By Stefanie Jackson – Eastville town council members deliberated Monday night whether the town should join Northampton County’s Economic Development Authority (EDA), formerly the Joint Industrial Development Authority (JIDA).
The towns of Exmore, Cape Charles, and Cheriton already belong to the group. An invitation was extended to Eastville, Nassawadox, and Belle Haven upon the authority’s recent name change.
The new name reflects a shift in focus from large-scale industrial development to small-scale economic development as Northampton seeks to attract new businesses that are compatible with the county’s natural, rural character.
If Eastville joins the EDA, the town council will appoint one person to the EDA board to represent the town’s economic development interests.
The proposal was made by David Eder, the town administrator and police chief.
Councilwoman Eleanor Gordon, who was participating virtually, said the proposal was a “big subject to decide in a five-minute discussion.”
JIDA’s past debts raised a red flag for the councilwoman. Her peers noted that JIDA had no debts since it sold the Sustainable Technologies Industrial Park, aka the STIP park, in Cape Charles.
(The 500-acre eco-industrial park, the first of its kind in the U.S., failed to attract much business and remains nearly empty.)
Gordon was concerned that the EDA could incur new debt and then default, possibly leaving Eastville and other towns on the hook for repayment.
Eastville police lieutenant Robert Stubbs spoke in favor of joining the EDA and appointing an Eastville representative to the board.
“This board is going to happen. Eastville can either have a voice on it or have no voice on it,” he said.
Mayor Jim Sturgis added that without “additional revenue streams, we’re going wind up with either going broke and not being a town anymore, or we’re going to wind up with escalating taxes up to the level of the county’s.”
Eder said that before the next town council meeting he will obtain as much information as possible on the EDA and Eastville’s potential liability.
Northampton County has twice received more than $1 million in grant funds from the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act and given portions to each of its incorporated towns based on population. Eastville received about $14,000.
The town used some of the money to pay qualifying police officers an extra $3 per hour during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Eastville officials further discussed Monday night how to spend its CARES funding; the town is expected to receive another $14,000.
Northampton County Administrator Charlie Kolakowski invited Eastville to participate in a grant program to provide financial relief to small businesses impacted by COVID-19.
He asked each town to contribute $5,000 of its CARES funds so more businesses that are struggling can get help.
An advantage for participating towns is that the county will provide the applications and do the work of administering the grants.
The town council decided by a unanimous vote to join Exmore and Cheriton in participating in the grant program.
YES to Northampton Schools
Dixon Leatherbury, vice chairman of the Northampton board of supervisors, joined the meeting by video to tell council members about a proposal to increase the county’s sales tax rate by 1% to pay for new construction and renovations at Northampton High School.
The current sales tax rate is 5.3% and will be raised to 6.3% if a majority of Northampton voters say “yes” to the proposal when they mark their ballots on Election Day.
The money can only be used for “bricks and mortar” and the tax rate increase will expire after 20 years, Leatherbury said.
The “add-on” tax would partially relieve Northampton citizens of high school construction costs, since Northampton’s economy relies on tourists, who pay 43% of all sales taxes collected in the county.