Lively discussion ensues at Southampton County budget hearing

Published 6:55 pm Monday, May 22, 2023

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The public hearing held by the Southampton County Board of Supervisors on Monday, May 15, with regard to the county’s proposed fiscal year 2023-24 budget featured lively participation from the public and board members, with a great deal of discussion focused around Southampton County Public Schools.

Southwest District Supervisor Carl J. Faison expressed concern for the schools.

The proposed local funding for Southampton County Public Schools is $12,604,194, which includes operating money and debt service money.

Southampton Deputy County Administrator and Chief Financial Officer Lynette C. Lowe explained that compared to the county’s FY 22-23 budget, this $12.6 million total represents a $100,000 decrease, coming from the operating fund.

Southwest District Supervisor Lynda T. Updike asked Monday if the word “administration” should have been used rather than the word “operating” in reference to the fund that was reduced by $100,000.

Lowe reiterated that funding for the operating fund in the proposed budget went down $100,000 from last year.

Northwest District Supervisor and Board Vice Chair William Hart Gillette said, “That, categorically, was out of the administrative category, if you’re going to include that in the operating (fund).”

In its initial presentation to the Board of Supervisors on April 12, SCPS had requested a more than $3.1 million increase in local funding compared to FY 22-23, resulting in a total request of $15,885,665.

Given that the school division is set to receive nearly $3.3 million less than that amount in the proposed budget, Faison was stating his concerns.

“They had to eliminate a lot of the things that they were planning,” he said, referencing the school system. “If there’s anything we can do for the schools, that would be my interest.”

Northwest District Supervisor David B. Everett said, “I agree with what he was saying about the schools. You hate to see the schools get cut, but they came in with a budget $3.1 million higher than last year, and it would have cost everybody, it would have made their (real estate) go up 23.5% in order to meet their requested budget. So I’m not in favor of that, and I’m not in favor of any increased taxes whatsoever, and I don’t think most people in this room are.”

Gillette shared his concerns that the school division may be employing a diversity, equity and inclusion curriculum that he characterized as furthering a partisan agenda rather than focusing on facts.

Central District Supervisor and Board Chair Dr. Alan W. Edwards also mentioned Critical Race Theory, which led to a discussion during the public hearing over the definition of CRT that briefly became heated.

One of the public speakers asked if the Board of Supervisors and the Southampton County School Board could get together to discuss the issues that exist between the boards and resolve them.

Different supervisors referenced the difficulty the board has had in successfully meeting and working with the school board, citing a lack of cooperation from school leaders.

Some supervisors also suggested that the school division was not applying for all the available grants that it could. 

Mandy Hall, who helped lead the successful initiative to transition the county from an appointed to an elected school board, noted that she has volunteered to help write the grants, and a member of the school system present at Monday’s meeting encouraged her to continue making this offer.

Public speakers implored supervisors to pray for guidance from God as they finalize the county’s FY 2023-24 budget, as well as the proposed FY 2024 fees and tax levies.

The Board of Supervisors are slated to vote on adoption of these items at its Tuesday, May 23, meeting. 

Though there will not be another public hearing on the budget, there will be a Citizens Comment Period near the beginning of the 6 p.m. meeting, giving citizens a final opportunity to share input prior to the vote.