By Stefanie Jackson – Northampton supervisors approved a balanced budget for fiscal year 2020 that will be funded without a tax hike, totaling approximately $42.5 million, not counting funding for the Northampton school division.
But Spencer Murray, chairman of the board of supervisors, gave fair warning that taxes will likely increase in an upcoming fiscal year.
When Northampton High School is repaired or rebuilt, “the county will have to borrow money, and we will have to service that debt, and I do not see our ability to do that in future years without some tax increase,” he said.
The budget was approved in a 4-1 vote, with Supervisor Robert Duer voting “no.”
One source of his disapproval was the inclusion of $665,000 of projected revenue in fines and forfeitures.
Last month, Duer criticized the sheriff’s department because it failed to reach its goal of collecting $760,000 in fines in FY 2019. Since the department missed its target, the amount of fines expected to be collected in FY 2020 was reduced by $95,000.
But Duer offered a different perspective at the June 11 meeting.
“The fines and forfeitures – I’m worried about that. I don’t think it’s fair to put that on the sheriff. I know I gave him a hard time last time, but it’s not necessarily him I’m giving a hard time to, it’s us for balancing our budget off numbers that I don’t think it’s fair for him to produce.”
In Duer’s estimation, collecting $540,000 in fines for one year is a more reasonable goal.
“That’s how you build morale – make goals that are attainable,” he said.
Murray agreed that any fines collected, such as speeding tickets issued by the sheriff’s department, should be considered “extra money,” not used to balance the budget.
Duer was also critical of the late decision to raise landfill tipping fees from $72 to $75 per ton.
“Out of courtesy to the towns, that should’ve been done in January,” before the towns wrote their budgets, said Duer, who is also Exmore’s town manager.
County Administrator Charlie Kolakowski agreed to follow Duer’s suggestion in the future.
Murray said hopefully the $3 in- crease per ton “won’t blow the town budget.”
But that seemingly small increase can make a difference of 5% or 6% for a town’s budget “when 80% of your budget’s trash collection,” Duer said.
But the main reason Duer disapproved of the Northampton budget was the county’s plans to spend a lot on capital projects in FY 2020 without having a plan to put money back in the “piggy bank.”
Northampton will appropriate $1.4 million from its capital reserve fund in FY 2020 to pay for projects like replacing heating and air conditioning units at the sheriff’s office and department of social services and sealing the roof of the courthouse.
Neither is there a plan to start saving for the Northampton High School building project.
“I would’ve liked to have seen at least a penny go to that. It’s not much money, but it’s got to be done. We can’t keep kicking this can down the road,” Duer said.
“If we spend money like boys, we ought to … man up and raise taxes,” he added.
He was complimentary of Sheriff David Doughty when Finance Director John Chandler relayed the sheriff’s re- quest to spend more than $70,000 in payroll vacancy savings on two vehicles to be used by the sheriff’s department.
The $70,000 is state funding that will be lost if it’s not spent. Supervisors called it a “use it or lose it” situation.
If all the positions in the sheriff ’s department were filled, taxpayers would have to foot the bill for the sheriff ’s department’s vehicles, Duer pointed out.
“So he’s doing every citizen in the county a favor,” he said.