Northampton tax rate unchanged

Published 9:11 am Tuesday, June 2, 2009

JACKSON — Northampton County Manager Wayne Jenkins officially presented the county’s upcoming budget and everyone had something to say about it.

On Monday, more than 40 citizens gathered at the Commissioners’ meeting room for the public hearing on the budget.

The crowd was so large, the commissioners’ decided to move the public hearing to the multipurpose room at the Northampton County Cultural and Wellness Center where prior arrangements had been made to accommodate the board and citizens.

Jenkins presented a $27,291,908 operating budget based on an ad valorem tax rate of 78 cents per $100 of value, which is the same tax rate as last year. Of that budget, $22,526,717 is for the county’s general fund.

The budget also keeps the county’s undesignated fund balance at a fiscally responsible level as no appropriation is needed to balance the budget.

Jenkins said the budget was arrived at by reducing expenditures by $613,556 or a 2.7 decrease over the current year funding levels.

“This budget provides for a reduction of $727,111 or a 10.2 percent decrease in human services (directly attributable to the Medicaid relief legislation); a 7.6 percent increase in general county government; and less than a one percent increase in public safety,” said Jenkins.

Also factored into the budget is a five day county furlough for county employees, which will save the county $108,750.

The budget appropriates $4.1 million to Northampton County Schools; of that amount $3.64 million is allotted to current expense, $325,000 to capital outlay and $140,000 coming from court systems fines and forfeitures.

Jenkins said the amount allocated to the school system is an increase of $10,000.

Ongoing capital projects for the county include the North Carolina Center for Automotive Research (NCCAR), Phase V Water System Improvements Project, the Resinall Rail Relocation Project and a Community Development Housing Rehabilitation Project. When complete, the projects will expend a total of $25 million.

Among the major accomplishments in the 2008-09 budget year include the construction of Phase 1A of the NCCAR (which is expected to open in October), the growth of the tax base by $25 million, improved the county’s general obligation bond rating from a triple B+ to an A, the first since 1990, creation of the Northampton County Tourism Development Authority and secured funding commitments for the construction of a natural gas pipeline from Conway to Severn to support an expansion to Hampton Farms.

Jenkins noted at the end of his presentation the budget could change before the commissioners make their decision.

He said he recently received an email from the Association of County Commissioners that stated as the General Assembly struggles to balance the state budget more unfunded mandates could be shifted to county governments.

Jenkins said $200,000 in additional cuts is expected.

During a public hearing following Jenkins’ presentation, citizens offered opinions on the county’s upcoming budget.

Jenkins read six emails he received about the matter, while the public hearing saw 10 citizens signed up to speak, nine of which actually took to the podium.

Most of the citizens’ concerns were predominately about the county’s funding to the Lake Gaston Weed Council ($116,000) which was cut completely from the budget. Citizens also addressed a “specialized Lake Gaston tax” increase and funding being cut from the J.W. Faison Senior Center

Phillip Avis of Henrico disagreed with the funding cut to the weed council.

“It sends a message out to the other counties that they can do it too,” he said.

Avis was also opposed the lack of funding to the Gaston Preparatory School, which, he said, gave out $2.2 million in scholarships to their students this year. He added the scholarships “are income to the county.”

Avis encouraged a three cent tax increase that, he said, would take care of those concerns he mentioned.

Phylis Cain of Henrico said taxes should be distributed evenly.

“Anyone can use the lake, if you’re going to raise the tax raise it across Northampton County,” she said.

Georgia Holder of Henrico supported a two to three cent increase.

“You’re worried about furloughing county employees, but what about people losing their homes,” she said.

Roger West of Henrico supported a tax increase as well.

“As much as I hate a tax increase let everyone share in the burden,” he said.

West said the commissioners needed to give the employees back their five days of unpaid work.

“They can’t afford to have that cut in their salaries,” he said.

Three speakers voiced their concerns over county funding ($10,000) to J.W. Faison Senior Center that had been cut from the budget.

Rebecca Bayse, director of the Center, asked the commissioners to reconsider the decision and those that are involved with the center would appreciate any funding the county could give.

“As a small non-profit we really feel the sting,” Bayse said referring to economic crunch.

Jodi Riddle, aging director for the Upper Coastal Plains Council, asked the commissioners to reconsider as well.

Riddle noted that 25 percent of the county’s population is age 65 or older and removing all of the county allocation to the Senior Center is a disservice.

She said Northampton County has always had a wonderful track record with serving their senior citizens and asked the commissioners to reconsider their decision to keep that track record.

Anna Deloatch, a member of the Senior Center, said many seniors rely on the center for their needs, including transportation, meals and contact with others.

She added many seniors would have withered away without the center.

“We must remember these are the people that built this county, she said. “Seniors are our history and we do need to take care of them.”