By Stefanie Jackson – A Northampton supervisor is “appalled” at an unfunded mandate handed down by the Virginia legislature, which will cost the county more than $50,000 extra in its annual budget – a number that could double in years to come.
“This board will have to approve this ongoing expense, but it is another example of where the General Assembly is totally out of touch with the funding streams and the capabilities for taxing and revenues in the counties,” Chairman Spencer Murray said.
Every Virginia county is now required to hire an additional county prosecutor, aka commonwealth’s attorney, if that county uses from one to 75 body cameras, which are typically worn by law enforcement officers. Northampton County owns 55 body-worn cameras.
The justification for the General Assembly’s decision is that every court case that includes body-worn camera footage as evidence creates extra work for the commonwealth’s attorney, who has to review every hour of video.
Northampton County Commonwealth’s Attorney Beverly Leatherbury said, “So, while preparing for a DUI case, you used to read the officer’s report, you talked to the officer. Now you may spend 12, 15 hours looking at body cameras because you have to see everything that’s on those films.”
Murray disagreed with the General Assembly’s decision to require the hiring of an assistant commonwealth’s attorney, an entry-level, full-time position with benefits.
“They tell us what we can tax, they tell us what we can’t tax, but yet they don’t mind, with the stroke of a pen,” increasing county expenses, Murray said.
He wanted to know which Virginia delegates and senators voted for the bill that created the unfunded mandate.
The additional expense for Northampton could double if the county’s body-worn camera count exceeds 75 in the future and another assistant commonwealth’s attorney must be hired.
Northampton supervisors did not receive notice of the required expenditure before finalizing the county’s budget for fiscal year 2020, which began July 1.
The assistant commonwealth’s attorney will be hired by December, and a conference room will be partitioned to create office space for the new employee.