Archived Story

Now’s the time for leadership

Published 9:22am Saturday, April 21, 2012

When the Southampton County Board of Supervisors took office earlier this year, it included four new members who rode in on a wave of anti-tax sentiment and were armed with an agenda focused solely on fiscal responsibility.

It’s an easy and popular campaign pledge to make, refusing to raise taxes and promising to drop the hammer on wasteful government spending, but it is a pledge that requires no courage at all to make. It’s kind of like running for senior class president on a platform of better snacks in the vending machines and an early dismissal every Friday. I don’t know a single soul who wants to pay more in taxes to support a bloated, inefficient government, so I rarely find myself admiring the courage of candidates who promise to cut taxes and government waste.

What does take courage is realizing that sticking to that pledge would require draconian cuts to essential services like public safety and education — and acknowledging that, unless the board secretly possesses a new stream of revenue it has yet to unveil to the rest of us, a tax increase might be the only solution.

Real leaders muster this type of courage when times demand it, and what is required in Southampton County government today is just that: leadership.

It will take leadership to acknowledge that, regardless of campaign promises made, eliminating 31 teachers and 38 staff positions from our schools isn’t creating a better future for the children of Southampton County; it is taking us backward after so much hard work has been done and progress has been made.

It will require leadership to understand that eliminating 27 deputies from the Sheriff’s Department won’t create a safer community with improved communication between law enforcement and citizens; it will jeopardize safety on our roads and welcome more crime to a 600-square-mile county that is already difficult to patrol and protect.

Leadership isn’t about digging in your heels and refusing to change course in an attempt to save political face. Leadership is about assessing the facts and making a decision that, regardless of how unpopular, is in the best interest of the future of Southampton County.

I don’t want my taxes to go up. And I don’t want any of my neighbors’ to go up, either. But we’re faced with decisions that will have real and lasting implications on this community for years to come.

What are at stake, frankly, are the quality of our schools and the safety of our streets. We heard a lot of tough talk from the new supervisors before taking office about the future of the county for our children and grandchildren. What we have yet to hear, however, are suggestions or solutions about how we make that future brighter. Simply taking a hard line on taxes is neither a suggestion nor a solution; it is merely drawing a line in the sand and daring someone to cross it.

They wanted this job— and promised that taking a hard line on taxes was how they’d help turn around Southampton County. Well, now that they’ve got the job, the time for tough talk is done; it’s time for solutions now. We need for our leadership to show some courage, and over the next few weeks we’ll get to see who’s got some.

TONY CLARK is the general manager and advertising director at The Tidewater News. He can be reached at tony.clark@tidewaternews.com.

  • confusedagain

    I’m sorry but I don’t understand the connection between cutting wasteful government spending and draconian cuts to public safety and education. Is our county saying that there is nowhere else to cut spending? I know there are places in my family spending, as well as my job, that I could cut. I agree with Curiousreader that each department head could trim the fat. I’m sure most people, businesses, and governments spend money on things that are not absolutely necessary. We need to take a look at all the expenses to see what can be cut, not just scare people with teachers and public safety personnel losing their jobs. I’m like everyone else – I don’t want to jeopardize our public safety or our kids’ education. I’d much rather see cuts in unnecessary travel, business trips, meals, county vehicles, memberships, etc.

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  • Curiousreader

    In a society where “bigger, newer, and shinier is better” and “instant gratification” is the norm it’s difficult to stay within a budget. Cuts are not popular but just like every household in the region, our government also needs to learn to trim down and do without. Surely each department head can be asked to trim the fat. They would certainly know what can be eliminated better than the board. Why not give them the challenge first, to find a way to do without and if they cannot come up with cuts, then let the board do what it must.

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  • 1stAmendment

    Good editorial.

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  • kingradman

    We could use some leadership in Ivor too, But people dont like change

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  • Liberty With Responsibility

    According to this, “keeping your word” is of no value at all. Going along to get along is the real measure of leadership? And then the paper can re-inforce the cliche that “politicians never keep their campaign promises.”

    There is no way to avoid the necessary pain.

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  • nadawa

    Tony, using the “Digging in your heels” cliche is about as bad as saying the members of the Board are “cutting off their noses to spite their faces” (I apologize for the second one, but you started it.) “Draconian” cuts are not necessary, as I see it, but rational cuts are. I can remember when the police force in Southampton County consisted of a sheriff and two or three deputies. I am not dumb enough to suggest that they had the technology nor the sophistication of the present department, but to use another cliche, they muddled through somehow.

    The point is, sensible cuts have to be made in the areas of personnel, benefits, and tenured salaries. Layoffs should be a part of this, but start with those who are either near retirement age or, in several cases, beyond the time of retirement.

    Last cliche–if you’re not a part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. We all need to support the present Board to be a part of the former.

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    • Sinoptik

      “Lay off those near retirement age”? As in cut loose those who served or taught in the county for decades just short of full retirement? I have to stop now before I write something that can’t be printed.

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    • Froggie

      Nadawa,
      I remember when there was not as much crime! I remember when I could go to the grocery store and not worry about being robbed or shot! I remember when children could go out and play and you didn’t have to worry about them being shot or kidnapped. I remember when I could leave my home to go to work and hope my house would not be robbed while I was gone.
      I remember working really hard all my life and am hoping not to be pushed into retirement. I remember being a teacher and teaching every child and now being made to feel like less teachers and less aides would benefit the children. I remember …. Cuts do need to be made – but, education and public safety? Do you have any concern as to what those cuts may cause?

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  • happycamper

    Tony: While I see your point, I must ask you to consider another perspective. Let me start with a question: At what point is it simply NOT okay to raise taxes any more? You say that leaders should be realistic and not stand doggedly on their promise of “no new taxes” and “cut spending”. You say that they should seek a middle-of-the-road stance that perhaps DOES raise taxes some while they look for ways to be more efficient. I ask again: When is that solution no longer viable? Should we keep doing what you say until we’re taxed at a 100% rate? I’ll bet that if you turn back the clock 40 years or so, this same argument was roiling. And, I’ll bet, those who at that time were in the same camp that you now are proposing would now say, “Enough already!”

    I understand your penchant for being reasonable, but just how far does one take that view. I say, at some point in time, we MUST get back to a philosophy of being more self-reliant, of being more diligent in holding government’s feet to the fire on efficiency, and being more willing to simply draw a line in the sand. Maybe today is not the time to draw that line. But … I ask you … when is the right time? Is it when all our taxes combined add up to more than we make? Or, instead, should we be left with enough of our hard-earned dollars to enjoy our OWN lives a bit? Just askin’!

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    • kingradman

      I agree, at what point does it stop? Once taxes are raised they will never be reduced. And the governments just spend more. Its a never ending cycle. this will be painful and hurt everyone

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