Reappraisal leads to tax decrease

Published 4:54 pm Tuesday, June 27, 2023

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JACKSON – With a unanimous vote, the Northampton County Board of Commissioners adopted their new budget for Fiscal Year 2023-24 (FY24) at their meeting on June 19.

The total operating budget will be $45.8 million, of which $38.1 million will be for the General Fund. That’s an approximate $6.8 million increase from the FY23 budget. The new budget also includes a $2 million appropriation from the county’s Fund Balance, which is a slight decrease from $2.1 million in FY23.

The most notable change in this budget is the decrease of the ad valorem tax rate from $0.90 per $100 of valuation to $0.835, the steepest drop for Northampton County property owners in several years.

Northampton County runs on an eight-year real property reappraisal cycle, and those reappraisals were conducted during FY23. As such, the projected ad valorem tax revenues are expected to total $21.5 million – even with the 6.5 cent tax rate decrease – compared to $19.6 million projected in FY23’s budget.

After a countywide reappraisal occurs, the county is required by state statute to include the “revenue neutral” tax rate in their budget message for comparative purposes. “Revenue neutral” is the rate 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.

At a previous budget workshop, County Manager Julian Phillips stated the revenue neutral tax rate would be 72 cents (per $100 of value). The state statute, however, does not require the county to set the property tax rate at that level.

A public hearing was held on June 5 for citizens to express their thoughts and concerns about the FY24 budget proposal. A few citizens who live in the Lake Gaston area chose to speak, many expressing some confusion over the budget numbers.

Bill Meyers said that there needed to be better communication with the citizens about things like the tax rate.

“Why are we being overtaxed? I don’t know that we are yet,” Meyers said. “I think it’s a communications thing here. And I sometimes feel like maybe we don’t have enough knowledge of how this is all playing out.”

“I’d like to ask the board to consider holding some sort of special meeting where the purpose is to educate all of us on your budget,” suggested Tracy Patty. “I would like to learn more and be better informed.”

Alan Tashima questioned the increase in the county’s operating budget even though the ad valorem tax rate will decrease.

The commissioners did not vote on the budget after the June 5 hearing, because it was a work session meeting.

At the June 19 meeting, Board Chair Charles Tyner said they had looked over the budget multiple times at past budget work session meetings and listened to the comments about it. He also stated that they also had to consider the uncertainty of fluctuating costs because of the current economy.

“This budget is a working budget. It means it can be changed, but only by a vote of these commissioners,” Tyner said.

Commissioner Geneva Faulkner motioned to approve the FY24 budget ordinance, and Melvetta Broadnax Taylor seconded. The vote was unanimously in favor.

According to the budget ordinance, the largest source of revenue is expected to come from ad valorem taxes: the aforementioned $21.5 million. But along with other subcategories including prior year collections and interest, DMV motor vehicle collections, and tax foreclosure revenue, the ad valorem revenue is expected to total $24.1 million.

Other major sources of revenue include Sales Tax ($3.5 million), Sales and Services ($2.6 million), Intergovernmental-Restricted ($2.2 million), Sales and Services-Health ($1.07 million), and Health Revenues ($1.02 million).

Compared to FY23, Health revenues are projected to drop slightly while the other sources are expected to increase.

The Intergovernmental-Restricted revenues are higher in FY24 due to the inclusion of $1.7 million in ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds. At a budget workshop session in May, Phillips stated that the ARPA funds will be used for water/sewer projects and to fund a new animal shelter.

For expenditures, the departments that will receive the largest allocations include Public Safety, General Government, Education, Human Services-Health, Other Human Services, and Economic/Physical Development.

As in prior years, Public Safety will receive the most funding, at a total of $13.04 million. The largest portions of these funds will go to ambulance ($4.3 million), sheriff’s office ($3.7 million), jail ($2.2 million), and emergency communication ($1.2 million).

Public Safety allocations also include items such as contributions to fire and rescue squads, and funding for animal control, regional airports, Chowanoke Public Transportation Authority, and more.

General Government will receive an increase in funding for FY24, bringing the total to $6.4 million. The areas which will be allocated the biggest portion of those funds include buildings and grounds ($1.4 million), finance ($1.02 million), and tax department ($833,661).

Compared to FY23, Education will receive approximately $1.8 million more in funding for FY24, with a total allocation of $6.2 million. That increase is mostly due to a $1.9 million allocation for School’s Capital Outlay to be included in the budget.

Earlier this year, the commissioners agreed to purchase land outside of Jackson at a total cost of $1.5 million to be used as the site of a new high school. The school construction itself, however, will be covered by a $50 million grant from the state’s Needs-Based Public School Capital Fund.

In FY24, Northampton County Schools will also receive a $3.7 million allocation for Current Expense, which is a decrease from the prior fiscal year. Halifax Community College and Roanoke Chowan Community College will also receive funds in FY24, totaling $362,000 and $110,000 respectively.

Human Services-Health will receive slightly more funding than the previous year, with a total allocation of $3.9 million. The areas that are slated to receive the most funding include home health ($1.1 million), health programs ($932,749), environmental health ($389,619), and family planning ($293,717). These were the top funded areas in FY23 as well.

Other Human Services was allocated $3.2 million for FY24, and the bulk of that funding ($2.6 million) will go to the county’s Department of Social Services.

Economic/Physical Development will also receive an increase of funding, bringing that department’s total to $2.5 million. Capital Outlay-Expenditures (non-departmental) is listed as the area with the highest allocation at $1.8 million.

In previous budget workshop sessions, County Manager Phillips explained that the new budget will include a Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) and Merit increase for all staff at a combined five percent. The COLA increase, however, will not be effective until January 1, 2024. For paramedics and EMT personnel, the percentage increase will be higher.

The commissioners previously expressed concerns about employee retention, particularly in the sheriff’s office. To address those concerns for the sheriff’s office, Phillips proposed a program ordinance to fund $250,000 of incentive pay for each year. To be eligible for the $5,000 (before tax) retention bonus, the officer must have worked 12 months preceding the incentive payout. This proposal, however, is not a part of the FY24 budget as it would be scheduled to begin in July 2024, the beginning of FY25.

With the commissioners’ approval at the June 19 meeting, the new budget will go into effect on July 1.