Money grab

By Steve Woodward

Nick Picerno can’t sleep. He is having nightmares. But when he awakens, the nightmares persist.

The newest member of the Moore County Board of Commissioners — appointed to replace the late Louis Gregory — is also a former two-term commissioner and its chair as recently as 2016. Picerno is tired of answering to the false narratives that have driven reckless spending during the Wuhan Virus pandemic. 

“Several sources of funding came down from the federal government,” Picerno said during a live radio interview on WEEB on April 7. “They were very nice printing money and creating hyper-inflation. Print more money, (prices) go up. The Moore County (board of commissioners) is sitting at $19.4 million in COVID relief.

“(But) schools got a huge chunk as well. A good question for your school board members is, ‘How much did we get? How much did we spend? What did we spend it for?’ Show me that data, and don’t just tell me that data. Show me in a spreadsheet or a financial statement of transactions. Let’s say this, it was substantially more than what the county got.”

Who knows the number?

Says Picerno: “I do. It’s in excess of $33 million.” He also knows that $19 million has yet to be allocated. Against that backdrop, the school board is asking for a $7.7 million increase in its 2022-23 budget, 19.4 percent. When will the school board tell us how it will spend the $19 million? It did not come up during the April 11 Board of Education meeting.

Picerno has been around long enough to know that there is an insatiable appetite for funding requests by the the school board, even when there already is money in the coffers. 

“In 2016 we had a plan to build three schools,” he said. “(The school board was) not interested. They were not interested at that time. All they were fixated on was the Advanced Career Center at Sandhills (Community College).

“We knew they needed seats (more classrooms) at Farm Life and Vass. We were ready to build an elementary school. We had the money in the bank. No bonds needed. So what happened? Finally, in 2018, they figured out they needed to build an elementary school, and then three more elementary schools, and then a gymnasium in North Moore, and all of this stuff, and the bottom line is they went to the voters and the voters gave them a quarter-cent in sales tax, then they gave them a bond issue of $103 (million) for just the schools, and I’ll tell you about that. 

“That 103 is not 103. (If) people would take the time to look. When you sell a bond, which we did, one of the ways that you can get a lower interest rate is you sell it and the bond buyers will actually pay you what’s called a bond premium. When I was a commissioner the first time, normally we would take that bond premium and use it to pay (service the) debt. Not this time, the Board of Education came to the Commissioners and that $103 million that we got from the bond ended up costing us $124 million. The effective tax rate we would have gotten if we had kept that (bond) premium would have been about 1.8 percent. And you might say, ‘God, that’s a great mortgage rate’. Well, since we gave them all of the bond premium back, then the actual bond interest rate we are paying is the face value of the bonds — between three and five percent — for the next 20 years. 

“The debt service for Moore County Schools this year, current year, is over $5 million in interest alone. Think about that. Six years of interest payments builds a (new) school.”

The Commissioners cost taxpayers $21 million in 2018. 

Fast forward to the here and now. The school board says it must receive more funds from the commissioners to sustain public education in Moore County. Picerno directed citizens to an onerous document he has reviewed in search of financial transparency, the Annual Comprehensive Financial Report of Moore County.

“It’s not fun to read; it’s very boring,” Picerno said. “There are two pieces in here you should know off the tip of your tongue. Then you really know the numbers. It should be part of your DNA at this point. They say there is not enough funding. I have the numbers… [In 2021] the County gave them $30,350,000. The total revenue for that general fund was $30,753,000. They spent $28 million. They had $2.7 million left over. Is that underfunding? Wouldn’t you like that in your bank account? 

“I can go back to 2020. We budgeted $31.6 million; they spent $30.4 million. That’s $1.1 m left over. These are numbers from audited financial statements. These are the things that need to be communicated to the commissioners. Not language like we’ve got to be ‘tough and bold’. That gets nowhere with me. I don’t know about the other four; I can’t speak for them. But if you can show me the actual numbers and show me why and show me where you’re spending the (COVID) relief money, and how that fits into the plans …”

Nick Picerno is sleep deprived so that citizens can finally be awakened to the budgeting scams that drain our tax-supported resources.

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