Sampson County’s Board of Commissioners should not have been nearly as shocked as they were over county manager Ed Causey’s budget proposal which calls for a 9 cent property tax hike for fiscal 2014-15. After all, board members have known this day was coming, no matter how difficult the pill now is to swallow.
While there doesn’t have to be a tax increase, there does have to be a day of reckoning. Tough decisions must be made — raise taxes or lower the axe. There truly doesn’t seem to be any other reasonable recourse.
It’s surprising to us that commissioners were so shocked when Causey presented his budget. After all, they’ve held countless — and oftentimes tedious — meetings to discuss the county’s financial situation since last year’s long, drawn out budget wrangling. They’ve listened to countless department heads talk about their needs, perusing budgetary items and talking endlessly about holding the line while doing nothing to ensure that it can be held.
It leaves us scratching our head and wondering what have they been doing all this time? Apparently nothing but boning up on county finances. There’s been no whittling away of the so-called fat that some commissioners seem to think exists, and there’s been little to no talk of any of those gradual cuts board members ambitiously set out to do when they began these budget work sessions months ago.
In fact, all we’ve seen from commissioners in the months leading up to the 2014-15 budget presentation was a flexing of their financial muscle, approving thousands of dollars for yet another employee pay study, with intentions to then fund those recommendations; implementation of courthouse security and the costs that will incur; a presumption that needed repairs at Sampson Community College must be expended, and the list goes on.
Not once have we heard commissioners tell Mr. Causey we have got to cut here, we cannot fund that.
And now they’re surprised that taxpayers will have to bear the brunt of those decisions? Again, what were they doing in all those time-consuming workshops that kept county staff at work for extended periods of time and likely wasted even more county dollars?
Now, as in the last few years, commissioners are having a knee-jerk reaction, calling for long, arduous meetings prior to the public hearing to talk about the budget, exactly what we thought they’d been doing — and should have been doing — for the past several months.
That didn’t happen, and now they are going to try to find Band Aid solutions in mere hours, hoping to beat the clock so they don’t have to vote for yet another interim budget until they can come up with a viable plan that doesn’t eat so deeply into residents’ wallets.
The reality is clear: tax increase or cuts, deep ones.
Causey said it best in presenting his budget plan when he noted that the proposed tax increase is “more a result of circumstances than increased discretionary spending on the part of the county.”
He’s right, and commissioners should know it.
Causey is merely doing his job, and presenting what he believes it will take to meet the budgetary needs that commissioners have given the green light to or, at the very least, not put a stop to.
It’s past time for commissioners to do theirs.