Southampton tax increase protested

Published 8:27 am Wednesday, May 19, 2010

COURTLAND—More than 400 people Monday attended a more than three-hour public hearing, where residents urged Southampton County Board of Supervisors to rethink a proposal to raise taxes.

Supervisors say the tax increase is needed to balance a proposed $53 million budget for the 2011 fiscal year.

Afterwards, two supervisors told The Tidewater News they weren’t happy with the budget, and indicated that County Administrator Mike Johnson might have to go back to the drawing board.

The county plans to increase the real estate tax rate by five cents, to 77 cents, and the personal property tax rate for vehicles by one dollar, to $5.50. Collectively, those tax increases would generate more than $1.37 million of the county’s $53 million budget.

A $1 increase in the personal property tax rate would cost the owner of a $15,000 vehicle an additional $150 in taxes every year.

A 3-cent increase in the real estate tax rate had already been implemented to take effect for the 2011 fiscal year. An additional 2-cent increase would mean paying $30 more a year for the owner of a home assessed at $150,000.

After a 25-minute presentation by Johnson, residents wasted no time condemning the board’s decision to raise taxes and made appeal after appeal for a reversal.

“To increase our taxes now is unreasonable, arrogant and totally irresponsible,” said Kay Pope, a resident of the Capron District. “It is arrogant of this board to put the requests and wants of county government above the wishes of the taxpaying citizens.”

Pope gave the board a petition she said was signed by more than 1,200 residents, urging supervisors to cut spending and not raise taxes.

“We have many citizens in our county that have lost their jobs due to the closure of International Paper, and the fallout from that is just beginning,” Pope said. “There are many people in the county who are retired or disabled and living on a fixed-income. Now is not the time to increase taxes.”

“Our citizens cannot endure a tax increase at this time,” Boykins Mayor Spier Edwards said. “This is the worst time in the history of our county. Our town has more houses in foreclosure than we’ve ever had. We have citizens that are losing jobs.”

Berlin-Ivor District Supervisor Ronald West said after the public hearing that he would not support the budget in its current form.

“We might need to rethink this because of this broken economy and with the International Paper Co. situation,” West said. “People have been hurt. The continued fallout from the loss of jobs — not only from IP, but from the support organizations and companies as well — is going to continue to be damaging to us.”

Jerusalem District Supervisor Anita Felts concurred.

“We need to go back to the drawing table,” Felts said.

Asked if she thought the board needed to balance the budget by lowering taxes or cutting spending, Felts said, “I think probably a combination of both. I wasn’t really agreeing with the real estate tax increase. I suggested the personal property tax increase. (There should be) no tax increase, not that much anyway.”

Newsoms District Supervisor Walt Brown said he didn’t support cutting any additional funding from schools.

“I’m not looking at anything changing for the schools,” Brown said. “They are already cut very deep, and I think we have an obligation to the children of this county.”

Under the new draft budget, which now totals $53 million, the county proposes giving $29.4 million to schools. Although that sum represents more than 55 percent of the total budget, schools will receive more than $2.35 million less than the previous year, a 7.4 percent decrease.

Asked about the tax increases, Brown said, “I had some concerns in the beginning on personal property taxes. At the last meeting we had, I was not in favor of another 50-cent increase on personal property taxes. I’m still not. We’ll see what the board has to say together on that. There may be some other changes, I don’t know.”

Supervisors will meet for a final draft budget work session at 6:30 p.m. today, May 19, in the board room of the county’s administration building at 26022 Administration Center Drive in Courtland. The work session is open to the public.

Final adoption of the budget is scheduled by the Board of Supervisors at 6 p.m. Monday, May 24.