No winners in this budget

Published 8:45 am Wednesday, June 2, 2010

In trying to straddle the fence between reasonable property taxes and adequate support for public education, Southampton County supervisors managed to offend two important constituencies.

Property owners who are financially stressed by the difficult economy and public-school supporters are both chagrined by the county’s final budget for fiscal 2011. The $52.4 million document approved last week will significantly raise real estate and vehicle taxes but still chop $316,000 from the public schools, which also are dealing with reductions in state and federal funding.

Increases of 11 percent in the vehicle tax and 5.5 percent in the real estate tax are slightly lower than what supervisors had originally proposed but not enough lower to blunt criticism from beleaguered property owners who are struggling to pay their mortgages and keep food on the table.

School patrons believe that education is bearing too much of the burden of cost reduction in the county budget and have reasonably asked whether the $316,000 could have been cut elsewhere in a budget north of $50 million.

Supervisors would be wise to begin planning now for a fiscal 2012 budget that could be even more difficult than the one they approved last week. They might start by convening a blue-ribbon panel of citizens, including some with business experience, to help analyze spending and make recommendations on how county government, including the public schools, can deliver services more efficiently.