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Northampton lowers tax rate

JACKSON – After a public hearing was held here on Monday, June 3, the Northampton Commissioners easily passed the FY 2019-2020 budget without any changes.

As previously presented by Interim County Manager Robert Murphy, the budget includes a half cent reduction on the ad valorem tax rate from the previous year for county residents, bringing the rate to $0.915 cents per $100 of assessed value.

The budget also contains a three percent salary increase for all county employees. Employees in the sheriff’s office will receive an additional seven percent increase “to ensure we attract and keep good quality candidates and people in those jobs,” explained Murphy.

“There are high expectations for our sheriff’s office to keep our citizens safe,” added Commissioner Nicole Boone.

Murphy also noted new in the budget this year is a $150,000 economic development fund.

The total operating budget will be $32,651,292 which is a slight decrease from the year before.

The majority of the county’s revenue is expected to come from ad valorem taxes, totaling $18,878,067. Other major sources of revenue are expected to be Sales Tax ($2.6 million), Sales & Service ($1.8 million), and Health Revenue ($1.5 million). These numbers are all projected to be higher than the previous year.

Board Chair Charles Tyner mentioned that revenue from sales tax in particular was higher than before due to new businesses and increases in existing businesses.

As for budget expenditures, the departments which will receive the most funding will be Public Safety, General Government, Education, and Human Services (Health).

Public Safety was allotted $10,416,916, marking an increase of nearly $761,000 over the previous year. The largest portions of these funds will go towards ambulance service ($3.7 million), sheriff ($2.9 million), and jail ($1.5 million). The budget also includes funding for a few new vehicles for emergency services.

General Government received a slightly reduced amount of money compared to the previous year, bringing their total allocation to $4,541,664. The areas which will receive the largest amounts of funding will be buildings and grounds ($1.1 million), finance ($691,675), and tax ($670,958).

The Human Services (Health) department will receive about $100,000 less in funding this fiscal year with a total allocated amount of $3,915,051. Home health ($1 million), health ($725,710), nurse family partnership ($581,583), environmental health ($223,909), and family planning ($217,969) are the areas which will receive the most funding.

Other Human Services was allocated a total of $2,283,680 for the upcoming fiscal year.

A total of $4,031,453 was set aside for Education this year. The school system’s current expenses will receive the bulk of that funding at $3.5 million. Capital outlay will also receive $354,453.

Halifax Community College (HCC) was allocated $97,000, a drastic decrease from the $260,000 they received during the previous fiscal year. The increase in funding last year, however, was used to renovate space on campus to house Northampton County’s Early College.

HCC President Dr. Michael Elam was the only person who chose to speak during the budget public hearing Monday evening to request an additional $53,000 to help cover costs during the upcoming year.

“Halifax Community College has delivered to Northampton County what we have proposed to do,” Elam stated, noting the Early College has done well so far and will continue to do so.

Because the college had recently allocated funds for a new resource officer and more custodial work for the Early College building, Elam reported additional money would be needed to cover utility costs.

“We could get by with a reduction, but an additional $53,000 would assist us in keeping the pace with utility costs,” he explained. “We’ve got to keep the lights on, we’ve got to keep the water running, we’ve got to keep the air conditioning and the heat, keep the environment comfortable for our children to learn well.”

“We want to provide at the highest level of excellence,” Elam emphasized as he asked for the Board to consider the request.

Tyner said they didn’t have the money right now to increase the community college’s allocation, noting they wanted to save some county funds for emergencies that may pop up in the future.

“We’ve got to take care of our citizens. Come back to us after hurricane season is over,” he replied.

Vice Chair Geneva Faulkner asked Dr. Elam if the state funding the college receives for each Early College student would be enough to cover the utilities.

Elam answered that money already goes to cover other expenses, and the funding amount is less than what they receive for traditional college students.

“It might take six or seven Early College students to equal one full-time college student,” he said.

Tyner reminded Elam that they were willing to look at the budget request later in the year. He also stated they didn’t want to be unfair in funding to Roanoke-Chowan Community College which provides programs to Northampton residents as well. RCCC received a $30,000 allocation for this budget year.

“I’m not bringing this to you lightly. We really do need it,” concluded Elam, who also expressed his gratitude for the consideration.

With no further citizens wanting to make public comment, the hearing was closed, and the commissioners said a few words about the budget proposal.

“Our strategic plan was very instrumental in guiding our budget process,” noted Faulkner. “We can do a lot of things when we move together.”

“This budget was created without anyone losing a job,” added Commissioner Kelvin Edwards.

Tyner chimed in to note the departments worked diligently to ensure they could continue to operate without filling vacant positions, which is one way they were able to save money in the budget without enacting a reduction in the workforce.

Faulkner motioned to approve the budget ordinance and Edwards seconded. The vote passed unanimously.

The 2019-2020 budget will take effect beginning July 1.