County OKs smaller tax hike

Published 9:08 am Wednesday, May 26, 2010

COURTLAND—In the end, the Southampton County Board of Supervisors decided to go with “Plan A.”

Under the informally named $52.4 million budget plan — one of two that the board considered at its meeting on Monday night — the county will raise the real estate tax rate by four cents, to 76 cents, and the personal property tax rate by 50 cents, to $5.

It also means that Southampton County Public Schools, reeling from $2.57 million in state and federal cuts, must now take an additional cut of $264,771 from the county. Local funding for schools was cut a total of $315,999.

“A lot of us have had to go within budgets in our own homes and businesses,” Jerusalem District Supervisor Anita Felts said before the vote. “We as a governing body are going to have to do the same thing and do what’s best for the county. It would be really grand if we could fully fund everybody, but we’re not going to be able to.”

Voting with Felts in favor of the budget plan were Board Chairman Dallas Jones, Vice Chairman Walter Young Jr. and Capron District Supervisor Moses Wyche.

“This has been tough to deal with and I’ve lost a lot of sleep behind it,” Wyche said. “We had to (cut) everybody in order to get this budget down. We’re in a financial crunch. I hate to see the schools cut. I hate to see anybody cut. But the money is just not there.”

With cuts throughout county government, Southampton’s budget for the 2011 fiscal year now totals $52,416,658. That amount is $4,468,561 less than the budget the county adopted in 2010 — a decrease of 7.86 percent — and $651,706 less than what was advertised prior to the May 17 public hearing on the budget.

“The board has made its decision,” Southampton County Schools Superintendent Charles Turner said after the meeting. “We will just have to look at what we have and what the ramifications of that decision means.”

Turner didn’t say where the school board would make cuts, but he and other school board members have previously warned that cuts in personnel could occur to meet the operating budget.

Southampton County Schools had requested $30,137,735 for the 2011 fiscal year, of which $11,042,525 would have come from the county. The total request was $1,657,732, or 5.2 percent, less than what was requested in fiscal 2010, but the county contribution would have increased $271,674, or 2.52 percent.

With the $315,999 in local cuts, the school division will now have a budget of $29,177,735. That amount is $960,000 less than what was asked for, a decrease of 3.19 percent.

“The schools will have to educate the children and try to continue the best way they can with the level of excellence that we currently have, making the most of the dollars that are allocated to them,” Felts said.

Three cents of the real estate tax increase had already been implemented to take effect for the 2011 fiscal year, and the board added an additional cent during budget deliberations. With the increase, the owner of a home assessed at $150,000 will pay an additional $60 a year in real estate taxes, while the owner of a $500,000 farm will pay an additional $200 a year.

Two members of the board, Boykins-Branchville District Supervisor Carl Faison and Newsoms District Supervisor Walt Brown, said they favored “Plan B.” That plan also called for raising the real estate tax rate to 76 cents, but would have hiked personal property taxes up to $5.15 — with the additional 15 cents going exclusively to the schools — and proposed saving additional money by reducing the days of operation for the county’s 16 refuse convenience centers from six days to four.

“I can’t think of any greater service than what is provided by our schools in Southampton County,” Brown said. “They are educating the future of this county and they’re going to be taking care of us when we get older.”

Berlin-Ivor District Supervisor Ronald West was not present but Jones, who represents the Drewryville District, said West favored Plan A.

The board directed county staff to investigate further the possibility of reducing the number of days the trash sites are open.

Another stipulation of Plan A called for restoring $16,525 in cuts to Social Services with money from the reserve fund to avoid $112,120 in state matching funds.

Felts criticized the state and federal governments for cutting the school division.

“It appears that every time there is a state and a federal shortfall, they expect the localities to pick up the shortfall,” she said. “That’s not really a reality, that’s not something that we can do.”

Federal funding for the school division, which totaled $3,018,900 in fiscal 2010, fell by $1,247,551 — or 41.32 percent — for the 2011 fiscal year. Meanwhile, state funding, which totaled $18,005,716 in 2010, was slashed $1,325,856, a decrease of 7.36 percent.