With School Expenditure on Horizon, Northampton Supervisors Weighing Expenses


By Stefanie Jackson-  Since Northampton supervisors made the commitment earlier this summer either to renovate or rebuild Northampton High School, which will cost millions of dollars no matter what option county and public school officials agree upon, supervisors have been keeping an extra close eye on every dollar of taxpayer money being spent.

When Finance Director John Chandler requested a budget amendment of $20,500 on Aug. 14, he billed it as “good news” because the amount of the request had been reduced from $27,500.

The funds were requested to help pay for a brand-new emergency response vehicle valued at about $60,000, which would replace a 2007 Dodge Durango that has been driven more than 170,000 miles. Supervisor David Fauber said the county was getting a “good deal” and Supervisor John Coker concurred.

But not every supervisor agreed. Supervisor Robert Duer took issue with the fact that only $12,000 had been set aside for the vehicle in the budget approved shortly before fiscal year 2019 began July 1.

The county had applied for funds to help pay for the vehicle, expecting to receive an 80/20 grant, meaning the county would pay 20 percent of the vehicle’s cost. A 50/50 grant was received, therefore Chandler requested the additional $20,500 needed to bring the county’s contribution to 50 percent of the vehicle’s cost, or $32,500.

Based on the assumption that the county already has three such vehicles, Duer questioned whether the replacement quick response vehicle was needed and asked, “How many staff at either time need a quick response vehicle?” and “Is there a cheaper vehicle than $60,000 because we’re spending someone else’s money.”

The grant received “might have been 80/20 on a $45,000 vehicle, but guess what? We buy a $60,000 one, it’s all of a sudden 50/50,” he said.

Duer also wanted to know if construction of the new EMS garage in Machipongo was staying on budget. “We’re spending money like it’s water.” County Administrator Charlie Kolakowski relayed the information from Director of Public Works Chris Thomas, who is overseeing the project, that it is on budget.

But Duer was not satisfied. “We’ve got to stop bleeding (money). We’ve got a school to build, we’ve got everything else to build, we keep right on spending. Just spend, spend, spend. No!” he said to the funding request.

The budget amendment passed 3-2, with Duer and Supervisor Oliver Bennett dissenting.

The spending issue resurfaced on Aug. 27 when Chandler presented supervisors with an inventory of all county-owned vehicles, including ambulances and police cruisers, and other items such as trailers and construction equipment.

Duer questioned why supervisors had not been made aware that the county purchased brand-new equipment including a boom lift (cherry picker), a scissor lift, and a mini excavator.

Deputy to the County Administrator Janice Williams explained that as long as the cost of each item was less than $30,000, the purchases did not require supervisors’ approval.

“We sit here and OK $25,000 cars,” Duer countered. He recalled approving the new snow blower listed, which only cost about $1,500.

Duer, who is also Exmore’s town manager, said, “I’m spending someone else’s money, I don’t fly under the radar like that, I’m sorry.”

Bennett, a Northampton teacher and member of the high school revitalization committee, commented, “As we look at going ahead in good faith using citizens’ money to build, remodel, whatever we do, we may want to look now at being a little more reasonable” about the county’s practices purchasing new vehicles and equipment.

“We’re looking to spend some large amounts of money, and some of that money could possibly come from better spending,” he said.

Chandler agreed to get supervisors information on the costs and uses of the two lifts and mini excavator as Duer requested.

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