In interviews Wednesday, officials in Martin and Beaufort counties revealed they were unsure how much revenue the numbers game could bank for their local governments.
Also uncertain was exactly what the lottery money could be used for and whether lawmakers would change proceeds-distribution methods and cut funding in other areas.
"I, personally, still have a lot that I need to understand about the rules on how you can spend the new revenues," said Beaufort County Manager Paul Spruill.
"I think I can safely say that, if we get money ... then that will be more than we have today," commented Martin County Manager Russell Overman. "As long as the state is not going to turn around and cut other sources and supplant these sources with the new revenues."
Beaufort County faces annual debt of around $3 million in future fiscal years because of the $33 million school bond initiative county voters approved last year.
Martin County has at least $17.1 million in "critical" school-building-and-renovation needs, the Board of Education says.
Before the 11th-hour passage of the lottery Tuesday, commissioners in both counties had approved signing on to bills to elevate the sales tax by a half-cent.
The sales tax increase would raise money for school construction projects in the counties attached to the bills, provided the counties' voters say "OK" in referenda.
The sales tax bills — two of them — got through the House, but the Senate didn't take them up before adjourning for the year. Local and state officials have expressed confidence the measures will make it through the Senate in next spring's short session.
But, even with the money a sales tax and lottery could bring, there might not be enough cash on hand to cover all of the yearly debt for Beaufort County Schools' building needs without property tax increases, Spruill acknowledged. There are just too many unknowns to be sure, he said.
"At a staff level, I'm thankful that local governments have more options, depending on the way our citizenry feels about the implementation of those options," Spruill stated.
Beaufort County Commissioner Jay McRoy holds out hope the county's tax base will grow enough to pad coffers without a sales tax hike.
"I'm not a supporter of the lottery," McRoy noted, later adding he objects to gambling for moral reasons.
"But, knowing the state Legislature," he continued, "what they would probably do down the road is they would take the position that, well, the counties are getting 'X' number of dollars from the lottery, we're going to take that away from the educational money that we've been getting and spend it somewhere else."
Martin County Schools Superintendent Tom Daly harbors the same fear.
"My concern with the lottery is that I don't know if this will be new money on top of what we have already been getting or whether they will use some of this to supplant what they have already provided us," Daly said.
If the Legislature stays on track with previous revenue-allocation formulae and lets the lottery channel dollars to schools, the impact will be positive, Daly indicated.
Still, he concluded, "We just don't know where it's going."
Projected lottery proceeds for school construction
Fiscal year 2006-2007:
- Beaufort County — $554,810
- Hyde County — $96,612
- Martin County — $659,369
- Washington County — $314,770
Source: Legislature's Fiscal Research Division, Raleigh