Northampton tax rate unchanged

Published 9:16 am Thursday, June 19, 2014

JACKSON – While Northampton County citizens will not experience a property tax increase for the new fiscal year, county employees will be impacted on out-of-pocket costs for medical purposes.

At their scheduled meeting on Monday, the Northampton County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the FY 2014-15 budget, one that keeps the property tax rate at 92 cents (per $100 of value). However, the county’s local government employees (those covered under the county’s health plan) will see their out-of-pocket costs for medical visits move from a 90/10 to 70-30 share.

Answering a later question posed by this newspaper, Interim County Manager Kimberly Turner said the medical insurance premiums will remain at an 80/20 cost share.

“The increase (for county employees) is only for what they pay out of pocket,” Turner said. “There is no increase in what our county employees pay as their share of our medical insurance plan.”

The new budget does not contain a cost-of-living adjustment for county employees.

“I really do hate that we couldn’t do anything for our employees,” said Commissioner Joe Barrett. “This budget presented us with a lot of tough decisions to make.”

However, there was a hike in the county’s General Fund operating budget which stands at $30,784,906 or three percent more ($830,058) as compared to current funding levels.

Turner, in preparing her first budget, did appropriate $1.1 million from the undesignated fund balance to balance the bottom line. However in doing so, Turner told the commissioners that, “the county’s undesignated fund balance remains at a fiscally responsible level.”

Northampton County Finance Director Dot Vick told the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald on Wednesday that the county currently has $9.7 million in its undesignated fund balance. That amount could inch higher by June 30 as Vick said revenues were still coming in higher than expected expenditures.

The lion’s share of the three percent hike in operational expenses is in the area of Public Safety. Those departments are budgeted at $8.55 million for the new fiscal year that begins July 1. That figure represents $558,668 more than current year funding. Northampton County EMS ($2.83 million), the Sheriff’s Office ($2.52 million) and the County Jail ($1.31 million) account for the majority of the tax dollars appropriated to Public Safety.

General Government will also see more money in their coffers for the new year – $3.86 million; an increase of $183,758 over the 2013-14 budget. The departments receiving the highest appropriations are Buildings and Grounds ($782,408), Tax ($636,224), and Finance ($606,917).

The new budget also earmarks $7.1 million for Health and Human Services (topped by $1.99 million for DSS, $1.23 million for Home Health, and $803,634 for Health).

Education was another funding priority, gaining $3.75 million in taxpayer dollars. Northampton County Public Schools will receive $3.3 million in current expense funding, $345,000 in capital outlay, and $80,000 of the mandated fines and forfeitures collected through the judicial system. Halifax Community College and Roanoke-Chowan Community College will each receive $15,000.

Other budgeted expenditures for 2014-15 include $791,631 for Economic/Physical Development; $402,993 for Cultural and Recreation; and $100,000 in Contingency.

The budget also satisfies the annual debt service payments ($1.45 million; $745,140 for schools and $713,329 for general debt) made by the county.

The major revenue fueling the new budget comes from the usual sources: $16.29 million in ad valorum taxes; $1.55 million in health related fees; $1.47 million in state taxes returned to the county; $1.18 million in vehicle taxes; $1.16 million in sales and services; and $433,049 in grants.

During public comments, Linda Hedgepeth, representing the Lake Gaston Association, stated her opinion of the new budget, calling the expenditures “slightly off balance.”

“For this county to grow and put money into attracting new businesses, to further the income of our people, I think we see (these numbers) are tilted a little bit towards taking care of what we have and who we have here now,” Hedgepeth remarked. “I would like to suggest in the future that our citizens support the Lake Gaston Association in trying to being jobs and more income into the county.”

The new budget also maintains the current real and personal property tax rates in the Roanoke-Wildwood, Jackson, Rich Square, Gaston, Lasker, Seaboard, Garysburg and Woodland fire service districts. It does not levy a tax for the Lake Gaston Watershed Improvement District.

Commission Chairman Robert Carter thanked Turner and Vick for an outstanding effort in preparing the new budget and doing so without a tax increase.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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