The right to know

Published 10:46 am Monday, January 11, 2016

JACKSON – During the citizens’ comments portion of Monday’s Northampton Board of County Commissioners meeting, Jack Saunders of Henrico wanted know when the commissioners and members of the school board would be holding public hearings on the March 15 ballot measure for or against a supplemental school tax to build a new centrally located middle and high school facility near Jackson.

Saunders said he knows the school system needs new schools, but he added that what is needed are “durable, useful schools” without all the fancy design elements that will increase costs for taxpayers.

“It will at ten cents per $100 of property value,” he said of the proposed supplemental tax measure that will be on the March Primary ballot. “It’s up to the county commissioners to look after the taxpayers.”

County Manager Kimberly Turner said that the dates and times for public hearings have not yet been determined, but said they would soon be set up to begin by the end of this month.

After mediation early last year, the Board of Education and the commissioners were ordered to come up with a joint plan to proceed.

From that meeting in July 2015, the two boards agreed to a plan to put a supplemental school tax on the 2016 ballot to fund what had by then ballooned to a $34 million project.

In November, the commissioners sent to the Board of Elections the language to be used on the Mar. 15 ballot for voter to accept or reject:

“Shall the County levy a supplemental tax on all taxable property in an amount not to exceed 9.92 cents per one hundred dollars in value of property to finance the construction of a centrally-located, consolidated middle-high school for the students of the Northampton County Schools and to pay other capital outlay construction needs of Northampton County Schools?

“[ ] For Local Tax [ ] Against Local Tax.”

Saunders also asked the commissioners to make agenda item information available online for interested citizens to peruse prior to Board meetings.

He noted that Warren and Halifax counties in particular, and many other counties in the state, already do this, which allows all citizens in the county to know as much as the commissioners do about issues prior to the meetings.

“There is no reason citizens should not know,” Saunders said. “We have a right to know.”

Board Chairwoman Fannie Greene said, “This Board has nothing to hide.”

Asked by Greene if what Saunders wanted is possible, Turner said, “We have been working on this. We’re a bit behind the times on this.

“I’m working with IT,” she said, “to make this information available on our website.”