Updike equates $200 garbage fee to biggest tax hike in Southampton history

Published 9:54 am Thursday, May 3, 2012

COURTLAND—Calling a proposed $200-per-household garbage fee the biggest tax increase in the history of Southampton County, Newsoms District Supervisor Glenn Updike on Wednesday voted against a revised proposed budget for 2012-13.

Updike, who cast the lone vote against the proposal, also believes the annual fee, which is expected to generate $1.34 million in revenue for cash-strapped county government, will be difficult to collect.

“To start with, only the honest and those able to pay” will pay it, he said during a work session to discuss the $52 million budget. “The young people living here are just keeping food on the table and will not be able to pay the $200. I don’t think you will be able to collect it.”

Franklin District Supervisor Barry Porter, who like freshman Capron District Supervisor Bruce Phillips, Jerusalem District Supervisor Dr. Alan Edwards and Updike campaigned on a platform of no new taxes before being elected in November, said he doesn’t deny that the garbage fee is a tax.

“We have learned a lot since we came here and determined we needed a combination of revenue and cuts” to balance the budget, Porter said. “Nobody denied it wasn’t the equivalent of a tax increase. I don’t like the fee, but we have to do something.”

Residents can comment on the proposed budget during a 7 p.m. Monday, May 21, public hearing at Southampton High School.

The budget would hold the line on all taxes, including personal property, machinery and tools, and farm equipment. At a 75-cent real estate tax rate, the owner of a property assessed at $100,000 would pay $750 next year. The current rate is 77 cents.

The garbage fee came up as a solution to help reduce a $3.3 million deficit. The fee would be included with tax bills in December, Johnson said. Those who do not pay could have their vehicles impounded.

Exemptions have been proposed, including charging less for qualified low-income residents over age 65 or those permanently or totally disabled.

To reduce the garbage fee burden, Updike recommended other cuts, including $1,800 paid annually to retired Sheriff Vernie Francis for maintaining communication equipment for the office and $48,000 annually for street lights in places like Sedley and Darden Mill Estates. He also suggested contracting out the maintenance of buildings and grounds.

Berlin Ivor District Supervisor Ronnie West noted a lot of cuts have been made.

“We can’t go all the way in one year,” West said. “If we want to feel safe and have good schools, this is the best we can do. Who knew the economy would go down?”

“It’s a tax,” he said about the garbage fee. “I don’t want to sugarcoat it any other way. It can be removed.”

Supervisors one week earlier approved the 75-cent tax rate for the budget that required an additional $290,000 in cuts for the spending plan to balance. Additional state revenue and Porter, Phillips and Updike giving up their $5,500 annual salaries helped erase the deficit.

The revised budget still includes cutting the school’s requested allocation by $591,931, which will result in laying off six teachers and 32 teaching assistants, custodians, and central office and cafeteria workers.

The school district already eliminated 16 positions before the preliminary budget was approved on Wednesday; 10 were teaching jobs. These positions will not be filled due to resignations or retirements.

The school district will get $11 million from the county for its $30 million budget.