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Northampton Manager proposes lower tax rate

JACKSON – Northampton County Manager Charles Jackson presented the proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year to the county commissioners at their regular meeting here on June 1. Like the previous year, this budget includes a half-cent reduction in ad valorem taxes.

Jackson explained to the commissioners, some of whom joined the meeting via telephone due to ongoing measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19, that the budget process had been very thorough but there was still some uncertainty about what kind of financial impact the pandemic would have on the county.

“No one has a perfect answer on how we get through this crisis. We’re kind of working in the dark in terms of analyzing what the long-term impact of COVID-19 will be on our economy,” he said.

“We will probably have to make adjustments to this budget in the coming year because of COVID. But I feel like we have a good staff which will help us prepare,” Jackson continued.

For the 20-21 Fiscal Year (FY21), the total recommended General Fund budget is $27,909,560 which is only about $100,000 more than the current year’s total.

A majority of the county’s revenue is expected to come from ad valorem taxes. In keeping with the Board’s request to lower taxes, Jackson noted the half-cent reduction recommendation which would bring the rate to an even $0.91 per $100 of property valuation. That’s estimated to bring in a total of $17,804,408, a number which is lower than the $18.8 million from the previous year.

Sales tax, which has consistently increased over the last five years, will be the second largest revenue source, totaling $3.2 million. That’s a little over $600,000 more than FY20.

For expenditures, Jackson outlined four key priorities to focus on in the upcoming year: efficiency and effectiveness; citizen quality of life; education; and community and economic development/growth.

Some expenditures noted in the efficiency and quality of life priorities include $110,000 for three new sheriff office vehicles, $190,000 for new ambulance vehicles, $25,000 as a first-year lease payment for new voting tabulators, $20,000 to both Gaston and Eastside Rescue Squads, and $22,000 to the Tri-County Airport Authority to assist furnishing its new terminal.

For education, Northampton Public Schools will receive a total of $3.5 million.

“It is to be noted that the school requested $3.7 million, but I am recommending a $3.5 million contribution to maintain our contribution from the previous year,” Jackson said.

Roanoke-Chowan Community College and Halifax Community College will also receive the same funding allocation amounts as they did last year, with the Ahoskie-based community college receiving $30,000 and the Weldon-based one receiving $97,000. Halifax Community College, which houses the Northampton County Early College on its campus, did originally request a total of $123,962.

Focusing on economic development and growth, the “Economic Development Opportunity Fund,” which was first established last year to bolster local development, will again receive a $150,000 allocation.

A new project, however, will focus on helping municipalities revitalize what is often the busiest part of their towns.

“We’re going to allocate $1,000 to each town in the county for main street improvements. This is something that was proposed by one of our commissioners, and I think it was a good idea. It’s worth investing in fixing up our main streets in each town,” the county manager continued.

In terms of county personnel, the proposed budget will eliminate two part-time positions to create two full-time positions, one in the finance office and the other in the register of deeds office.

Jackson reported that merit and longevity pay will continue to be funded, but there will not be a cost of living adjustment this year due to budget constraints from the COVID crisis. But he did say that some money will be allocated for a new compensation pay study.

“As a service to our employees, I am recommending a $35,000 allocation to have a compensation study so we can find competitive pay policies for our employees,” Jackson explained. “To my knowledge, it has been almost 20 years since we had a compensation study. We have too many employees who work too hard to not have this type of thing done for them.”

In the Enterprise Fund, the county manager said he did not propose any increase in water and sewer fees. The total water and sewer budget for FY21 is $3,179,360 with the majority of that coming specifically from water revenues.

In the solid waste enterprise fund, Jackson noted that there will be a slight increase in the county’s monthly charge for solid waste and recycle (curbside) services effective on July 1. The rate will go from $15.84 to $16.34.

Concluding his presentation, Jackson thanked the county department heads and staff who worked to help put together the budget proposal.

“We are living up to what we said we would do with our budget,” said Board Chair Charles Tyner afterwards, expressing appreciation especially for people shopping locally to help increase sales tax revenue.

Commissioner Nicole Boone motioned to accept the budget proposal and Commissioner Joyce Buffaloe seconded. The vote was unanimously in favor.

The full budget recommendation is available on the Northampton County website for the public to review. A public hearing is scheduled for the Board’s next meeting on Monday, June 15. Due to ongoing health concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic, the hearing will be held virtually and will be streamed via the county’s Facebook page. Comments can be submitted by email to the county’s Clerk to the Board.

The Board is expected to motion for final approval of the FY21 budget before July 1.