Big cuts in Southampton?

Published 9:37 am Saturday, April 21, 2012

COURTLAND—Southampton County would have to lay off 43 of its 145 employees to help balance its $54 million proposed budget without raising taxes.

In addition, the Southampton schools would have to eliminate 53 jobs, including 21 teachers and 32 teaching assistants, custodians, and central office and cafeteria workers. The school district during earlier budget talks already eliminated 16 positions, of which 10 are teaching jobs. These are positions that will not be filled due to resignations or retirements.

The Board of Supervisors recently asked County Administrator Mike Johnson to come up with a plan to eliminate a $3.2 million shortfall for its 2012-13 budget without raising taxes.

Without any layoffs, it would take a 24-cent increase in the tax rate to balance the budget. A resident with a property assessed at $100,000 who now pays $770 in real estate taxes would pay $1,010.

Budget talks will continue during a 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 25, public meeting at the County Government Center in Courtland.

Of the 43 jobs that could be eliminated in the county, 27 — or half — would be in the Sheriff’s Department, Johnson said.

“It would be a huge negative effect,” Sheriff Jack Stutts said Friday.

It would result in the elimination of midnight patrols and the 100-bed work-release center in Capron, which houses about 50 inmates. There also would be less patrolling on U.S. 58, where traffic violations generated more than $500,000 for the county last year.

The office also would lose deputies who last year transported 159 inmates; patrol deputies would have to pick up those duties, giving them less time to patrol.

Boykins District Supervisor Carl Faison doesn’t think the layoffs are good options.

“I can’t see us laying off that many people,” Faison said. “Certainly we have to look at balancing the budget and trimming as much as possible.”

He is not against raising taxes.

“That is one of the very, very few sources of revenue that we have, so I’m not totally opposed,” Faison said. “But that’s an option we will keep open.”

Capron District Supervisor Bruce Phillips opposes all of the layoffs to balance the budget.

“The four new supervisors (Phillips, Edwards, Porter and Glenn Updike) came in with a mandate for fiscal responsibility,” Phillips said. “We didn’t really know where a balanced budget request would go and now we will have to strike middle ground.”

Franklin District Supervisor Barry Porter, who has vowed not to raises taxes, continues to explore options.

“I think we have a big problem,” Porter said. “We have a $3.3 million gap. By law we have to balance the budget. We’re going to have to do something. I don’t know what that is right now. I’m still studying on that. We will have to come up with significant cuts.”

Jerusalem District Supervisor Dr. Alan Edwards continues to oppose raising taxes and noted layoffs need to be considered.

“I don’t know, but we’re going to have to do something drastic,” Edwards said. “Nobody likes to be put in that situation. It’s not an easy decision. If we continue to raise taxes, we continue to expand our problems.”