Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Corolla Area Working on a Charter School

Optimism is growing that Corolla may one day have a Charter School in town. It has even gotten the interest of the County Commissioners. Below is a report from a recent town hall style meeting that took place in Corolla.

Task force continues to develop plans

By Toby Tate
Staff Writer

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Currituck County commissioners have thrown their support behind a proposal to bring a charter school to the county’s Outer Banks.

Board Chairman Owen Etheridge said Monday that commissioners are “committed” to seeing a charter school in Corolla, and will do whatever they can to support organizers’ efforts.

“From what I’ve seen, charter schools have been successful in North Carolina,” he said. “If they go about this the right way with organization and set up and find some good teachers, I think they will be able to get (the school) off the ground.”

Etheridge and other commissioners discussed the idea of a charter school on the Outer Banks during a “town hall” meeting with Corolla residents several weeks ago.

Meghan Agresto, manager of the Currituck Beach Lighthouse and a parent spearheading the charter school effort, said she left the meeting “feeling incredibly positive” about commissioners’ support.

“Three of them came up to me — (Vance) Aydlett, Etheridge, and (Paul) O’Neal — and they said they think this is an incredible idea and (to) let us know what we can do to help,” Agresto said.

Agresto and several other Outer Banks residents, including Sylvia Wolff, Sharon Twiddy, Bren Robbins, Susan Taylor, Julie Allen and Ilze Drozds-Russano, make up the Corolla School Task Force. The group has been meeting since February to develop a plan for opening a charter school in Corolla by the fall of 2011.

Although charter schools are publicly funded, they’re different from traditional schools in that they’re not controlled by local public school districts. Usually charter schools are controlled by a local board of directors that is responsible for ensuring students meet the same educational standards as their peers in traditional schools.

Under state law, charter schools have to be approved by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction. So far, there are 98 charter schools in North Carolina, the closest being Washington Montessori School in Beaufort County.

Agresto said the Corolla charter school task force still needs to incorporate, apply for non-profit status and apply to DPI by February in order to meet its deadline of fall 2011.

One of the chief matters DPI will weigh before approving the task force’s request is the proposed charter school’s financial viability.

“In order to balance the budget, we have to prove to DPI that we can balance (our budget) with the money that follows the children the first year,” she said.

The group also has to elect members to a non-profit board, have those board members receive training in school policy and administration, and find a site for the school.

“We have some good leads on locations” for a school building, she said. “We are communicating with people who are interested.”

Since the school would be a nonprofit entity, any donations, such as a building, could be used as a tax credit, Agresto said.

Agresto believes the school could be more than an educational resource; it also could be another economic draw for the Outer Banks, she says.

“I think people here realize it would be good for commerce if school wasn’t an impediment to living here,” she said. “Even if people were commuting, they could bring their kids with them — people like to be close to their kids. We think that if we build it, they will come.”

The task force plans to meet sometime next week to discuss its next move, Agresto said.

“We really need to meet and educate ourselves” about the charter-school process, she said. “But it looks like if we jump head first into this that the community will be behind us.”

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Currituck Keeps Property Taxes the Same

One piece of good news in this economy is that property owners in the 4WD area won't have an increase in their taxes this year. Through of series of cuts, reserves, and responsibility, the tax rate will remain at $.32 per $100.00. Below is the full article from the Daily Advance:

No tax hike in Currituck's proposed $65M budget
Scanlon cites lower spending

CURRITUCK — Currituck County Manager Dan Scanlon says it pays to have a significant reserve account, and Currituck is proving that in next year’s county budget.

Unlike their peers in neighboring counties, Currituck commissioners don’t face having to raise property taxes or fees to balance the county’s proposed $65 million spending plan, and one of the biggest reasons, Scanlon says, is the county’s decision to keep sufficient funds in reserve.

“When we were in the boom of the economy we took a lot of heat for having reserves; now we can see how wise it was to have reserves,” Scanlon said in his budget message to Currituck commissioners earlier this week. “We certainly don’t seem to be having some of the struggles our (local) communities (are having) because we’ve been able to maintain adequate reserves.”

The Chowan County Board of Commissioners voted earlier this week to raise that county’s property tax rate by 3.5 cents next year. The Pasquotank County commissioners are also considering raising property taxes to balance the county’s budget for next year.

While other counties are cutting jobs and trimming workers’ salaries and hours, Currituck plans to give its employees a cost-of-living raise next year.

“We’re probably one of the few counties in northeast North Carolina that is fortunate enough to be able to provide a 2 percent cost-of-living raise for our county employees,” Scanlon said.

Currituck’s property tax rate remains at 32 cents per $100 of property valuation in next year’s proposed budget. That means someone with a $100,000 house would pay $320 in property taxes next year.

Crafting a balanced budget for next year without any tax or fee hikes was even more of a challenge, Scanlon said, because of the current economic recession. With 66 percent of the county’s tax base on the Outer Banks, Currituck’s revenues are significantly affected by swings in the real estate market, and right now the swing has been downward, he said.

“Our tax base expands for one of two reasons — people buying selling real-estate, or people building something on the land,” he said. “Land transfer taxes peaked in 2005 and ... (there has been a) drastic drop-off in land transfer taxes from 2005 to (the present.) Not only is the number of transactions decreasing, the values of the transactions themselves are decreasing.”

Sales tax revenue has also plateaued, Scanlon said.

“Sales tax has not only become flat but we’re actually starting to see a drop in sales tax,” he said.

Currituck’s 32-cent property tax rate generated more than $25 million last year, while sales taxes contributed about $4 million.

One thing that has helped, Scanlon said, is the county’s decision to lower overall spending over the past seven years.

“We have been systematically lowering our budget versus getting to a point where we’re absorbing a big hit at one time,” Scanlon said.

Next year’s proposed spending plan, for example, includes a $44 million general fund budget — a 6 percent decrease from the current year’s budget that ends June 30. The overall budget is about 4.8 percent less than this year’s spending plan.

Education is the single largest expense in next year’s proposed budget — $10 million. The spending plan also allocates $5 million for emergency medical services, another $5 million for the Currituck Sheriff’s Department, $4 million for the Department of Social Services and about $2 million for the county jail.

The county also had to absorb an 11.71 percent increase in health insurance costs for county workers.

The budget proposal also spends $310,000 developing the 4-H Cultural Life Center — commonly referred to as the “horse farm.” Monies have also been included to upgrade the Planning Department’s Unified Development Ordinance and develop the Maple Commerce Park. Another spending priority for next year is development of a community center, Scanlon said.

Besides the county’s proposed $44 million general fund, Currituck anticipates an occupancy tax fund of $7 million and an enterprise fund of $11 million.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Commissioner Gets Carova Beach Staffed with EMS for Summer Season

It appears the Daily Advance was able to pick up scent. Here is the link to their article . The earlier article is posted below:

Previous Post: June 6th, 2009
With a career background in EMS and Fire Service, Commissioner Vance Aydlett knows how important response times are in emergency situations. The off-road area has historically always had a low call volume when it comes to emergencies, but a response time that many felt was too long. Commissioner Aydlett has set out to do something about it. "I sat down with the County Manager and the EMS Director and told them I wanted some sort of plan to provide an enhanced EMS service for the Carova Beach Area."

Aydlett's initial goal was to provide 24 hour EMS service from the Carova Beach Fire Station but because of other budgetary concerns within the County, the Board of Commissioners ultimately agreed to providing two full-time EMS personnel and ambulance coverage from 9AM-9PM, 7 days a week. Coverage is beginning this weekend and will continue through the tourist season until mid-October.

This is a great step in providing better emergency services to the year round residents and seasonal vacationers. I know it is hard for some to place a great deal of importance on providing more services for so few calls, but for the person making that call, there is no service more important.

Commissioner Aydlett, thanks.