Public comments on $58.8M budget in Southampton

Published 9:41 am Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Only four people spoke concerning the proposed $58.87M budget for Southampton County in Fiscal Year 2017-2018. This took place in the Southampton High School auditorium on Monday evening.

Among the commentators was John Burchette of Sebrell, who “thanked the board and the Lord for the opportunity to speak.”

He questioned the amount of money budgeted for shared services with Franklin’s Parks and Recreation Department, referring to that as “a black hole.”

“We don’t need to spend $30,000 [for recreation with the city]. Give it to the schools,” he said, adding that money for recreation could be raised through public efforts such as civic and social groups. “That’s the way it should be. Quit spending money we don’t have.”

Burchette thanked the school board, school principals, superintendent and teachers for their work.

“They are the true miracle workers in this county without getting what they need,” he said.

Speaking of schools, $32.27M has been allocated for next fiscal year, a 1.36 percent increase from the $31.84M of this year.

Florence Reynolds of Zuni agreed with Burchette in general.

“I really do appreciate what you do, but we all know the bulk [of the budget money] comes from real estate and personal property taxes. I believe it’s time for this board to go beyond just taxing citizens. Last year it was 5 cents. This year it’s 3 cents,” said Reynolds, who has lived in the area over 38 years.

“Every year it’s same message … there is no way citizens can continue to carry the burden. Then you threw in garbage tax, but called it a fee. It’s a tax. We can’t write it off,” she continued. “I’m sure many can’t afford to pay their taxes. How much effort is going in to collect from those who can pay, but have not. How much money is out there we have not collected?”

Further, “Why can’t get we get businesses into this county,” she asked. “You have to be proactive. Again, I firmly believe you should look beyond taxing residents … Nobody wants to move into Southampton.

“It’s time to be bold and think of other streams of income. It is time, gentlemen.”

Andrew Gregory of Smithfield, who was the first to speak, said he is with CASA, which advocates for children and juveniles in courts. Gregory said he appreciates the past and current support by board for the program, which also serves Southampton and Franklin, as well as Isle of Wight County.

Dr. Gwendolyn Shannon, superintendent of the Southampton County Public Schools, also thanked the board for whatever support they have been able to give, such as the new buses.

“An investment in the students is an investment in the future,” she said.

The supervisors spoke afterward, thanking all who attended the hearing. Voting on the budget is anticipated to happen during the board meeting on Monday, May 22.

“We are sensitive to every request, said vice chairman Ronnie West.

Carl Faison added that there was a lot of deliberation about the budget.

Barry Porter said, “The budget is a reflection of the financial condition of the county,” also noting that much of the budget goes to schools, emergency services and the sheriff’s office.

“One of our problems is we still have a reputation we’re not business friendly,” adding that every time there’s a prospective industry that wants to establish in Southampton, “the opposition comes out in throngs” with “wild stories — scare stories. That’s just all they are. Until we open our arms and cooperate, we have to look to our residents [for revenue]. We are funding the bare necessities of the county.”