support cutting the county’s property tax rate this year, from 75 cents to 73 cents per $100 valuation.

The county has not voted yet on a budget ordinance. The board will hold a public hearing this month to allow citizens to make any comments about the proposed budget. The county must pass a balanced budget ordinance before the start of the new fiscal year July 1.

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