Commissioners agree to tax hike

Published 8:51 am Tuesday, June 8, 2010

JACKSON — The budget that will come before the Northampton County Board of Commissioners for their final decision in two weeks will include a nine-cent tax increase and no new county staff positions.

On Monday, the commissioners held their third work session to finalize the upcoming $23.6 million budget. Earlier in their regular meeting the commissioners scheduled a public hearing for the proposed budget at 2 p.m. on June 21.

County Manager Wayne Jenkins along with Finance Officer Dot Vick presented a reconfigured budget from the last work session held in May. Under the guidance of the board, Jenkins and Vick were able to keep county employee health insurance at a 90/10 ratio, keep in a deputy finance officer position and work in a nine cent tax increase into the budget.

The nine-cent tax increase will comprise of six cents for general government increases (most due to increases in health insurance) and 2.3 cents for the third EMS crew for the Lake Gaston area due to two volunteers retiring. Also included in the nine cents is a six tenth of one cent for the appropriation to the Lake Gaston Weed Control Council for treatment to the lake. The nine-cent increase would bring the county’s tax rate to 87 cents per $100 of value.

County officials had to work with a $2.2 million revenue short fall due to sales tax and tax collections being down.

With the help of a $110,609 surplus that had been identified, the commissioners agreed to delay the deputy finance officer for another year in order to help lessen a $165,000 appropriation from the county’s fund balance to balance the budget and set aside an emergency reserve fund totaling $100,000 for Northampton County Schools.

Commissioner Robert Carter expressed concern for a $165,000 appropriation from the county’s fund balance, which would take that fund down by 1 to 1.5 percent. At their audit in March, the board was cautioned about keeping their fund balance at a minimum of 13.5 percent. In March, the county’s total fund balance stood at 18.80 percent while unreserved fund balance stood at 13.40 percent.

Another item that didn’t sit well with two commissioners was $155,000 that was cut from Northampton County Schools with $55,000 from current expense and $100,000 from capital outlay.

Chairwoman Fannie Greene and Vice Chairman James Hester, who had met with school officials for a joint meeting last week, expressed concern about the cut.

Hester suggested to the board to remove the $64,293 deputy finance officer position in order to help restore some of the money taken away from the schools.

“The state continues to cut lottery funds; they (the schools) can’t continue to absorb those cuts,” he said.

Greene said she agreed with removing the deputy finance officer position.

“I have surveyed citizens and they are not in agreement to raise taxes for a new position,” she said.

She suggested the board take some of the money from the $110,000 surplus and the $64,000 to put towards the schools.

Commissioner Virginia Spruill was in disagreement with her colleagues.

“We have been scuttling around this position for four or five years,” said Spruill.

She asked Carter for his opinion on the deputy finance officer.

Carter said he had always wanted the position.

Spruill said that everyone was not what they used to be, referring to staff members’ age.

The commissioners then began to discuss the possibility of how the county would deal with their finances if “something happened” to Vick.

Vick said she saw the board’s concern, but her office had three people, one of which she considered her “right hand man. She said that person was familiar with the duties of a finance officer and was always wanting and willing to learn more.

“I get the feeling I’m so old you just want me out the door,” she said. “I’m sorry, but that’s how I feel.”

She continued to express her frustration, saying no one had come to her to discuss the position.

“I wish someone would talk to me,” she said.

Vick, after verifying with Jenkins she was no longer needed in the meeting, collected her things and left the commissioners’ room.

In the end, Carter agreed with Greene and Hester in leaving out the deputy finance officer position while Spruill was steadfast about leaving it in. With the consensus of the three commissioners, the board then had $174,902 in surplus funds to reconfigure the budget with.

The commissioners agreed to place $100,000 in an emergency reserve for the school district. The board noted that the $100,000 will only be there for the schools in an emergency and the commissioners would have to approve the item they were drawing down on that fund.

Commissioner Chester Deloatch was absent from the regular meeting and the work session.