More public input to be allowed amid Southampton County budget planning
Published 2:56 pm Wednesday, March 2, 2022
The Southampton County Board of Supervisors has responded to citizens who have requested more opportunities for input during the budget-planning process, revising its budget calendar Feb. 22 to incorporate public comment periods into two of its budget work sessions this spring.
While reviewing and considering a draft budget calendar during the board’s Jan. 25 meeting, Newsoms District Supervisor Lynda T. Updike said, “Every year people complain that they don’t get input until the very end, and then it’s almost set in concrete. Is there anything we can do about that?”
Southampton County Administrator Michael W. Johnson said, “I will note the schedule. Like every year, we do have a public hearing on March the 22nd, which is before the first draft of the budget is even complete, so that will be advertised, and we’ll receive public comment that night at 7 o’clock.”
Jerusalem District Supervisor and Board Chairman Dr. Alan W. Edwards said, “That’s pretty early in the process.” To Updike he added, “I know what you hear, but that looks to me about as early as we could do that.”
Offering comment on the matter during an unrelated public hearing later in the Jan. 25 meeting was a member of the public, Joe Vick.
“The public portion that you allow us to speak to is before you have a draft budget, and it’s a little too early for the public is what the problem is,” he said.
The budget calendar lists the April 6 budget work session as the meeting where Johnson will present his recommended budget to the board.
“So if you’d look at your calendar, sometime between April 6 and April 20 would be a good time to have a public comment,” Vick said.
He noted that during the first chance for the public to speak March 22, they have no idea what the board has in mind, what Johnson has in mind or what the county’s departments have in mind, and then the next public comment opportunity is in May after the draft budget has been finalized.
“We’re speaking blind on the first public hearing, and then on the second public hearing, we’re too late,” he said.
Edwards replied, “Alright, we can work on that,” noting that he thought Vick was making a legitimate point.
At the board’s Feb. 22 meeting, Johnson provided a revised budget calendar for the board’s consideration. The calendar added public comment periods to the April 13 and 20 budget work sessions.
Edwards suggested supervisors acknowledge those on their calendars.
“Evidently we had some citizens approach, including Mr. Vick, about getting more public input into the budget before it became final, and we have put in two new dates, April the 13th and April the 20th,” he said. “So, if you want to mark those on your calendar — just extra input into the budget process.”