Budget proposal presented

Published 4:16 pm Tuesday, April 16, 2024

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JACKSON – After a few months of crunching numbers, Northampton County Manager Julian Phillips presented his budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year at the Board of Commissioners meeting on Monday, April 15.

The budget will cover the period beginning July 1, 2024 through June 30, 2025 (FY25). This was an initial proposal, and the commissioners will have a chance to make changes over the next two months.

“The budget is balanced according to North Carolina general statutes,” Phillips stated.

Northampton County’s total budget will be $42,809,174 with $37.2 million of that in the General Fund.

“That’s a $1.1 million decrease from the prior year,” he continued.

In his proposal, Phillips suggested a half-cent tax decrease, which would bring the county’s property tax from its current rate of $0.835 to $0.83 in FY25.

Phillips said the half-cent decrease is in line with what the Board has approved in previous years, but they could change that if they wanted to. He noted that every for every penny they reduce the tax rate, there’s about a $270,000 decrease in county revenues.

The budget proposal includes a 2 percent merit pay increase for all county employees on their hiring anniversary date as well as a 2 percent Cost of Living Adjustment increase to take effect on January 1, 2025. The only exception will be for law enforcement, with a proposed 8 percent merit increase instead.

Based on a discussion about retention bonuses last year, Phillips also included a $2,500 retention bonus for law enforcement employees who have worked 12 months. The funds for those one-time bonuses would come from the county’s ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) allocation.

Phillips explained that he was still seeking comparative information about law enforcement pay from surrounding counties to make sure Northampton stays competitive.

Other highlights Phillips mentioned in his presentation included $400,000 for contingency funding, a decrease in debt service, and a $1.3 million appropriation from the county’s Fund Balance. He noted that the Fund Balance appropriation was a $726,000 decrease from the current fiscal year.

In the Enterprise fund (water and sewer fund), the budget projection is $3.7 million for FY25.

“When we budget the Enterprise Fund, the goal is for revenue and expenses to match,” Phillips noted.

Commissioner Geneva Faulkner asked if they were in a financial position to make any adjustments to the water rates if they had a projected surplus of revenue. But Board Chair Charles Tyner pointed out that they previously set the water rates according to USDA requirements, and Phillips added that extra funds often go towards repairs and other maintenance.

Continuing with his presentation, Phillips noted that they created a separate Capital Project Ordinance for a few one-time-only expenditures. Those projects will include ambulance remounts and new stretchers for the county EMS department, and an asphalt resurfacing project and 14 new HVAC replacements at various county facilities.

Phillips also detailed some of the ways the county could use their ARPA funds, which must be expended by Dec 31, 2024. One of those proposals was to purchase new vehicles for the Sheriff’s Office, Department of Social Services, Water Department, Maintenance, EMS, and Elections.

Commissioner Melvetta Broadnax Taylor asked if the county could hold some sort of “budget kickoff” that would give citizens an informal opportunity to ask questions about the budget proposal. Phillips answered that he would be happy to answer any citizen questions.

“Last year, I got a lot of questions on the budget by email, and I was able to respond back to the citizens. It wasn’t a bother or an arduous thing to do,” he said. “I’m always open and available.”

“We’ve got so many needs in our county,” said Tyner about the budget process. “But we got to have a budget we can all live with.”

The commissioners will hold a few budget work sessions during May to continue to finalize details for the FY25 budget. The next one will be held at 5:30 p.m. on May 6.