Archived Story

If it walks like a duck…

Published 9:40am Saturday, April 28, 2012

Surely the “no tax increase” Southampton County Board of Supervisors doesn’t think it’s fooling anybody — much less fulfilling a campaign promise — with a proposal to keep property taxes level while socking households with a $200 annual “solid waste fee.”

Surely not.

Politicians wonder why, as a professional class, they are held in such low esteem— lower even than journalists and used-car salesmen in most public-opinion surveys. Exhibit A is the budgetary shell game blessed Wednesday night by Southampton supervisors — especially the “gang of four” elected in November on a campaign promise to impose fiscal discipline in county government.

The proposed county budget is the crassest of political maneuvers: “holding the line on taxes” while grabbing $200 from taxpayers’ wallets and calling it a garbage fee. Supervisors — save for Carl Faison, who opposed the draft budget — must think their constituents just fell off the turnip truck. At least Glenn Updike acknowledged the tax hike for what it was, even as he voted to move the proposal forward.

The bottom line is this: Alan Edwards, Bruce Phillips, Barry Porter and Updike — well-intentioned, likable fellows all — made a campaign promise that they now must keep or break. It happens all the time in politics. When the fantasyland of campaigning turns into the reality of governing, elected officials are forced to backtrack.

Statesmen acknowledge the naïveté of their campaign rhetoric, man up and do what is needed. Politicians play word games and call a tax a “fee.”

There’s some embarrassment — but no shame — in the former. There’s no integrity in the latter.

It was clear from the beginning of the county’s fiscal 2013 budget talks that a mix of new revenues and spending cuts would be needed to produce a balanced and politically palatable, if not optimal, spending plan.

In defense of the current board, the current fiscal mess is largely the product of its predecessors, who failed to see — or saw and ignored — the brewing fiscal storm that should have been as obvious as an approaching Category 5 hurricane.

Just as the real estate economy was tanking, the board borrowed huge money for a sewage plant to meet mostly long-term needs. The interest tab is now due.

The board stubbornly refused to explore with neighboring Franklin substantive consolidation of services.

It adopted land-use taxation without a long-term strategy for replacing the lost revenue with spending cuts or new revenue.

On a smaller scale, it hired an assistant county administrator who even the county administrator said he didn’t need. That salary alone is a drop in the bucket, but the decision was indicative of the prior board’s mind-set.

The current board now has to get the county out of a fiscal crisis. That will require political courage that was noticeably lacking Wednesday night.

If the board wants to spread the tax burden beyond landowners and homeowners to renters (a reasonable objective, by the way), then raise the personal property tax. Don’t create an entirely new tax that will require an expanded bureaucracy to assess, collect and enforce.

Southampton County citizens aren’t fooled by semantics.

Steve Stewart is publisher of The Tidewater News. His email address is

  • johnmstx

    Ref: If it walks like a duck…

    If that ground breaking idiotic precedent of a $200.00 Garbage fee passes; get ready!
    Get ready for similar actions re: other “Services”, Fire? Police? Etc. What will be next?
    Will it be an annual fee?
    The biggest reaction that can almost be guaranteed; There will be garbage strewn along every roadway in the County by folk that are not able to come up with $200.00.
    Most probably on rural roads. People can NOT afford it. Tax if you must but do it the proper way, not underhanded, manner.
    John Murphy
    Campbell’s Run

    Suggest Removal

  • lwoodley

    As a Southampton County Public Schools employee I want to clear up a misconception about the so call “COMPLETELY PAID FAMILY HEALTH INSURANCE”. This is a fact the employees have to pay $1,000 a month for family health insurance. So please get the true facts about what goes on with the school system before making comments. Thank You!

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  • donarob

    It seems that the Southampton County Board has taken lessons from their neighbors in Suffolk. As you have already stated, “If is walks like a duck…”

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  • justthinking

    In response to the “trading places” with Franklin due to the lower fee, I have to say that it’s a tad bit different. You pay your fee and some one picks up your trash and carries it away on a regular basis. We on the other hand are going to bag, tote, load and carry our own trash to the dump – just as we always have – per their schedule. The only thing that has changed is that we pay to do it now.

    I know something needs to be done, and I’m not complaining about what’s been proposed….yet, but I think the difference in these two “services” needed to be pointed out.

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    • employee2

      I hear you, but I think I can get by cheaper, unless it costs me $320.92 per year to carry it to a dump site.

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  • Curiousreader

    COMPLETELY PAID FAMILY HEALTH INSURANCE ?????????????? If this is true and I don’t know if it is…
    Well no wonder they are in dire straights! Someone needs to have a dose of reality dumped in their laps. NO ONE needs to have those kinds of perks for a PART-TIME job serving their neighbors. Our BOS needs to dig deep and not be hasty to make cuts that are “easy’ for them and detrimental to our future.

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  • fhancock

    I was at the meeting and I witness that Mr. Fasion voted against the newly proposed Budget as he wanted the increase in taxes of 77 cents. The 4 new BOS Members reduced that tax to 75 cents (thereby, Phillips, Updike, Porter and Edwards were after lower taxes than Fasion).
    This is a proposal, not a done deal yet … the BOS will have another Budget Meeting this upcoming Wed. I feel that Mr. Stewart is not clear on what happened at the meeting last week. Whose idea is the $200 trash collection “FEE” — I understood it came from SoCo Adminstrator Michael Johnson. I also believed that Johnson was the one who suggested that ALL SoCo Dept Heads submit budget cuts via termination of their employees (instead of reducing “fat”). Also, I am not certain of this as a fact, as the School Budget is rather unclear BUT an example of “fat” would be the COMPLETELY PAID FAMILY HEALTH INSURANCE THE SoCo School BOARD receives in addition to their $6000 salary and travel expenses and perhaps other perks (I am not sure of these perks, as I said — but if true, then to remove some of these perks instead of firing a couple teachers would be a better solution for the sake of education of our children). And hats off to the 4 new BOS (Phillips, Porter, Updike, and Edwards) as they are willing to donate their $5000 salary back to the taxpayers/SoCo … what is the SoCo School Board willing to do as their “salary” may be so much greater? Please keep in mind, that the 4 new BOS inherited the county budget issues, they did not create it. I believe Faison was in office a few years back when the previous SoCo BOS tried to give themselves fully paid health insurance. My apologies to the 4 new BOS, you have a difficult job ahead which you did not create and you are receiving a false label (from Mr. Stewart).

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    • 1stAmendment

      1. ONLY Phillips and Porter waived their salary. Updike and Edwards did not.

      2. Do the math. A “tax hike” to 77 cents would come out less per household than a $200. annual fee.

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  • employee2

    City of Franklin garbage charges are $520.92 per year $43.41 per month in addition to real estate taxes. Wanna trade places?

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  • kingradman

    YOU got that right!!!!!! ITS STILL a tax, no matter what you call it! I wonder who is going to get a waiver on this? Who is responsible the land owners , or if your renter are you? Thjey ae just reying to protect their record and say we didnt raise taxes. Richmond does the same., We will just raise “fees” just bull, they should be ashamed!

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  • FromHere

    Excellent article! Very well said.

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  • Maxdoubt

    When I read the Tidewater News Headline on Thursday: “Budget Draft: No Tax Hike” I thought almost the same thing. Who do they think they are fooling.

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