Most in large crowd irate over property tax increase
Ann Holton’s attempt to revisit May 22 vote ruled out of order by Chairman Paul Delamar
Audience cheers as Ollison vows: “We don’t need to raise a big bank account on backs of people in Pamlico County!”
BAYBORO – Monday night’s crowd was huge – the biggest turnout in more than a decade for a meeting of the Pamlico County Commission. Anticipating a well-attended session, Tim Buck, the county manager, had arranged to host the session in the large second floor courtroom, complete with microphones and speakers.
One by one, regular rank-and-file citizens entered through the double doors of the courtroom. By 7 pm, vacant seats were few and far between.
Of a dozen or so citizens who took advantage of a three-minute public comment period to address elected officials, the overwhelming majority of the audience murmured their concurrence when critics described a litany of consequences that will flow from an increase in the property tax.
Lee Cox, developer of Pecan Grove Marina on the outskirts of Oriental, said “this increased taxing comes at a time when there is a lot of stress on our local economy.”
Dustin Turnage, who runs a land-clearing and excavation business with his father, said “overhead expenses in our industry have literally doubled over the last 10 years. Any type of tax increase will force us to pursue other areas, which probably means laying people off.”
Young mother Carinna Smith complained of charges imposed upon recreational groups to use the gym facilities of local schools. “There are two school superintendents in this county, each making large salaries,” she said. “Maybe its time we got along with just one,” later adding: “I might be in favor of a tax increase, if I could see where the money is going!”
Gray Popp, 77, described herself as “alone, a widow, living on a fixed income, and you’re planning to raise my taxes again? I’ll need to choose whether to buy food one week and go without medicine. And, the next week, I’ll get medicine and go without food.”
Doug Pearsall, who leads the local chapter of the NAACP, said “I have issues every day with people who are barely making it. Some of the many people who have moved here may not have a problem with a tax increase, but believe, that’s because they are making enormous amounts of money.”
But some of the public comments went against the prevailing winds, including remarks from Sheriff Chris Davis; Ray Poole, representing Pamlico Rescue Squad; June Hardison, an employee with the Pamlico County School System; and Dave Wickersham – who stressed he was speaking as a private citizen, and “not as the head of any group” (a reference to the fact that Wickersham is president of the Pamlico County Republican Party).
As sheriff, Davis conceded that Public Safety receives by far the biggest chunk of the county budget, but he justified the large slice, recalling “when I took office in December of 2014, the crime rate in Pamlico County was at an all-time high.”
Poole quickly summed up why sufficient funding for his department is so crucial. “Last year, there were 2,456 calls answered. If you need us, call us,” said Poole, adding” “We’ll be there.”
Hardison said increased property taxes offer “benefits that outweigh the costs, letting us attract and retain top quality teachers.”
And, Wickersham declared “less government does not mean no government.” He said increased county savings are important “to maintain and grow the fund balance for those storms that we know will come.”
Carl Ollison, the county commissioner who has served longer than any of his colleagues, was clearly the crowd favorite. As the last person to take the microphone, Ollison had earlier elicited from Buck, the county manager, a concession that Pamlico County often budgets an appropriation from savings as a way to balance revenues and expenses, but seldom are those savings actually needed as the year unfolds.
As the crowd began to cheer, Ollison could have been mistaken for an evangelical preacher as he finished his remarks with a crescendo:
“Pamlico County has $9 million in the bank, just sitting there,” said Ollison. “We’ve got twice as much money in there as we really need. We don’t need to raise a big bank account on the backs of people in Pamlico County!”
Later, Delamar clashed with Commissioner Ann Holton, when she asked for the privilege of being allowed to resurrect the May 22 split vote, in which a property tax increase was approved.
“I rule that motion out of order,” said a brusque Delamar. “To reinitiate that discussion, a motion must come from a member of the prevailing majority.”
The majority in this case are the four commissioners who originally voted for the controversial property tax increase: Missy Baskervill, Candy Bohmert, Paul Delamar, and Pat Prescott.
Stay tuned. A public hearing on the proposed budget – and that pesky property tax increase – is set for 7 pm on Monday, June 19. Once again, every member of the public is welcome to attend!