Northampton has tough decisions ahead

Published 8:53 am Thursday, March 4, 2010

It’s hard now days not to feel the tension at the Northampton County Board of Commissioners’ meetings.

As if the pressure of making decisions that will affect 22,000 citizens isn’t enough, lately, the board has been pulled in different directions with quite a list of projects. And with those projects comes their supporters.

Welcome to local government politicking, what will it be today?

To build a new $19-$24 million high school? Or will it be the new $6.9 million Department of Social Services building? Perhaps the new $11 million courthouse? Oh, and don’t forget about the Phase V expansion of the county’s water system.

Those are all questions the commissioners are facing right now and just looking at that list I’m glad I’m not up there on one of those five hot seats.

Northampton County has some tough decisions coming up by the looks of their recent audit and many of these projects are not likely to get off the ground yet.

At their Monday meeting, County Manager Wayne Jenkins informed the board that each of the county’s departments is operating under budget (with the exception of Central Garage due to wavering fuel costs).

However, later in the meeting came the county’s mid-year review. Auditor Chris Costner cautioned the board on fund balance requirements as “breaking even” will result in lower fund balances. At the end of last fiscal year, the county’s fund balance was 13.5 percent, well above the then 8 percent requirement.

Now days, the required fund balance percentage has been upped to half of the average (23.62 percent) for counties Northampton’s size. Costner said at around 12 percent the county would start getting “nasty letters” from the state.

“The goal should be no appropriation of fund balance to fund recurring operations,” he warned.

He also suggested zero-based budgeting in which every department function is reviewed comprehensively and all expenditures must be approved, rather than only increases.

If Northampton County citizens thought last year was tight with the county’s budget, this year it will be even more so.

While the need for a new high school, new DSS building, courthouse and water system may be evident, the need for fiscal responsibility during these tough economic times is even more so.

The commissioners will soon need to flex that fiscal responsibility muscle and it may knock some people the wrong way.

Amanda VanDerBroek is a Staff Writer for the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald. For comments and column suggestions email: or call (252) 332-7209.