Residents balk at cuts, $200 fee

Published 10:40 am Wednesday, May 23, 2012

COURTLAND—Lisa Barnes’ four children had one wish for Christmas. They wanted to move back to Southampton County from Brunswick — where they struggled in school — so they could attended Capron Elementary School.

“We made that wish happen and they went back to straight A’s,” Barnes told the Board of Supervisors during a Monday public hearing for the proposed $52 million budget, which will result in the school district laying off six teachers and 32 additional employees.

“If we cut funding to education, we are telling them they are not important,” the Drewryville mom told the board. “We are setting them up for failure.”

Among the 500 residents attending the three-hour hearing, some spoke against a proposed $200 annual garbage fee for residents, cuts in library funding, eliminating the land-use tax on timberlands and a promise by new supervisors for no new taxes.

“After the election, we celebrated a clean sweep,” John Burchett told supervisors. “I would like to congratulate (Newsoms District Supervisor) Glenn Updike, but I’m very disappointed that I have to stand here again about the burden being put on the taxpayers.”

Burchett of Sebrell was referring to the proposed garbage fee, which is expected to generated $1.34 million to help balance the budget.

Supervisors also proposed decreasing the real estate tax rate by 2 cents to 75 cents, which means the owner of a $100,000 property would pay $750. The new rate will raise the same as the current 77-cent tax rate after property values increased from last year’s reassessment.

Andy Johnson of Courtland presented supervisors with a petition signed by 600 people opposed to the $200 garbage fee.

A former county employee, Johnson started a Facebook page entitled “Southampton County citizens against paying for the use of county dumpsites.” As of Monday, the social networking website had more than 600 friends.

Boykins Mayor Spier Edwards and former Newsoms District Supervisor Walt Brown spoke about eliminating or changing the land-use tax on timberlands. Brown noted it could bring in $1.5 million.

“The majority of these (property owners) are timber barons from outside the county,” Brown said.

Southampton County is one of 74 counties among the state’s 95 that offers the land-use tax. Farmland of more than five acres and forestland of more than 20 acres qualify. More than 2,300 properties are enrolled. A property qualifies as either farmland, open space or timberlands.

Under the program, the owner of a 249-acre farm with cropland pays $1,167. Without the program, that same farmer would pay $4,669.

Roxanne Jester, who home-schools her daughter, Brooke, asked that supervisors not cut funding to the Blackwater Regional Library System, which operates the Cecil Rawls Library in Courtland.

“The negatives far outweigh the positives,” she said.