Published 12:16 pm Saturday, May 24, 2014

If budget projections hold true in the upcoming fiscal year, Southampton County will take in $56,226,521 in revenue. Of that, nearly half — $26,927,438 — will come from the state and federal government, while the balance, $29,299,083, will come from locally generated revenues such as property taxes, fees for county services and utilities. Local taxes, including property tax, account for over 76 percent of that local revenue.

On the expense side of the budget, over half of the county’s total spending will be directed to public schools — $32,385,371 to be precise. Of that amount, $18,854,786 will come from state and federal revenues specifically earmarked for public education. The remaining $13,900,303 will come from locally generated revenue, which is primarily made up of taxpayer dollars.

Which means that of the over $29 million the county plans to take in from its taxpayer in the upcoming fiscal year, the nearly $14 million the county plans to spend on public schools represents almost half — 47.4 percent, in fact — of its total budget.

Now that alone does not make Southampton County unique. In fact, the largest expense item for any locality is its public school system. What does make Southampton County different, however, is that its board of supervisors turns over nearly half the money the county collects from taxpayers to a group of people who are not accountable to anyone for how they spend it.

Let that soak in for a minute.

Here it is again. If you’re a Southampton County resident, 47.4 cents out of every single dollar you pay to the county in taxes and fees is being given to a school board that doesn’t have to answer to you for how they’re spending it. Southampton County, because it clings to the archaic system of having an appointed, three-member school board selection committee appoint its school board, is one of only three localities in the entire state where the taxpayer has absolutely no control over how half of his or her tax dollars are spent. If you don’t like what the school board is doing, well, too bad, because you didn’t choose them, and you can’t get rid of them. Should the selection committee listen to feedback from citizens and take recommendations from the community on who should be appointed? Absolutely. Are they accountable to you if they don’t? Not at all.

Doesn’t anybody else have a problem with this?

Allow me to draw a few comparisons.

Would county residents be okay with an appointed selection committee appointing the board of supervisors?

Would state residents be comfortable with an appointed selection committee appointing those who serve in the general assembly?

What if, as Americans, we just allow an appointed selection committee to appoint members of Congress?

Those questions all seem ridiculous, of course, until you put them into context with how Southampton County fills the seats on its school board

Now, let me make myself perfectly clear. I think the circuit court judges who have compiled our current selection committee have picked three fine gentlemen to do the job. I think the selection committee does a fine job in selecting school board members (although there is rarely an instance where it has had to choose from multiple candidates for any one seat on the board.) And I also think, by and large, that the school board does a decent job in how it spends the money that is allocated for school spending (although there’s usually no money to spend on anything beyond the bare essentials.)

But that’s not the point. The point is that I, along with every other Southampton County resident except for the seven individuals who make up the school board, don’t have any practical say in how half of my tax dollars are being spent. And I, as an American, a Virginian, and by the grace of God a resident of Southampton County, don’t like it.

And for the life of me I don’t understand how anyone else could, either.

TONY CLARK is publisher of The Tidewater News. His email address is tony.clark@tidewaternews.com.