Residents pitch ideas for balancing Southampton budget

Published 10:44 am Tuesday, April 24, 2012

COURTLAND—Richard Harris used to buy a new car every two years. Now it’s every five.

The Courtland man’s one- to two-week vacations to anywhere he wanted have turned into to one- and two-day jaunts. And Harris’ business — Firearm Sales Co. — once employed 10. It’s is down to two — him and his wife.

Paying more taxes to balance the county’s proposed $54 million budget isn’t an option for the 67-year-old.

“You treat us like a cash cow,” he told Southampton County Board of Supervisors during its Monday meeting. “You need more money and you just grab another utter. Joe Citizen is tired of getting squeezed.”

While Harris recommended supervisors tighten belts when they continue to discuss the budget during a 7 p.m. public meeting today, April 25, at Southampton High School, Courtland resident Ash Cutchin suggested supervisors levy a fair-share tax on each of its 18,500 residents. A real estate appraiser, Cutchin figures it would take $178 per person to erase the county’s $3.2 million deficit.

Ivor resident David Joyner recommended issuing municipal bonds to raise funds.

“Let’s all invest in the county,” Joyner said. “Find out how many will invest with you and take a risk with you.”

He knows about tough times. Joyner noted that four years ago, he was a multi-millionaire. Today, the 53-year-old and his wife have nothing for retirement.

“I’ve taken everything I need to keep my business going,” Joyner said.

Supervisors during their April 11 budget work session asked County Administrator Mike Johnson to come up with a plan to keep from raising taxes. It would require laying off 96 of the 665 county and school employees, including 27 in the Sheriff’s Office, 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.

Without any layoffs, it would take a 24-cent increase in the real estate 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.

A former pilot, Cutchin said when he worked for the airlines and things were tight, employees accepted pay cuts to avoid layoffs.

“One year I took 15 percent,” he said. “That was the norm in the airline industry. The workforce agreed to pay cuts.”

Linda Vick, owner of Boykins Manor Mobile Home Park, told supervisors she already pays $7,103 in property taxes on the park. A tax increase to balance the budget would increase the Newsom woman’s bill to $11,406 .

“I pay for my own street lights, trash pickup and maintain the streets,” Vick said. “My rent is down by $3,500 a month due to layoffs. Now, what’s the county going to give me for my tax dollars? What will I get for another $4,100?”

Larry Brown of Newsoms told supervisors that “drastic unpleasant measures need taken.”

He suggested that the City of Franklin and Southampton County merge to save money.