Union Co. officials to appeal $91M verdict in public schools trial

by: Kathryn Burcham Updated:

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UNION COUNTY, N.C. —

Union County officials will appeal the $91 million verdict a jury awarded to Union County Public Schools last week.

The lawyer for the county commissioners filed the notice to appeal in Monroe on Thursday morning.

The forewoman for the jury, Kim Courtwright, told Eyewitness News she is not surprised by the county's decision to appeal, but is disappointed.

"We made a good educated decision based on the evidence provided," Courtright said.

Courtright, who is a missionary in Asia and runs a school for orphans and impoverished children, said evidence clearly showed Union County had millions of dollars sitting in its general fund, and that the school district had immediate needs that had to be funded.

"There's enough money that the county has that they can just write out the check right now to the schools," Courtright said.

But county officials are disputing that statement, telling Channel 9 the budget figures presented to the jury at trial were last year's funds and have since been earmarked and spent on other county departments, including the Sheriff's Office, the Health Department, and Veteran's Affairs.

"The monies that they looked at, I assume came from previous years, but as we speak right now, we only have $26 million," said commissioner Jonathan Thomas.

Thomas said that $26 million would empty the county's savings, and the county would be forced to raise property taxes by as much as 48 percent to make up the difference to pay the verdict.

County officials said for a $100,00 home, that would be an extra $277 on this year's tax bill; for a $400,000 it would be an increase of $1,108.

"If we did not file the appeal, we would have had no choice but to put undue pressure on our taxpayers, and basically shut down any kind of economic development in Union County," Thomas said.

Taxpayers who spoke with Eyewitness News were horrified by the possibility of such a steep tax increase.

"I think we got a load now without trying to shove more over on us. They need to live in our shoes a while and maybe they might wake up," said resident Charles Greene.