County to lose $5M if feds prevail in HB2 lawsuit

By Chrysta Carroll -

ELIZABETHTOWN — Budget-makers and county leaders across the state are scrambling to ascertain the possible repercussions the Justice Department’s lawsuit against North Carolina, which came in the wake of HB2, and to look down the road for possible solutions.

Bladen County leaders are joining the strategists, as the Mother County stands to lose upwards of $5 million if the Justice Department wins.

Paige Worsham, research analyst for the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners, explained, “In its complaint … the U.S Department of Justice alleges violations of three federal laws — Title VII of the Civil Rights Act … Title IX of the Education Amendments … and the Violence Against Women Act.

“If the court finds a violation under any (or all) of these laws, the federal funds that Bladen County receives through these laws — for example, any education programs in the Bladen County school system or the Bladen Community College receiving federal funds/federal aid under Title IX — could be at risk,” she added.

Also, Worsham said, any programs in Bladen County that receive federal funds or grants flowing through the Department of Public Safety could risk losing those funds if the court finds a violation of the Violence Against Women Act.

The potential impact on Bladen Community College, however, might not be as large as one would initially think.

“We’re concerned,” said BCC President William Findt, “but this is a small portion of our budget. It would cause us to lose $124,000, and our budget is between $8 million and $9 million.”

The $124,000 in Title IX money that would be lost funds programs, Findt said, like basic skills, career and technical programs, including $45,000 that funds students coming in to finish high school. The money is also used for faculty upgrades, equipment, and faculty inservices.

Pell Grant money, which aids 70 percent of the college’s students, probably will not be ask risk, because, Findt said, it goes directly to students and not to the college.

“That’s what (North Carolina Community College System) attorneys believe to be the case, anyway,” Findt stated about Pell money, “but we won’t know until the court case is resolved.”

Across the state, community colleges stand to lose $25 million in federal funding.

While the impact on BCC may not be crushing, at least percentage-wise, the opposite appears to be the case for Bladen County’s public school system.

“It would have a tremendously negative impact,” said Bladen County Schools Chief Finance Officer Sharon Penny.

The budget changes annually, so it is impossible to know the exact amount, but, by way of comparison, the system received $5,171,353 in federal funding for the 2015-16 school year. Out of a $44 million total yearly budget, roughly 13 percent would be wiped out, according to Penny.

“I’m assuming all of that money would be at risk,” she said.

Penny reported that federal money is used to fund programs such as Exceptional Children and Migrant Services and is used, among other things, to buy supplies, pay teachers and assistants, and provide staff development.

Bladen County Manager Greg Martin was not discouraged, however, about the potential hit to his office’s budget.

“When the threat of the federal shut-down took place a couple of years ago, there was a lot of conversation with state officials about the impact of federal withholding of funds,” he said, “and there just hasn’t been lot of conversation about this.”

He added, “We’re still in contact with NCACC, but it appears at this point to be affecting education more than anything else.”

With extra dollars hard to find in any budget these days, leaders may have a while to figure things out, though.

“The process to bring this to resolution would take a couple of years,” said Findt. “It’s not going to happen next year.”

He added, “We could find other ways to supplement the income.”

Obama has publicly said that federal money will not be withheld while the case is pending.

Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.

By Chrysta Carroll

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