Spending concerns addressed

Published 11:25 am Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Charlotte County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gary Walker expressed personal concerns involving county spending Tuesday during the regular meeting of the Supervisors.

Gary Walker

“As my two year term as Chairman of your Board of Supervisors comes to an end, I feel that I must make you the taxpayers of Charlotte aware of where we stand,” said Walker.

He said in his beliefs, he was not representing the Board of Supervisors, but only himself.

Previously, taxes were raised to pay for the new Charlotte County Courthouse four years ago.

Walker said he is most concerned about what money is being spent on in the County now.

“With just the spending that has already been done, the tax rate increase that I estimate will be approximately 12 cents on the levy. That is more than a 20 percent increase,” he said.

Currently, the real estate tax rate in Charlotte County is $0.53/$100, based on a 100 percent assessment ratio, according to the County’s website.

“As you know, the county borrowed $6 million for the school system to pay to replace the HVAC system at Eureka Elementary, buy 17 new buses and to repair the roof and make other repairs at Randolph-Henry,” said Walker.

He said the debt service for those projects would be about $525,000 each year and the board recently voted to spend over $3 million on an addition to Phenix Elementary School.

Walker said the debt service would be $325,000 a year for that project.

“That project does not address most of the structural issues in the existing building which will have to be financed in the future,” he said.

Walker said the County is also in the process of replacing fire, rescue, school and Sheriff’s Department communications.

“Bids for this on a lease basis will be $300,000- $500,000 per year,” he said. “This project will hopefully give communications capability to cover the entire county.”

Additionally, Walker said County employees have only seen a 2 percent salary increase within the last three years and some are even paying increased health insurance premiums.

He said the aforementioned items have already been committed to.

“Currently, there are additional discussions to do more spending priced at $6.5 million for more improvements to the school system. The School Board has decided they wanted to save the two local elementary schools. The spending to do that will cost millions more in the years to come and maintenance costs will only continue to rise with no saving that consolidation would have brought,” he said.

Walker said the $3.2 million elementary school renovations has locked out the possibility of consolidation.

At Bacon-District and Phenix Elementary, previously in June, PPEA proposal plans included a fixed price identified at $3.2 million to include the addition of a 6,000 square foot multipurpose facility at both Bacon District and Phenix Schools and the addition of eight classrooms at Phenix, which would replace mobile classroom units.

Superintendent of Charlotte County Schools Dr. Nancy Leonard said previously the focus was on security and accessibility, at which the entire team met at the two schools to do a walk through.

“The scope of parameters of what we were looking for was what we could do to improve accessibility and security of our schools that would go beyond the $3.2 million but reach a $6 million cap,” she said at that time.

“I am not telling you that the projects are not needed,” Walker said. “I am trying to tell you that we can’t afford to do all of this now.”

He said a long range plan for capital improvements should be spread out over the course of years and should not be pushed to meet any personal or political agenda.

“I hope that I am wrong and the sky is not really falling,” Walker said. “But, I feel obligated to let you the citizens of Charlotte know what I see after 43 years serving you in local government.”