Northampton calls for tax cut in new budget

Published 4:15 pm Tuesday, May 23, 2023

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JACKSON – Northampton County’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2023-2024 (FY24) will provide a 6.5 cent ad valorem tax decrease, according to County Manager Julian Phillips.

He presented the final draft version at a budget workshop meeting held on May 15.

“The total budget is $45,875,495,” stated Phillips.

That’s an almost a $7 million increase from the current fiscal year operating budget, and also includes a $2 million appropriation from the county’s Fund Balance.

The Fund Balance appropriation is roughly $93,000 less than the appropriation which was needed to balance the budget for FY23.

The majority of county revenues for FY24 are expected to come from ad valorem taxes. With the proposed decrease, the tax rate will drop from $0.90 per $100 valuation to $0.835. This is the steepest drop in several years as the commissioners have usually opted for smaller half-cent decreases in previous budgets.

Phillips noted that the revenue neutral tax rate would be $0.72. According to NC General Statute, 159-11(e), the revenue neutral property tax rate is the rate that is estimated to produce revenue for the next fiscal year equal to the revenue that would have been produced for the next fiscal year by the current tax rate if no reappraisal had occurred.

Northampton County runs on an eight-year real property reappraisal cycle, and those reappraisals were conducted during the current fiscal year. As such – and with the proposed 6.5 cent tax cut – the projected ad valorem tax revenues are expected to total $21.5 million in FY24, an increase from $19.6 million in the FY23 budget.

Those projections are based on an estimated 95 percent tax collection rate.

But when other ad valorem subcategories are included – such as prior year tax collections and interest, DMV motor vehicle collections, tax foreclosure revenues, and more – the total ad valorem revenues are expected to equal $24.1 million in FY24.

The sales tax revenue, which is the second largest revenue source for the county, is projected to be $3.5 million in the proposed FY24 budget.

In the draft, the county’s largest expenditures are expected to come from a handful of different departments, including public safety ($13 million), general government ($6.4 million), education ($6.2 million), and human services – health ($3.9 million).

In his presentation, Phillips explained some significant changes from the current budget.

One change included a Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) and Merit increase for all staff at a combined 5 percent. The COLA increase, however, will not be effective until January 1, 2024. Phillips noted that the percentage increase was higher for paramedics and EMT personnel.

“This budget does include the $1.5 million for a new high school,” Phillips continued. “That’s a one-time deal.”

That allocation refers to the money that the school district requested earlier this year to purchase land outside of Jackson for the construction project.

The school construction itself will be funded by a $50 million grant from the state’s Needs-Based Public School Capital Fund.

Phillips explained that the proposed budget also includes $1.7 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to be used for water/sewer projects and a new animal shelter.

“We did also increase the volunteer fire departments from $850 a year to $5,000 a year,” Phillips stated.

As previously reported by the News Herald, the Northampton County Fireman’s Association made a request earlier this year for an increase to the annual allocation to the county’s volunteer fire departments. In the past, departments with an established fire tax district receive $850 while the two departments without a fire tax district (Conway and Severn) receive $3,850 annually.

The Association asked for an increase due to the rising costs of equipment along with additional costs for added services, such as vehicle extrications and first responding to medical emergencies.

But the budget change that garnered the most discussion was a 10 percent increase for law enforcement.

Board Chair Charles Tyner shared information he’d received about starting salaries for other law enforcement agencies, such as Enfield Police Department and Rocky Mount Police Department. Those salaries were higher than Northampton’s – even with the FY24 proposed budget increase – and he cautioned that they may have to make more changes to the budget to keep pace with competitors.

“This might become a critical area for us,” he said.

“What other incentives do we have,” asked Commissioner Melvetta Broadnax Taylor, who suggested implementing something like a sign-on bonus.

Phillips said, in his experience, those kinds of bonuses aren’t always the most effective way to retain employees long-term.

Commissioner Kelvin Edwards suggested a retention bonus instead, and Commissioner Geneva Faulkner suggested partnering with the local community colleges to help reimburse tuition for officers who want to pursue a criminal justice degree.

Phillips agreed that he would look more closely at potential incentives.

Once the discussion concluded, Tyner emphasized, “this budget is something that we’re gonna be working with as we move along.”

The proposed budget ordinance is available for the public to view at A public hearing is scheduled to be held during the commissioner’s meeting on Monday, June 5 to receive input from citizens.

The commissioners are expected to adopt the FY24 budget ordinance by July 1.