Northampton looks at tax hike

Published 8:32 am Tuesday, May 18, 2010

JACKSON — Hard times call for hard decisions.

That was the lesson learned by the Northampton County Board of Commissioners on Monday as the realization of the fact that taxes will need to be raised any where from 8 to 10 cents in order to balance the upcoming budget.

“What we’re presenting to you today is a balanced budget,” said County Manager Wayne Jenkins. “But the cuts were deep, the pain is severe; it effects everyone.”

Jenkins continued by explaining what was presented is under the discretion of the commissioners and elements of the document could be changed.

Jenkins along with County Finance Officer Dot Vick worked through the weekend to balance the budget that previously had more than a $3 million short fall. Under the direction of the board, Jenkins and Vick worked to cut expenditures and increase revenues as well as work in a 80/20 payment ratio for county employee health insurance.

“Mrs. Vick and I attempted to reduce those areas of the budget where there would be the least adverse impact on county employees and county services,” said Jenkins.

Since the board’s first budget work session last Wednesday, Jenkins and Vick were able to chip away at the $3 million deficit by cutting expenses and identifying sources of revenue and brought back to the table a $23.7 million balanced budget.

General Fund contributions

Entities that receive contributions from the county’s general fund saw cut backs, including Northampton County Schools, the North Carolina Forestry Service, the Choanoke Area Development Association (CADA) and the Choanoke Public Transportation Authority (CPTA). A total of $185,758 was reduced in contributions from last week’s budget work session.

In total, Northampton County Schools saw a $155,000 reduction with $55,000 from the current expense appropriation and $100,000 from capital outlay.

The current expense contribution for the public schools now stands at $3.5 million while capital outlay stands at $345,000.

The $5,000 earmarked for CADA was removed along with $13,000 for CPTA.

Fire protection under North Carolina Forestry Service was reduced by $4,669, bringing the total to $86,705.

The Northampton County Museum saw a $2,000 cut from $4,500. The Northampton County Library also saw a reduction of $4,089 which brings their total to $115,960, which is its current year funding level.

Still included on the contributions list includes $12,000 each for Tri-County and Halifax-Northampton airports, $12,000 each for Roanoke-Chowan and Halifax Community Colleges and $116,000 for Lake Gaston Weed Control Council.

The commissioners suggested trimming the contribution to East Carolina Behavioral Health from $83,614 to $81,614 as that agency’s recently presented budget requested.

The total in county contributions now stands at $4.6 million, which is up a little from last year.

Operational General Fund budget

Jenkins presented the commissioners with the full general fund operational budget that included a column for reductions and additional revenue which was the result from the direction the board gave Jenkins and Vick last week.

“Each of these areas does include additional cuts to many, many departments,” he said. “It does include additional revenue generated by a couple three sources.”

Under the proposed balanced budget was a $5,000 reduction in the commissioners’ budget with convention expenditures. The topic had the board split.

Commissioners Virginia Spruill, James Hester and Robert Carter like the idea of leaving the $5,000 out while Commission Chair Fannie Greene wanted the option of leaving half of the $5,000 in as did Commissioner Chester Deloatch.

Spruill said she wasn’t sure how citizens would perceive the $5,000 for a conference if it was left in especially of taxes had to be raised.

“On the other hand I think that we cannot shut down government completely as far as being involved on the national level,” said Greene. “I think we need to have some representations at these conferences.”

“We’re asking taxpayers to do this and it’s just not right,” said Spruill. “If the county wants to go on record in putting that out as a debt to be paid by the county taxpayers, while we are incurring other kinds of budget carrying items, you all make that decision, but I’m not for that.”

“Most taxpayers wouldn’t have anything against people receiving some up-to-date training,” said Deloatch.

“That’s, again, your opinion,” said Spruill.

Left out of the budget were the new positions totaling $254,235, including an assistant county manager, assistant finance officer and zoning and human resources office assistants.

The Register of Deeds Office saw a $9,865 reduction.

Jenkins said a $46,500 reduction in the building and grounds line item will delay the painting of the Courthouse roof for one year.

The budget also calls for a $25,000 reduction each for the Sheriff’s Office (bringing the total to $2.1 million) as well as the Northampton County Jail (bringing that budget to $1.1 million).

A $10,000 reduction in the Building Inspector’s budget will come from the dilapidated structures program.

For the Ambulance line item in which a third crew was worked into the first working budget presented, Jenkins and Vick worked to delay the new crew for six months, reducing that amount by $228,000. Jenkins explained a new crew is needed in the Lake Gaston area as two volunteers who service that area will stop their services as of January 1, 2011. That new crew will bring in additional revenue for the county.

Other reductions include Department of Social Services by $100,000 and Recreation by $63,707.

Additional revenue for the county comes from ad valorem taxes, including $408,061 from ambulance service if the new crew were to begin by January 1, 2011. The general purpose weed tax would bring in $116,100 with a six tenth of a cent tax to help pay for Lake Gaston weed control.

A six cent general purpose tax would bring in just over $1 million.

“Actually being recommended to you today is an 8.9 cent tax increase,” said Jenkins.

Another reduction presented was the reduction of county support of employees’ health insurance from 90/10 to 80/20, which would save $125,000 in county taxpayers’ money.

“It does double out of pocket costs for employees,” said Jenkins.

The 80/20 plan would have county employees pay an additional $724.80 a year.

This option did not sit well with the commissioners.

Vick and Jenkins presented a possible fix to make up for the $125,000 in health insurance by delaying copier leases by one year, saving approximately $55,000. Jenkins said this coupled with anticipated liability savings could cover that $125,000.

The commissioners’ consensus was to direct Jenkins and Vick to work on keeping the health insurance plan at 90/10, working in the assistant finance officer position as well as working in a 8-10 cent tax increase for the next budget work session.

With the health savings an 8.25 cent tax increase would be needed. With the addition of the assistant finance officer, the tax increase would be around nine cents.

The current tax rate, which has been consistent for 10 years, sits at 78 cents per $100 of property value.