Southampton board aims to lower real estate tax rate to 79 cents

Published 9:01 am Thursday, April 25, 2024

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The Southampton County Board of Supervisors preliminarily agreed Wednesday, April 17, to a list of cuts in the draft 2024-25 county budget that will allow for the proposed real property tax rate to be lowered from 86 to 79 cents per $100 of assessed value.

Southampton County Administrator Brian S. Thrower introduced the list of cuts toward the beginning of the board’s April 17 budget work session.

“Some of you had the idea to possibly bring the proposed (real property tax) rate down from 86 cents, which is in my proposed budget now, down to 79 cents per $100, as some of you all have suggested, which would basically be right in the middle between revenue neutral and the current rate at 89 cents,” he said. 

“So we put some ideas together, and just to be clear, I still do recommend you adopt the budget I presented and recommended on April 10, but we did try to pare down about $1.5 million,” he said. “I’m not suggesting these, but just trying to put some ideas together of some things you could consider to cut if you wanted to push the tax rate down lower.

“And a lot of these things, just as a reminder, were in your strategic priorities that you adopted and said you wanted to at least consider and possibly do over a three-year period, so that’s why they were put in the budget initially,” he added.

Following are the items on the list of cuts that were reduced, accompanied by the corresponding dollar amount that was taken out of the budget:

  • School funding: $411,261;
  • Radio maintenance: $273,000;
  • Three new positions to now be funded for only half of the year: $169,806;
  • Refuse disposal contractual services: $56,188;
  • County buildings repair: $50,000;
  • Law enforcement hospital plan: $14,169;
  • Inspections hospital plan: $10,000;
  • Detention hospital plan: $5,812;
  • Treasurer postal service: $5,000;
  • Board of Assessors office supplies: $3,000;
  • Franklin/Southampton County Fair projects: $2,000; and
  • Consulting/financial services: $1,362.

Following are the items on the list of cuts that were completely removed from the budget, accompanied by the corresponding dollar amount that was taken out of the budget:

  • Human resources & risk management/safety position: $157,798;
  • Economic development site study: $120,000; 
  • Sheriff’s office hiring bonuses: $62,500;
  • Career tech funding: $50,000;
  • Water and sewer rate study: $50,000;
  • Employee appreciation/wellness/recognition: $25,000;
  • Holiday bonus for county employees: $23,000;
  • Human resources director office supplies: $3,000; and
  • Human resources director equipment: $2,500.

The board also decided to cut out the facilities master plan, which was budgeted at $100,000.

Of that $100,000, the board preliminarily agreed that $90,000 would be put into the Budget Stabilization Fund and $10,000 would go to the public defender’s office. The latter allocation was in response to a request from members of that office at the beginning of the April 17 meeting for funding in the amount of $10,000.

As he went through the list of cuts, Thrower addressed the reduction in the local funding for Southampton County Public Schools by saying, “I’m sorry that there’s no way to get $1.5 million in cuts without taking some chunks here. School funding, if you remember we recommended a $511,000 increase, and this option would reduce that by $411,261, so under that option, the school system would only get a $100,000 increase from last year.”

In reference to the radio maintenance item on the list of cuts, Thrower said, “In the future you are going to be entering into a contract for radio maintenance with the new (radio) system. We reduced that portion, so we’ve reduced that line item by $273,000, but that’s something you’re going to have to pay for at a later time.”

Later, as he continued through the list, he said, “Three of the positions that we are proposing to include in the new budget, we’ve pared that down to fund only for half a year, and that comes to $169,806, and that’s for a new Public Works employee, a facilities management person and the emergency services coordinator we’ve been talking about for a year or two now.”

Southampton County Chief Financial Officer Lynette C. Lowe emphasized during the April 17 meeting that the county government is not dealing with excess, and she said county staff struggles every day to make work what they have.

“I don’t see departments having much extra money, but if they do, it will roll right back in the General Fund to be utilized and re-budgeted the next year that you guys have a budget process,” she said to the board. “So we’re not dealing with excess in Southampton County. I have worked places that did, but this is not the one.”

Thrower said to the board, “Can I just be blunt? This is by far the biggest budget I’ve worked with in my career that I’ve been manager. For a county with 230 employees, including Social Services, plus or minus, you’ve got a very bare bones budget, you’ve got a bare bones administration, you’ve got a bare bones staff. There’s a lot of things that need to be done that the county has not been funding and needs to fund. I don’t know how to pare this down any more than I have at $1.5 million, cutting the schools another $411,000. You’ve been level funding the schools year after year. There’s nothing else to cut. There’s very little business here, which ties into economic development. If you had more business here, you would have more money to work with and less burden on the taxpayers. I’m not sure what else to cut.”

Southwest District Supervisor Robert T. White said, “I think you’ve got to cut to the bone, myself, from what I’ve studied here. I’ve tried to figure it out. I can’t see where you could do any better than what you’re doing.”

White ultimately made the motion to preliminarily accept the budget cuts that allowed for the 79-cent real property tax rate.

During its Tuesday, April 23, meeting, the board voted to hold another work session on Monday, April 29, before advertising the budget. Central District Supervisor and Board Chair Dr. Alan W. Edwards indicated that public comment would be welcome at the April 29 meeting.