Officials have chance to lead by example

Published 10:16 am Saturday, February 13, 2010

I learned early in life — at home, in Sunday School, in the Boy Scouts, in ROTC and later as an Army officer and Pan Am pilot ­ —that you lead by example. I am asking our local elected officials to do just that.

I also learned what I call fiscal discipline. I have seldom bought anything (a couple of houses and a couple of cars, but not much else) that I could not afford to pay for in cash. That fiscal discipline has served me well for nearly 69 years.

Some people have called me foolish for failing to leverage capital or use someone else’s money, but I don’t mind. I’m not in a popularity contest. I did borrow $10,000 from the Small Business Administration after I lost my business and equipment in 1999 due to Hurricane Floyd. But I repaid every penny a year later — with interest.

Here in Southampton County, we are faced with some of the same sets of financial dilemmas that our country faces on a national scale: high operating costs, including employee health insurance, massive debt and huge debt-service payments. I know it is difficult to finance the daily and monthly and yearly operation of this county, and with more job losses forthcoming, it will be even harder.

And yet, nearly every time I attend a Board of Supervisors meeting, several individuals or groups stand before the board requesting financial assistance. There comes a point when our leaders have to say: “Enough ! We simply do not have the funds and we will not tax the citizens any more.” You must practice fiscal discipline, and you must lead by example.

All of us have had to watch our budgets and control the outgo because the in-go is not getting any bigger. Congress has decreed that Social Security will receive no cost-of-living adjustment the next two years, and yet the same congressmen got a pay raise and increased their petty cash funds by $93,000 each. They have increased the Medicare payments I and others must make ­— from a current premium of $96.40 to $104.20 in 2010 (that’s 8 percent) and to $120.20 for 2011 (another 15 percent).

The Virginian-Pilot reported recently that the state employee retirement fund is running dangerously low. There are several reasons, of course, not the least of which is that the state has been funding it with taxpayer dollars rather than employee contributions. Just like the federal government, the state has been spending money it did not have.

The state and federal governments keep spending money — our money — like it grows on trees. Southampton County is spending money on things like the wetlands mitigation portion at the Turner Industrial Park — and spending it with companies in Richmond and Dallas. Supposedly we will share in millions of dollars of profits when and if anyone buys the wetlands bank credits. How probable is that? Do we actually know how many wetlands or streamside credits have been used in the Chowan River watershed in the last decade? Do we realize that the Virginia Department of Transportation has its own wetlands bank, with unused credits?

Another thing: Is the sewer project coming in at budget? How much are we planning to spend on the next general reassessment? Has anyone researched the feasibility of joining with Franklin (and maybe even Isle of Wight) and establishing our own Assessment Department? I think it deserves consideration.

In summary, I would like to make a bold suggestion. I respectfully suggest — in fact, I beg — that our Board of Supervisors draft the following resolution and send it to Gov. Bob McDonnell, U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes, U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Jim Webb, and even to the White House.

Whereas we are the duly elected Supervisors of Southampton County, Virginia, and, Whereas we have sworn to represent our constituents’ best interests, and Whereas we are aware of the worsening financial crisis both locally and nationally . We do hereby resolve to do the following:

1. Practice fiscal discipline,

2. Institute a moratorium or freeze on new county spending and hiring,

3. Re-examine all county expenses,

4. Suggest that all department heads voluntarily contribute 5 percent of this years’ pay back to the county’s general fund and,

5. As a good-faith gesture in the name of leading by example, that we, the supervisors, do voluntarily give back to the county’s general fund 10 percent of our pay as a supervisor,

6. We demand our congressmen and women — and our president — do the same (to the U.S. Treasury) and furthermore that

7. Congress members should voluntarily return ALL of their 2009 pay raise and then 10 percent of their annual salary and other compensation until we have a balanced budget, and furthermore that

8. “Congress shall make no law that applies to the citizens of the United States that does not apply equally to the Senators or Representatives, and Congress shall make no law that applies to the Senators or Representatives that does not apply equally to the citizens of the United States.

Our supervisors can get the ball rolling. If they lead by example, maybe the state and federal leaders will follow.