Beaufort County’s worst enemy

Published 7:36 pm Friday, June 10, 2016

The Beaufort County Board of Commissioners is where both fiscal responsibility and good judgment go to die.

Unfortunately, the economic vitality of the county has suffered greatly from the board’s continuing incompetence. Year after year, budget after budget has been burdened with the influence of the all-too-familiar, crony businessmen, special-interest voting blocs and the grand visions of various county commissioners whose private careers give no evidence of their possessing the talent to plan and execute the types of long-range programs and expenditures on which they have wasted so much of the taxpayers’ money.

Under the inept guidance of the county board, the community college has entered a downward spiral in enrollment that suggests a declining relevance to its customer base, a hospital has been sold off for pennies on the dollar, while frivolous mega jails, corporate favoritism and industrial parks have sucked millions of dollars from the otherwise useful purposes that this money would have been directed toward if it had simply been left in the hands of the taxpayers who earned it.

From 2011 to 2015, the average annual cost of Beaufort County’s government was $52 million. Then in 2015, the board allowed an interim county manager to propose a budget that eventually expanded spending by $6 million, overestimated revenue by nearly $2 million and resulted in a deficit of more that $4 million. The county commissioners encouraged a man who never established residency in this county or paid its taxes to set us on the path to budgets of $60 million, requiring tax increases of $3 million, and resulting in a further deficit of $1 million as we approach the 2018 property revaluation. In just two budget cycles, the county’s general fund balance, i.e., our cash cushion, has fallen from 35 percent of total spending to 23 percent of total spending. In the next year alone, property taxes will rise 4 percent, trash fees will jump 55 percent and water rates will move higher.

Over $3 million in new fees and taxes will go down the rat hole only to be followed by an additional $1 million that will be drained from our shrinking cash reserves.

Linking the depletion in cash reserves to the expected $1 million deficit brings up an important problem. Even with this year’s increase in taxes and fees, revenues are falling further and further behind expenditures. Government spending is growing at three times the growth rate of the county’s private economy. To feed the increasing appetite our county commissioners have for spending other people’s money, taxes will need to accelerate from here. The arithmetic is unarguable, and it highlights the fact that the current, dysfunctional county board is the worst enemy Beaufort County’s future has to contend with.

The outcome is not only predictable; it is predetermined. As long as we continue to elect commissioners who cannot keep Beaufort County’s spending from outpacing our private sector’s growth, we can count on ever-higher taxes, low job creation and a hamstrung economy.

Warren Smith is a Beaufort County resident.