County rethinks property tax hikes

Published 9:50 am Friday, May 21, 2010

COURTLAND—Southampton County supervisors, still stinging from the rebuke by constituents two nights earlier, backed away from some of the tax hikes they had proposed and were evaluating options for further spending cuts during their budget work session on Wednesday.

The board agreed, in principle, to raise the real estate tax rate by four cents, to 76 cents, and the personal property tax rate by 65 cents, to $5.15. Those increases are down from the five cents on real estate and one dollar on personal property that were being considered at the time of Monday’s public hearing.

Newsoms District Supervisor Walt Brown suggested saving money by reducing the days of operation for the county’s 16 refuse convenience centers from six days to four. County Administrator Michael Johnson said he would need to look into the logistics.

Johnson suggested an additional $315,795, or 2.27 percent, from the general fund budget. He also suggested the board cut the school division an additional $264,771, or 0.9 percent; social services by $16,525, or 0.67 percent; and the water and sewer department by $71,140, or 2 percent; for a total savings of $668,231. Those cuts, Johnson said, would permit the board to peg the real estate tax rate at 76 cents and personal property taxes at $5.

But most of the board said they were still uncomfortable with asking the school division to take an additional cut.

“I’m going to hold the line on supporting the schools,” Brown said. “This is the future for our children.”

The garbage idea, coupled with raising personal property taxes by 65 cents — instead of 50 cents — could make up most of the $264,771 shortfall toward the school division.

The board was clearly taken by surprise by the reaction to the budget at Monday night’s public hearing, which was attended by about 400 citizens.

“Until Monday, I thought we had a good budget,” said Vice Chairman Walter Young Jr. “I thought we had done a good job for everybody. It was a rude awakening for me. I didn’t realize this board, including me, and our administrator, were unreasonable, arrogant, unconcerned, overbearing and absolutely ridiculous until Monday night.”

Berlin-Ivor District Supervisor Ronald West said he didn’t want Southampton to stand out because of high taxes.

“I saw Monday night as a wake-up call, in a sense that the county citizens had given us a credit card, and they called the limit on us because we had maxed it out,” West said.

Board Chairman Dallas Jones, who represents the Drewryville District, said he appreciated but was also frustrated by the citizens’ comments Monday.

“I’ve never heard the citizens bang on us as bad as they did Monday,” Jones said. “Everybody spoke against us, but nobody told us what to cut, who to cut and where to cut. We are understaffed as it is. Greensville, Isle of Wight and Franklin all have more people than we do. We have less government than any of our surrounding areas.”

The board will take up the budget again and may finalize it at 6 p.m. Monday, May 24 in the board room at the county government building, 26022 Administration Center Drive in Courtland.