See related story A1
It seems like an instant replay, but unfortunately, it’s really not. What is unfolding over on Rowan Road in the Sampson County government complex is, indeed, more of the same, but it’s a different year and an even more critical set of circumstances, with a budget quandary we aren’t sure can be easily rectified at this late stage in the game.
Here’s how it stands now: the Sampson County Board of Commissioners have unanimously placed county operations in a holding pattern with members’ decision Thursday night to adopt yet another interim budget with a new fiscal year looming.
This would be a bad scenario any time, but when you consider it’s the third year running that our commissioners have opted for an interim budget rather than doing their jobs, it borders on ridiculous. It would be laughable were it not so very serious.
Perhaps even sadder is the fact that most residents knew this interim budget was coming. It’s not hard to second guess what these gentlemen will do when they can’t reach a consensus — drop back, stall and then feign much love for the same county employees they are leaving in a lurch.
Nothing new about that either.
An interim budget was the only place this could go; that handwriting has really been on the wall since the 2014-15 budget talks opened this year and a proposed 9-cent tax hike was tossed on the table. Even the tax hike didn’t surprise most citizens, though it seemed to be a brick to the sides of commissioners’ heads.
Why the board was surprised is anyone’s guess given the countless hours — and months — they’ve spent pouring over departmental budgets, presumably as a means of making the budget-cutting process easier this year. That obviously didn’t happen, and now we are about to enter July with an interim budget, a directive to county staff to provide a new fiscal plan that cuts 5 percent from every county department and employee morale likely as low as its ever been.
We know commissioners are faced with difficult financial decisions and they are trying, in their own way, to work through those cuts in the least painful way possible. But this year, like the last two, it’s been too little and far, far too late. And we, nor residents, should give this board a pat on the back for failing at the single most important part of their jobs, no matter how well-intentioned they may be.
County governments are charged with having a new budget in place each July 1. Failing to do so virtually applies brakes to activity, leaving everything in limbo. That’s where commissioners have placed Sampson again this year.
It didn’t have to be that way. Had commissioners offered up suggested cuts during the months-long pre-budget trail, as they had said they would, a budget likely would already be adopted. Instead, no cuts were made, a significant tax cut was proposed and the fight began, sometimes getting ugly, other times down right silly.
The interim budget is now the end result, with commissioners preparing to meet again in about a week to look at the latest 5 percent cut proposal.
There’s likely to be more nastiness as the board tries to digest what such cuts would really look like, something we imagine won’t be too pretty or too easily accomplished.
And then what? That’s the big question. We have no confidence in this board’s ability to find workable solutions any more, and truth be told, neither do most employees and citizens in this county.
It’s a bad place for commissioners to find themselves, but they have no one to blame for that position but themselves.