Beginning at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Sampson’s county commissioners will return to work, trying to find a resolution to a 2014-15 budget conundrum that has left the county with an interim fiscal plan through July 31 and department heads scrambling to produce a map that will lead governing officials to 5 percent across-the-board cuts.
The meeting is scheduled to run, minus lunch and presumably dinner, through 8 p.m., with employees back before the board to discuss their departments throughout the day.
If it seems a little like deja vu, it’s because it absolutely is. This is exactly where commissioners were in 2013 when the five-member board decided to avoid last minute budget wrangling by holding monthly meetings with department heads to discuss finances, assess needs and make recommended cuts.
The meetings were conducted, discussions were held, but no cuts were made leading up to May and the initial toss-out of a 2014-15 budget proposal that called for a 9-cent tax hike. Commissioners immediately went into political high-gear, thwarting what they had to have known was coming and whittling away at a 9-cent property tax hike, dropping it to a little over 5 cent before the 3-2 vote that came a few weeks ago calling for the 5 percent reduction across all departments that would likely mean no tax hike this year.
The cuts could be severe, tanking some services and sending employees to the unemployment line.
While the jury is still out on exactly what will happen Wednesday and in the days to follow as commissioners try to find a workable solution that will allow adoption of a 2014-15 fiscal plan, one thing is clear: Sampson County government is walking a financial tight rope that could lead us all down a very dangerous road.
While we understand that commissioners have a difficult task before them, it is no more, after all, than what they signed on for when they sought election to these all-important jobs. If anyone thought it would be an easy ride, they’ve not paid attention to what’s been going on in county government for the last few years.
And the time has come for them to do the jobs they were elected to do, no matter how difficult those jobs might be. Commissioners aren’t there to win a popularity contest; they are there to make the very best decisions they can for citizens, employees and the county as a whole. And their decisions should not be based merely on this month, this budget cycle or any calendar year.
Commissioners are to be good stewards of the county’s money and its services; they are to be visionary, looking beyond their own tenure to the county’s future; and they are to be attuned to the needs so when they have to make difficult decisions they base them on those needs first and foremost.
They cannot do any of that unless they set aside personal grudges, political and personal agendas and the desire to follow the wishes of a few versus the majority.
Since commissioners have been away from this issue for a couple weeks now, we hope clearer and calmer heads will prevail as they enter this long meeting Wednesday, and we hope they find a workable solution that does more than fix the immediate problem but sets a course so that next year and the next won’t be a repeat of the ongoing fiasco.