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Budget Compromise Reached In Cumberland County

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FAYETTEVILLE — After weeks of negotiations and accusations of fuzzy math, Cumberland County commissioners and school leaders have come to an agreement in their funding dispute.

In an emergency meeting with commissioners Friday morning, board members voted 6 to 2 to accept the county's proposal, ending an impasse that was headed to court.Earlier, commission members voted unanimously to make the offer.

The county had offered schools a $51.2 million budget -- $5.7 million less than last year. The school system argued that with new mandates and two new schools opening, they needed the money back.

In their agreement, the county will give the school system an extra $4 million in the 2002 fiscal year and up to $1.7 million if a one-cent proposed sales tax is passed.

However, not everyone is pleased.

County commission chairman Lee Warren says the agreement will force the county to increase property taxes by 2.5 cents.

"I don't know that happy is a good word," he says. "I think we are somewhat encouraged that finally the Board of Education has been willing to move from their $5.7 million mark."

A majority of board members say that the deal will work because of news it just received an additional $800,000 in federal funds.

Still, board member Michael Boose and chairwoman Diane Wheatley voted against the proposal.

Under the agreement, the school board believes it will be able to keep middle school sports programs and several teaching positions which were set to be cut.

As part of the agreement, initial talks have begun for the next budget year. At that time, the negotiations will start at $57.15 million -- ahead of what the school board started at this year.

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