Supervisors to consider budget, tax increases

Published 11:25 am Saturday, May 21, 2016

The Southampton County Board of Supervisors on Monday evening will consider adopting the budget for the 2017 Fiscal Year, which is projected to increase by $1,958,204 (or 3.51 percent) from the $55,799,534 that was allocated one year ago. The proposed increases include the real estate tax rate (from $0.77 to $0.82); vehicle license tax ($23 to $28); and water and sewer fees ($26 to $27 and $34 to $35 per month, respectively).

“[We’re] playing catch-up,” Johnson said as he presented the draft budget last month. “Despite the fact that there’s never a good time to raise taxes or fees, we’ve unfortunately reached a point where expected levels of service are unsustainable without additional revenue. Absent substantial growth in the tax base from new private investment and job creation, rate increases are the only means of generating additional revenue. Following several years of lean operating budgets and utilization of capital project reserves, we’re forced to play catch-up.”

Of the proposed budget increase, $1,386,133 (71 percent) is earmarked for the Southampton County Public School District.

“The proposed increase won’t resolve all the issues, but is a step in the right direction and should allow the school board to begin addressing lagging faculty and staff salaries, replace some of the teaching positions and instructional programs that were casualties of past budget cycles and provide some additional technology resources,” Johnson said.

The school district earlier this month adopted a revised operating budget request for the 2016-2017 school year, as it has previously sought in excess of $30 million — up 6.67 percent ($1,878,526) from the amount it was allocated last year. At that time, it lowered its request to $29,472,457 to fall within the numbers allocated by the county’s proposed budget.

“It’s something we feel like we can work with going forward,” said school board vice chairman Jim Pope, who also leads the district’s budget committee.

The remainder of the proposed budget increase ($572,071) will expedite the initiation of the state-mandated real property reassessment; the county’s classification and compensation plan; and the fixed asset valuation report, which is the next step in determining whether the creation of a joint water and sewer service authority with the City of Franklin is in the locality’s best interest. It will also cover the escalating costs of contractual emergency medical services.

“This is the toughest budget we’ve had in years,” said supervisor Barry Porter, who represents the Franklin-Hunterdale District. “Unless we do something along the lines of bringing in more businesses, it’s going to double the tax rate in the next 10 years. We’re going to work through this and do what’s best for everyone. But, this is a wake-up call.”