School board right to pay debt under library lease

info@islandpacket.comSeptember 11, 2012 

Beaufort County school board member Michael Rivers made some very good points in the discussion over $150,000 owed to Beaufort County as a result of a library lease at St. Helena Elementary School.

It's money from taxpayers, no matter how you look at it.

The only thing that changes is who gets to decide what to do with it -- the school board or County Council.

He's also right that the school district had a much larger financial beef with County Council over money owed the school district under the New River tax-increment financing agreement. The money raised through that special tax district paid for the University of South Carolina Beaufort and Technical College of the Lowcountry campuses in southern Beaufort County.

By the district's reckoning, it is owed about $20 million. The county owned up to not paying the district the money owed for students who live in the tax district and fixed that. The district hasn't pushed for money it says is past due.

But the school board wants the county to abide by the agreement it signed going forward, and the board is right to honor its commitments, too.

It decided last week to pay the $150,000 (if the county insists) and to take the money from its capital funds, which are for repairing and building schools. That is an appropriate source; the money the county loaned to the school district helped pay for St. Helena Elementary's construction in 1992. And using that money won't have an impact on funding for day-to-day operations.

County Council hasn't said whether it would insist on the payment, but if it does, we repeat our previous plea: Use the money to expand hours at the Bluffton and Hilton Head Island libraries.

The money would come as a result of the county's opening the new $11.1 million St. Helena library. Budget pressures from having to pay to operate that new library have contributed to funding cuts at the other two branches. That relatively small amount would have a big impact for patrons of two very busy libraries.

Otherwise, it might be best to forget the debt and move on, as the district did with its past-due bill on the tax-increment financing district.

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