Sampson County finally has a budget, but before anyone breaks out the champagne and begins the celebration, residents should consider what actually happened and how long it took to get where we are now, with a 4.5 cent tax hike and very little else to show for it.
Growth will be minimal, existing problems may be patched but likely will go without complete fixes, more money will be drained from the county’s contingency fund and commissioners are more divided than ever, despite what we believe was an obviously pre-planned and unanimous vote Monday night.
Perhaps the board felt an orchestrated vote to hike taxes by about half what county manager Ed Causey recommended was needed to offset the unsettling way they’ve attempted to conduct business over the last month. Perhaps they thought everyone would be so happy a budget impasse was crossed that they wouldn’t notice the debacle it took to get there.
And where are we really? While it appears county employees may be on the road to a long overdue raise, paying for it and a plethora of other things, including continued debt for school and jail construction, will be the albatross hanging around the neck of this board — minus chairman Jefferson Strickland and board member Jarvis McLamb — come next year. It’s the same weight that hung around this board’s neck in 2013 when, after a long and arduous battle, a fiscal plan was approved just one week earlier than the 2014-15 one OK’d Monday night.
In so many ways, it’s like a broken record, skipping the important measures to get to the final chorus. Scenarios from last year to this year are so similar it’s scary. The proof is in the words, lifted from assorted stories The Sampson Independent published during last year’s budget fiasco that ended much like this year’s, minus the tax hike.
From June and July 2013:
• A quote from Commissioner Billy Lockamy, “After we work through this and get our budget, next year we are going to do some studying and some hard cutting.”
• A quote from Commissioner Jefferson Strickland: “The word ‘tax increase’ is about the ugliest word I believe that’s ever been said.’
• A quote from Lockamy: “If we don’t make some adjustments and some changes, we’ll be using an ugly word.”
• From Albert Kirby: “I don’t care how mad anyone gets, I’m not going to vote to kick the can down the road.”
• And, from county manager Ed Causey: “Whether you get to it next year or the year after, that 5 or 6 cents is going to haunt you until you put it in place and go ahead and bite the bullet and pay. At the end of the day, I believe there’s going to have to be an adjustment to the overall tax rate if we’re going to survive the next 20 to 25 years.”
The can has now been kicked down that road, the ugly word has been implemented, the studying was a moot point and the tax hike now in place is merely a Band Aid that will be ripped off next year as we head into Round 3 or is it Round 4 of same song, different year.
Reasons to celebrate? We simply don’t think so.