Supervisors owe it to citizens to draft a better budget

Published 10:04 am Saturday, May 12, 2012

by Paul Simmons

This is an attempt to put into some kind of perspective — in my own mind, at least — the ongoing travesty that is being perpetrated against the taxpayers in Southampton County by the county administrator and the Board of Supervisors.

The information used is taken from the texts of three different articles that appeared in this publication.

In a Tidewater News article dated April 22 (“Big cuts in S’hampton?”), it was stated that “Southampton County would have to lay off 43 of its 145 employees to help balance the proposed $54 million 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 article further stated, “Without any layoffs, it would take a 24-cent increase in the tax rate to balance the budget.”

Fast-forward five days to the article in The Tidewater News dated April 27 (“Budget draft: No tax hike”), which stated, “Southampton County supervisors voted 5-1 to approve a preliminary budget that would not raise taxes but would result in laying off six teachers and 32 teaching assistants, custodians, and central office and cafeteria personnel. Also, each household in the county would pay $200 annually for use of the county’s dumpsites.”

Then, the article went into an explanation of what a taxpayer would pay at a reduced real estate tax rate of 75 cents.

Now for the perspective: In the April 22 article cited above, without raising taxes, 96 people would either be laid off or their jobs would be eliminated (43 county employees and 54 school employees). Without any layoffs, a 24-cent increase in the tax rate would be necessary to balance the budget. So, on April 26, the board voted for a preliminary budget that would set the tax rate at 75 cents, lay off six teachers and the aforementioned 32 other school employees, and assess each household a $200 trash “fee.” (In the article published by The Tidewater News on May 4 (“Budget approved 5-1”), the board grudgingly acknowledged this fee as a tax.)

With this scenario, a $100,000 assessed home would pay $750 in taxes plus an additional $200 “fee” for a total of $950. In essence, this represents a 95-cent tax rate, which, incidentally, is only 6 cents less than County Administrator Mike Johnson’s original assessment with no cuts or layoffs.

Assuming that nothing can be done to adjust the cost brought about by the sewage treatment plant (which, in my estimation, serves about a third of the citizenry, but we all get the opportunity to pay for it), then other ways must be found.

In the May 4 article, Berlin/Ivor Supervisor Ronnie West said: “A lot of cuts have been made. We can’t go all the way in one year. … This is the best we can do. … It’s a tax (he said about the garbage fee). I don’t want to sugarcoat it any other way. It can be removed.”

My comment is that this is not all the board can do, and usually when an increase is levied, it’s very rarely removed.

In The Tidewater News article of May 9 (“Facebook page started to oppose garbage fee”) Newsoms District Supervisor Glenn Updike said: “I think we should hear them out. I think, after the public hearing, the whole budget process should be reopened for re-evaluation.”

I wholeheartedly agree. For the present, it seems as if we are rushing head long into a catastrophe.

Paul W. Simmons is a Sebrell resident. His email address is