By Catharin Shepard • Editor • A raise for the Hoke County Board of Education and money for a new bus garage, 12 cars and five officers for the Hoke County Sheriff’s Office and 10 new staff at the Hoke County Department of Social Services were among the highlights last week presented to commissioners during budget talks.
Departments and agencies that receive local funding presented their annual budget requests to the Hoke County Board of Commissioners. Commissioners will consider which items to include and make adjustments as County Manager Letitia Edens and county finance staff prepare the recommended budget. The county will hold a public hearing on the proposed budget at an upcoming commission meeting, before commissioners vote to approve a budget ordinance.
The budget request presentations took place during a three-day workshop with county department leaders, and the leadership of the Hoke County Sheriff’s Office, Hoke County Schools and multiple nonprofits making their pitch for funding.
Three of the departments that make up the majority of the county’s local spending each year are public safety (Hoke County Sheriff’s Office and jail), Hoke County Schools and Hoke County DSS. As of the county’s most recent audit from the 2020-21 fiscal year, those three departments along with general government and debt service expenses accounted for about 95 percent of all county expenditures.
The Hoke County Sheriff’s Office requested a total of $10,387,389 for its 2023-2024 department budget, an increase of about $1.1 million from its 2022-2023 budget. The capital outlay total requested was $358,700 and included items such as ammunition, new patrol rifles and new body cameras.
The biggest item on the Hoke County Sheriff’s request this year was 12 new cars at a total cost of $1,046,900. The vehicles would cost about $576,000 to purchase, with the rest of the funds going to up-fit and equip the vehicles with cameras, radios, cages and other necessary equipment; and to pay the registration and taxes on them.
Sheriff Roderick Virgil said the vehicles would go to school resource officers and deputies who work at the courthouse, among others. Those officers haven’t had new cars in a long time, and their vehicles run around 154,000 to over 191,000 miles, Virgil said.
The sheriff discussed with commissioners the possibility of setting up a future car replacement schedule, which would see the county paying for five or six new vehicles every year. The goal is to “catch up” with the need and then remain on a regular schedule, Virgil explained.
Virgil also updated officials on the department, saying that the sheriff’s office is “basically fully staffed” right now, though the jail is not fully staffed at present.
The department also requested five new positions to add to the sheriff’s office, including one officer who will be a dedicated homicide investigator, and four deputies who will be added to the patrol duties to provide protection for the county.
Other requests included:
•An increase of $300,000 for salaries and wages at the sheriff’s office, for a total of $4,620,074.
•An increase of $100,000 for overtime salaries and wages at the sheriff’s office, for a total of $350,000.
•A request of $221,000 for law enforcement officer supplemental, the same requested as last year.
•Equipment to outfit the department’s new Search and Rescue unit, including $10,000 for three suits for underwater recovery and Hazmat compliance, $12,000 for a Combi Tool used for Search and Recovery, and other items.
•Training and education classes being offered in person allowing officers more training opportunities, $80,000.
•New uniform upfit for new officers and to replace outdated equipment, $70,000.
•A request of $170,000 to replace patrol vehicles involved in accidents that need to be replaced.
•Additional funds for increases in FICA, retirement contributions, hospitalization insurance for staff.
Hoke County Schools
Hoke County Schools requested $6,887,500 in current expenses, up from $5.9 million last year; and over $11 million in capital outlay. The increase in capital outlay was due to requests for $4 million for a new bus garage to replace the outdated garage, which has condition issues; and $6 million to buy land for a new school. Details on where the land purchase would be, or what type of new school it would be for were not discussed at the meeting.
The school district proposed a raise for school board members, bus drivers, bus monitors and mechanics and other staff. The district provided a draft copy of the itemized current expense budget, which the school board approved April 25. Some of the items the school district requested were as follows:
•The total stipend fund for school board members would increase from $25,800 to $63,600, an increase of $37,800. Other Board of Education funding changes included adding a new supplement of $12,000; Board of Education legal fees fund increased from $100,000 to $125,000; and an increase in Social Security of $3,809.70. Other changes included a decrease of $10,000 in staff development, going from $50,000 to $40,000, and a decrease of $25,000 in membership and dues from $75,000 to $50,000. Total local expense for all Board of Education items: $440,457.37, up $58,383.67 from last year.
•An increase in the salary for central office staff from $23,980.39 to $140,000, an increase of $116,019.61; this was less than requested in the proposed budget last year, which asked for but did not receive $169,150.70.
•An increase in the salary for bus drivers, bus monitors and mechanics, amounting to about $367,000 total. The increase would bring the minimum pay for a bus driver in Hoke County Schools to at least $18 an hour.
•An increase in travel/recruitment moving expenses for teachers, going from $10,000 to $75,000, an increase of $65,000; and adding a $5,000 scholarship.
•A $100 increase in per-student funding, from $625-$725, amounting to an increase of $950,000 over last year’s funding.
•$469,955 in money to transfer to charter schools attended by Hoke County students, up from $388,722.39 last year.
•The capital outlay of $11 million included $6 million to buy land for a future new school; $4 million for a new bus garage; $570,000 for the one-to-one initiative that provides Chromebooks and iPads to all students; and $650,000 for a security camera upgrade at Hoke High. Aside from the land and bus garage funding, the capital outlay worked out to about $2 million, an $800,000 increase over last year’s funding.
The capital outlay budget also included funding for maintenance projects at county school buildings, including $75,000 for plumbing in the cafeteria at Scurlock Elementary, and $200,000 for new flooring and shower walls in the locker rooms at East and West Hoke Middle. Several schools will also receive roof restorations.
Commissioner Tony Hunt said the county and school board may need to look for compromise on the budget due to the roughly $13 million increase the school district requested.
“There’s nothing we’re facing today that we haven’t faced last year or the year before…We have to be realistic about it. If we incorporated everything that you’ve got here into our budget, we would have to find $13 million to do that. We need to think about us being realistic about what we’re doing. I’m just speaking for Tony Hunt,” he said.
Hunt said he hoped the leadership would be thinking about “where do we find a compromise.”
In remarks at the end of the presentation, school board Chairwoman Angela Southerland said it would be hard to compromise on the things the district has asked for.
“I just want to say thank you again for having us. I know Tony Hunt said compromise. It’s going to be hard to compromise, chair, salaries, land, because we’re looking at the future. If you’re looking at the schools, especially the elementary schools, they’re overflooding,” Southerland said.
The Hoke County Department of Social Services anticipated a total county expense of $10,560,622, offset by about $5.6 million in revenues, leaving a total county cost of $4,927,498.
That amount includes costs for operating required programs including Child and Adult Protective Services, Child Support, Food Stamps and local matches for other programs, according to the budget documents. The amount is up slightly from $4,481,150 in fiscal year 2022-2023.
The department requested 10 new agency positions, including four staff to help with the upcoming Medicaid expansion, two social workers in foster care, one social worker in Adult Protective Services, one staff member for Family Support Services, one foreign language interpreter, and one Child Support Agent. Salaries for those positions ranged from $31,200 plus fringe benefits for the foreign language interpreter, to $46,477 plus fringe benefits for the two foster care workers. The total salary plus fringe benefits cost worked out to $632,611, at a 46 to 52 percent reimbursement rate.
The department receives the majority of its funding from federal and state sources. The department has an overall budget of $133,932,794. Of that amount, 68 percent comes from federal funding, 27 percent comes from state funding and 5 percent comes from Hoke County local funding.
The total county cost of about $4.9 million breaks down to:
•$73,000 for the DSS Annex
•$200,000 for special assistance
•$1,486,759 for the Work First Block Grant
•$3,167,739 for programs and operating costs
The documents referenced are available to view below: