County budgetis a good one

The Sampson County Board of Commissioners and county staff deserve a lot of credit for this year’s budget preparation and the path that seems to be leading to timely passage of a fiscal plan that, on top of everything else, doesn’t call for a tax increase.

After last year’s budget debacle, the change in direction is welcome and greatly appreciated.

While we, like many in county government, would like to see more funding for our two school systems and the community college, as well as increased financial nods to areas where great staffing needs seem to always arise, such as the Department of Social Services and the Sheriff’s Office, overall we believe the proposed 2015-16 fiscal plan is a solid one that moves Sampson forward without placing undue burden on its citizens.

In fairness, the budget calls for a 6 percent increase in funding for the county and city school systems from $880 to $930 per student and allocates $123,990 for replacement of the cooling tower in Kitchin Hall at Sampson Community College as well as $176,018 to replace the membrane roof on SCC’s North Building — tallying about $300,000. With the financial issues our county has faced of late, we would be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge those moves as positive steps in the educational arena.

We would also be remiss if we didn’t note the impressive turn-around the county has experienced in the last year, evidenced by this year’s entire budget process, the lack of a tax hike and the responsible planning that has, as County Manager Ed Causey noted last week, “reduced, but not eliminated, some of our budgetary pressures.”

Causey has credited the positive impact of new industry, sales and property tax revenues and the county’s strong fiscal standing and significant savings realized through a recent bond refinancing, along with that planning, as reasons for a better budget year.

We add to that a group of commissioners willing to buckle down and work with county staff to hammer out a workable plan, something lacking in years past.

With all that said, however, there are certain areas that we urge commissioners to take one last look at before adopting the budget ordinance, likely to take place at a 4 p.m. meeting on June 25.

Among those areas is funding for the Sampson County History Museum. The proposed budget calls for the museum to receive a special appropriation upwards of $56,000, money we believe will be well spent on one of this county’s greatest gems.

While we understand — and agree with up to a point — Commissioner Albert Kirby’s argument that funding the History Museum while turning a blind eye to other requests from places such as the Harrells Community Center, the Coharie Tribal Center or the Sampson High School Alumni Association smacks of unfairness, looking at the bigger picture brings perspective.

The History Museum is representative of the entire county and its rich history and works to bring tourism, and those dollars, into our county. Money to help make a great asset even greater benefits Sampson and serves as a beacon for all its citizens. We see it as the county’s responsibility to do what it can to help it flourish.

The other non-profits mentioned are wonderful entities in their own right and have done much good, some for many, many years. The difference is those entities serve specific groups and not the county as a whole, making them harder for commissioners to legitimately fund without, as Causey indicated, opening the flood gates to any number of other worthwhile groups that do a lot of good for some of Sampson’s residents.

Commissioners should move forward with funding for the History Museum, understanding its place in the overall picture of our great county and the board’s responsibility to help it succeed.