The rising cost of saying no

Published 9:28 am Monday, May 1, 2017

It used to be less expensive to live in Southampton County.

A lot less.

In fact, homeowners in the county 20 years ago paid only 61 cents in taxes for every $100 in assessed value on their real estate. Ten years ago, the rate had climbed to 72 cents. And in just two weeks, the Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing on the proposed rate for fiscal year 2018, which, as proposed, would hike the rate from the current 82 cents up to 85 cents. If the new rate is implemented, that means the real estate tax rate in Southampton will have risen nearly 40 percent in just two decades.

Indeed, it is a lot more expensive to live in Southampton County than it used to be.

What’s even more discouraging is the fact that tax increases are likely to continue for the next several years with no end to them in sight because, whether we like it or not, the county’s budget will continue to grow.

But the growth won’t be due to wasteful spending; it will be attributable to a combination of factors that include reduced funding from the state and the rising costs of employee benefits like health insurance and retirement funds. The budget will grow without any significant structural upgrades to our schools or the filling of vacant teaching positions.

It will grow without hiring any new emergency workers or improving the current services provided by the county. It will grow if county employees never get a single raise in pay.

Yes, the budget will continue to grow, and county residents will be forced shoulder the burden alone because there has been no meaningful growth in the tax base.

This growing burden is due in no small part to the fact that some county residents always say no. They say no to new industrial development on Camp Parkway. They say no to landowners who want to install solar panels on private property. They say no to companies that want to lease land to train dogs.

They say no to potential convenience store owners. They say no, no, no, no, no. And ironically, come May 15 at the public hearing for the new proposed tax rate, the same group of no-sayers will say no again.

Sure, residents can continue saying no to anybody who wants to invest in our rural county. It’s their right to do so. But that right is getting awfully expensive for everybody else. And as someone who has to pay the full tax rate on the property I own in Southampton County, it sure would be nice to hear some of my neighbors say yes every once in a while.

Tony Clark is publisher of The Tidewater News. He can be reached at