As the new Legislature begins to grapple with their budget shortages, I think the Republicans and Democrats in Raleigh could take a lesson from the Chowan County Commissioners. It was only a few years ago the County revealed they had a financial crisis. Millions of dollars, thought to be in a Reserve Fund, had been used to cover budget shortfalls during multiple years. The County was broke. Real fears existed if they could continue to pay their bills.
Enter several new Board Members. Under Commissioner Goodwin’s leadership, and Keith Nixon’s knowledge of finances, the Board started making the difficult decisions to bring the County back from the brink of disaster. They made decisions that were not always popular, but were necessary.
Over the next few years, they consolidated departments and buildings. All Departments or activities funded by the County were asked to look at and cut their budgets. It was done as fairly as possible. The Board kept the people in the community informed. The Board was not afraid to face the people and defend what they did.
They were forced to raise taxes. They offered discounts if you paid your taxes early. This was done for two reasons. First it helped with the necessary cash flow to keep the County afloat. Secondly, it also helped the taxpayers because if they did pay early, they received a small discount. This helped offset the rise in taxes to the taxpayers. To their credit, they let the people decide on Election Day, if additional an increase in the sales tax was necessary.
Not all people liked what had to happen. But most, not only accepted it, but respected the professional manner it was handled.
The result is the County will shortly reach the reserves required by the state. The Commissioner’s actions saved Chowan County and we are again back on a firm footing. I am confident the County Commissioners will now take responsible steps to ensure there will not be a repeat of this crisis.
Our new Republican Majorities in Raleigh could do well to study what Chowan County did to deal with their financial crisis. If they follow their pattern of responsible cuts, openness, and fairness of the necessary reductions, they will be successful. North Carolina could resolve their spending issues and get the State back on a solid financial footing. On reflection, after the State completes studying the County’s successful return from financial ruin, they might forward their findings to their fellow legislators in Washington DC.