CALHOUN COMMISSION TRYING TO ELIMINATE NEARLY $1.8 MILLION CALHOUN SCHOOL DEFICIT – Board President Whited “We’ll Work On It”

By Dianne Weaver

Dianne and Bob Weaver have been ten year advocates for small community schools in West Virginia through Challenge WV

The issue of the Calhoun Commission attempting to use Payment In Lieu Of Taxes (PILOT) funds from a deal with Columbia Pipeline to eliminate the Calhoun school systems almost $1.8 million deficit, is still up in the air.

Calhoun school board president Steve Whited, who met with the commission Monday, assured the commission the school system will continue to work on a solution.

During an earlier meeting with school officials, they said they could not assure the deficit could be eliminated, saying a complicated accounting system used by schools was standing in the way.

Commissioner Kevin Helmick has said, “No matter what kind of accounting system you use, there’s always line items. The school finance officials should be able to pin point which ones are in the red.”

Calhoun Schools is the only county in the state with a deficit, but other counties will likely be going into deficit mode with state funding cutbacks and the decline of coal severance tax in southern counties.

Commission President Bob Weaver asked Whited, “If I was a wealthy man and just wrote you a check for nearly $1.8 million, it (deficit) would not go away?”

Whited said it could not.

Weaver said the accounting system defies reason and logic that most people cannot understand.

He raised the issue of what has been rumored about a $300,000 shortage on the completion of the Arnoldsburg Elementary School, asking Whited to verify if that has been a problem.

Whited said the dollar shortage on the Arnoldsburg Elementary School construction was a problem.

Weaver asked the same question in an inquiry early last year to Superintendent Tim Woodward. Woodward responded that he had never heard anything about a money shortfall with completion of the school.

The commissioners said they felt obligated to help the financial crisis of the local school system by using a PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) proposal from Columbia Pipeline.

If the tax money came through the regular taxation system, schools get 65% and the county gets 35%, but then the state would take nearly all the money from Calhoun Schools.

Commissioner Chip Westfall said, “If the state cuts 90 cents of state funds for every dollar increase in local money, then even a local levy would have to be massive to eliminate the deficit.”

The school system has maintained that all their bills are paid.

Commissioner Helmick told Whited during the meeting, that his analysis of the schools financial picture was bleak, with commissioner Westfall saying, “It’s far worse than I ever expected.”

Helmick said, after reviewing school financials, the 2014 audited financials showed there was approximately $140,000 over drafted in the schools checking account.

“The school went on paying bills during this time frame using money from a restricted funds account, which I believe was suppose to be used for buses,” Helmick said.

Over a four year period, “The alarming number in administration costs increased by $218,118 and student transportation increased by $368,750, even though there is a declining student enrollment.

“Since 2010 the yearly budgets have come closer to being balanced, but the numbers are still a long way off. In 2010 the school over spent by $1,233,287.”

“In 2011 they over spent by $1,244,879. In 2012 they over spent by $502,926. In 2013 they over spent by $462,500, and in 2014 the school over spent by $396,957.

“The total amount our school system over spent in the four year period totals $3,840,549,” Helmick said.

“The school system needs to be more up front with the public regarding issues, the good and the bad. There is a better chance to build public trust,” Helmick concluded.

Board president Whited said he will be reviewing the commissions financial analysis and issues with school officials. Whited said, “We understand our problem and will work on it.”

Commission president Weaver told board president Whited that he appreciated his appearance at the meeting and for board members serving during a difficult time.

Calhoun’s commissioners have indicated unless there is a reasonable solution to helping the school systems financial woes, they will revert to the regular 65/35 tax split.

“The county commission and county taxpayers have little to lose with the 65/35 split, but the school system surely does,” said commissioner Westfall.

The commission has hired a tax attorney to review Columbia Pipeline’s proposal and issues related to distributing money to Calhoun Schools.

See   CALHOUN COMMISSION MEETS WITH COLUMBIA PIPELINE REGARDING TAXATION OF COMPRESSOR STATION – Considers Pilot Proposal Benefiting Calhoun Schools, Funds To Be Applied To $1.7 Million Deficit

The commission is having several work sessions this month directed toward preparing a balanced budget.

In other commission action:

– Minnie Hamilton EMS reported 69 calls in February.

– 911 calls reported for February: State Police (no report); Calhoun Sheriffs Department 11; Grantsville Police Department 24; Natural Resource Police 12; Grantsville VFD 7; Upper West Fork VFD 2; Arnoldsburg VFD 3.

– Approved poll workers for the May Primary.

– Delayed action to clarify Shentel TV Cable franchise

– Sent disputed Charles Murphy estate to a fiduciary for a decision.

– Approved Little Kanawha Area Development Corporation lease.

– Red Cross reported on helping hand program, that needs Calhoun volunteers.