The Stokes County Board of Commissioner’s chambers were packed Monday night with a number of local citizens demanding the board do what ever it took, including raising taxes, to adequately fund the county’s schools and EMS services.
Speakers in favor of a greater investment by the county were led by Darlene Dill who started an online petition requesting full financial support for critical county needs on Friday. She said that since posting the petition on her personal Facebook page it had received 328 signatures in three days.
“I believe that speaks volumes,” said Dill. “My petition only mentions a fraction of the problems that need to be addressed.”
The petition reads: “We the tax payers of Stokes County demand that you approve a budget that continues to serve this county in the capacity that we are accustomed to. We demand that you fund the schools as they have requested. We demand that you continue EMS services with the same level of outstanding care that we have been receiving. We demand that you make their salaries comparable with surrounding counties. We demand that you fund the Animal Shelter and accept strays and owner surrenders. We also demand that you staff the Animal Shelter with competent people that work to get these animal to loving homes. Last but not least, we demand that you start holding your manager, department heads and yourselves accountable for the outrageous salaries and expenditures. Money is wasted in this county every day and the voters are tired of it. We also accept that because of mismanagement, a tax increase is necessary. Do what needs to be done and do it NOW!!”
“We are asking you to fund the necessary programs and if raising taxes is the only choice then we the citizens accept our responsibility,” added Dill. “Will you accept yours?”
A number of residents of the Lawsonville community were at the meeting asking for full funding for the school system and additional funding for the Lawsonville Pre-K program which is scheduled to be closed next year.
“When I first came to Lawsonville Elementary 10 years ago we had a pre-K, reading specialists, assistants in every classroom and money for supplies and text books,” said teacher Amy Conner. “What has happened to our school system is a lot like clear cutting. We have been chopped off and left with stumps and piles of debris. We have lost teachers, textbooks and students. Now that field is empty. We have used all of the stumps and scraps and you still want us to chop down trees. There is nothing left to chop.
“I have eight science textbooks for 20 students and they are eight years old,” she added. “They still have Pluto as a planet. We will have no math textbooks next year. I will be teaching in a combination class next year and my son will have at least 25 students in his classroom, half of them will have special needs and there will be no assistant. We might also lose our teacher supplement and possibly our dental insurance.
“Raising taxes may not be the most popular solution, but sometimes what is popular is not always right and what is right is not always popular,” she added.
Another Lawsonville teacher, Brandy Davis, said that when she started at the school 10 years ago they were still using the same textbooks she had used as a student at the school. She said the closure of the pre-K program would have a detrimental impact on the school and the county.
“If we are providing children with a bare minimum education then they will become bare minimum citizens who pay bare minimum taxes and what does that mean for our future?” she asked.
Other speakers talked about the need for the county to provide adequate funding for EMS services.
Dwayne Young highlighted portions of a recent New York Times article which examined the impact of privatizing emergency services throughout the country (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/26/business/dealbook/when-you-dial-911-and-wall-street-answers.html).
“I ask you to consider funding EMS,” he said. “If you don’t do it this year something worse will happen next year. When you live in a small rural community the citizens bear the brunt and I know a lot of citizens are ready to help foot the bill beginning now. I am afraid that if you don’t start now the bleeding will be too big to stop.”
Rebecca Gibson agreed, saying that she wanted an EMS service that knew and cared about Stokes County.
“If we need to pay the competitive salaries then that is what we need to do and whatever it takes to make that happen needs to occur,” she said. “These services are more important than taxes. These people are invested in this county. They know the terrain. They are our friends and neighbors. We go to church with them. We go to baptisms with them on the riverbanks. I would like to see these talented people stay employed in Stokes County and stop losing them to other counties that pay higher salaries. There is no one more qualified to take care of the people of Stokes County than people from Stokes County.”
Debbie Vaden said that privatizing EMS services would result in companies caring more for profit than the health of the county residents.
“I want someone who knows where they are going and has an interest in the Stokes County resident they are picking up,” she said.
Vaden also encouraged the commissioners to think outside the box when it came to attempts to try to save the county hospital.
“We need to make sure we get out of this business deal with Pioneer,” she said. “From what I read you are giving them money and they are still doing the billing. From what I have seen the billing is one of the main issues for why they are where they are right now.”
She offer to help advised the board, noting that she had 25 years of management experience in healthcare.
“If you don’t want me then hire a consultant,” she said. “None of you have medical business background so you have to be getting your information from the people at the hospital right now. They have been there too long, and when you get in a situation where everything is negative and you feel like you are in a black hole you can’s swim out of it. So they do not have innovative ideas to get the hospital back and going. I want to see it stay open, but we have to have some creative ways to make that happen.”
Two speakers asked the board to not raise taxes this year.
Amos Elvis told the board that he moved to the county because of low taxes and noted that the county raised taxes by four cents five years ago to fund school construction and by two cents last year.
“The county needs to remember that the tax payers cannot keep paying high taxes to gain more revenue,” he said. “We are still working in a weak economy. Stokes County’s older population has increased so more and more are living on fixed incomes.”
Elvis said many families had been depending on tobacco buyout money which ended this year.
E.A. Timm said raising taxes was contrary to justice.
“Property taxes should be, alone, for securing one’s right to their property,” said Timm. “not for the needs of others, whether for social services, social projects nor for bailouts of bankrupt businesses.
“It is not just,” he added. “It violates justice to tax one’s property for the benefit or need of another. It is the perversion of law.”
The difficult decisions facing the board was best summed up by Jo Elvis who said she could not argue with any of the needs that other speakers needed full funding, but also knew people who were living on fixed incomes.
“It seems like you have a lot of issues that are coming about at the same time,” she said. “Priorities need to be made. I don’t envy you at all.”
Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.