County budget woes

Published 10:13 am Saturday, April 11, 2009

The proposed 2010 Southampton County budget was presented Wednesday night with a $2 million increase over the 2009 budget.

There were no major cuts in the budget. The worst part of the budget is that it suggests spending $1.74 from the reserve fund. An adequate fund balance is necessary to meet seasonal shortfalls in cash, secure and maintain an investment-grade credit rating and reduce susceptibility to emergency or unanticipated expenditures or to revenue shortfalls. Conventional wisdom and good accepted business practices suggest that local governments maintain reserve fund balances of 10 percent to 20 percent of their operating budgets.

With an annual operating budget of $56 million, Southampton’s unappropriated reserve fund balance should be between $5 million and $10 million. At the end of 2008 the fund held $6.5 million.

The draft budget is dependent on the use of up to $1.74 million from the reserve fund. The fund balance could drop to as low as $2 million by July 2010, causing a very big problem in cash flow. The county should cut the budget and not put itself in a situation where we can’t pay our obligations.

What is going to happen over the next three years when the county debt payment will increase on average about $1 million annually when the septic-line payments will start? Spending down the reserve fund doesn’t make sense. Cut the budget.

Now is the time that we can do something about our huge tax bill by telling the supervisors that they must control county spending. The economic situation in the county — and the whole world — dictates fiscal responsibility by everyone.

Our properties are overassessed by 30 percent, yet our tax rate remains high. That is one reason why reassessment will be put off for a year or more.

How can the county officials cut the county budget?

■1. Set up car pools at the office for county and school board personnel. There are too many county vehicles at homes (and grocery stores and businesses) transporting employees to and from work. It is not the responsibility of the citizens to provide them with a car when some are making more than $100,000 in salary and fringe benefits.

■ 2. When needed, purchase more economical cars, not sport utility vehicles, which cost more and require higher upkeep.

■ 3. Use the lowest-bidder process on all county jobs — everything from changing vehicle oil to maintenance to those providing services to the county. Ask to see the county’s monthly bills.

■ 4. We have owned the Turner Tract for several years, and no income has been received from it. We could’ve been receiving income in the form of crop rental instead of having to pay to keep it maintained. Land rental can run as high as $100 acre. We could put it up for rent by sealed bids.

■ 5. Citizens were told that proffers would help pay for infrastructure; however, proffers were based on the 2000 budget. Since then the county has borrowed more than $75 million. The proffers should be four or five times higher than what we have now. Each time the county has a major expenditure on infrastructure, proffers should increase.

■ 6. Set up and limit the money pool earmarked for donations and let everyone apply for it. We don’t need to give money to everyone who wants a donation. The county has suggested a pool of $10,000 in the 2010 budget.

■ 7. Stop paying for consultants for jobs that the county officials can do themselves.

Regardless of how much the county tries to control spending, we must also get control of school board spending and Southeastern Public Service Authority mismanagement and spending.

Some items to consider:

■ 1. An example of excess spending is the board keeping Hunterdale School open. Riverdale School was built with an excess capacity of 100 students. If Hunterdale was obsolete, why is it being used? How many thousands were spent to keep it open and for what?

■ 2. It has been widely reported that there are more than 75 students from outside of the county attending the county schools at tuition of about $800. County citizens are paying more than $60 million for the school buildings that we have to pay on every year. According to school reports, 75 students would require five additional teachers. The average teacher’s salary is more than $45,000. That total cost would be $225,000 to taxpayers. The average cost for a student per year is more than $10,000. The county is not wealthy enough to provide schooling for out-of-county students for $800. Somehow the figures just don’t add up.

■ 3. For the past few years the county has returned $300,000 to $500,000 to the schools. They could have used that money to buy essential items, such as school buses and items necessary to operate the schools instead of on special projects.

The other major financial problem for us is SPSA, which is our AIG and General Motors. The wasteful spending of the federal government set an example we should use in controlling SPSA expenditures. The whole management team should be replaced for the mismanagement. It was unacceptable for the management team not to obtain proper permits for work on the Suffolk landfill. This mismanagement cost the taxpayers $500,000. I’d like to see a grand jury look into the financial condition of SPSA. How did it get in this situation of excess purchases and expenses?

The government employees are blessed because they have job security. I hope they will have some compassion for the people who don’t have a job, those on minimum wage, and the senior citizens who have had their retirements and 401(k) accounts cut by the economy. We cannot afford to pay an increase in taxes. Taxes should be reduced by 5 percent at least.

You need to contact your supervisor and attend one or more of the budget hearings and let your feelings be known. The board meets at 6:30 p.m. on April 15, 22, 27 and May 18.

I am told that the supervisors don’t listen to anything citizens say. However, when the board suggested they give themselves additional health benefits and citizens wrote letters and called their supervisors, they dropped the idea the next month.

However, when citizens didn’t speak up and attend the board meetings, the supervisors voted to spend $3.5 million on the septic systems even when a Tidewater News poll showed that more than 80 percent outright opposed it or said that now is not the right time to put that huge debt on the county. This debt is what drives the high financial debt payment. This is what happens when people don’t attend and speak up at board meetings.

Again, I encourage you to attend the meetings, let them know how you feel about cutting taxes and give them suggestions on how to cut waste out of the budget.