By Stefanie Jackson – Northampton County Director of Finance John Chandler presented the proposed county budget for fiscal year 2020 to supervisors Tuesday evening, totaling more than $48.5 million, an increase of more than $2.25 million.
The county will get the extra money needed to cover its increased spending without a tax rate hike this year.
But Supervisor Robert Duer noted that the county will spend more money this year because “we shook it out of the piggy bank.”
About $1.4 million from Northampton’s capital reserve fund, one of the county’s three “savings accounts,” as Chandler called them, will pay for capital improvement projects in FY 2020.
Upcoming capital improvements include replacing heating and air conditioning units at the sheriff’s office and department of social services, as well as sealing both the roof of the courthouse and the parking lot at the county complex in Eastville.
The other two “savings accounts” are Northampton schools’ capital reserve fund, for school capital projects, and the undesignated fund balance that can be used for any expense.
Supervisor Oliver Bennett asked if there are plans to put money “back in the piggy bank.” He did not receive a definitive answer at the May 28 meeting.
Northampton will collect about $390,000 more in real estate and personal property taxes this year. Real estate and personal property taxes combined account for more than 60% of the county’s revenues. Real estate taxes account for 50% of all revenues.
But to collect those taxes, Northampton must buy new computer software for the offices of the treasurer and the commissioner of the revenue at an estimated cost of $250,000. The old software is no longer supported since the company that sold it went out of business.
Additional revenue will be collected by increasing the tipping fee at the landfill from $72 to $75 per ton. That change, along with an expected increase in the amount of solid waste processed, will net the county about $143,000 more.
But some revenue sources are hitting a downward trend, such as the category of fines and forfeitures, with a $95,000 decrease.
Duer asked why that budget line was reduced from $760,000 to $665,000 for FY 2020. The town of Eastville alone collected $662,000 in fines this year, he said.
The sheriff’s “number-one person retired,” Chandler said.
But Duer did not accept that excuse for the failure of the sheriff’s department to reach its goal of collecting $760,000 in fines in FY 2019.
“There’s got to be consequences to budget misses. If I don’t go to work and don’t make my check, my car payment doesn’t get paid, it’s a consequence.
“It’s never a consequence to any department down here not making their budget,” Duer said.
The Eastern Shore Regional Jail will get nearly $500,000 more this year, including about $300,000 for new security cameras for the jail and courthouse.
A smaller funding increase that drew hefty criticism from Supervisor John Coker was approximately $27,000 more for the Northampton County Health Department.
By state law, the health department is no longer allowed to design sewer or septic systems, and residents must hire contractors to do the work at far greater costs.
“They’re reducing the amount of work they do, and then they turn around and charge us $27,000 more. That’s just outrageous,” Coker said.
The health department already gets more than $400,000 every year, Spencer Murray, chairman of the board of supervisors said.
There was good news for Northampton employees who participate in the county’s health and wellness program. They will receive $50 per pay period instead of the $25 they were getting for their participation. There are 24 pay periods per year, and more than 50% of employees participate.
Supervisors will vote on the budget at their next regular meeting June 11.