By Stefanie Jackson – At the last Northampton supervisors meeting for retiring members Chairman Spencer Murray and Robert Duer, Director of Finance John Chandler reviewed the county’s financial achievements over their last four-year term.
“Certainly, the high school-middle school enhancement project is going to be something that we can all be proud of in years to come,” Chandler said.
Northampton supervisors recently authorized borrowing $25 million for renovations and new construction at Northampton High School, which is also home to Northampton Middle School.
The decision was number one on Chandler’s list of Northampton’s top financial accomplishments since 2015.
“That’s a can that’s been kicked down the road for many, many years,” said Supervisor John Coker of the high school project.
Northampton school division had sought repair and reconstruction of the high school since at least 2007, when a study titled “Another Brick in the Wall” was published, in which structural engineering firm Marshall, Speight, and Francis stated the original 1954 section of the building was in poor condition.
Under the leadership of Northampton supervisors, a committee was formed of school and county representatives. The committee hired architectural firm Waller, Todd, and Sadler, to provide a second opinion on the physical condition of the school and reached a consensus on the work that needed to be done.
Chandler told supervisors he hopes they attend the ribbon-cutting when the high school project is complete.
Northampton continues to recover from the Great Recession, with the average yearly unemployment rate dropping from 6.1% in 2015 to 5.4% in 2018.
The numbers for 2019 looked promising, with Northampton County’s unemployment rate at 3.2% as of October 2019.
Over an eight-year period from 2010 to 2018, the median household income in Northampton increased 20%, from $34,501 to $41,468, outpacing both Virginia and the U.S., where median household income growth was 15.8% and 14.8%, respectively.
From 2014 to 2018, personal income in Northampton grew from an average of $40,546 to $49,313 per person. Total personal income grew from around $488 million to about $578 million, or an increase of roughly $90 million in a four-year period.
Since 2015, real estate tax revenues have increased $1.5 million, or 10.6%, and property tax revenues have increased $2.3 million, or 13.9%, indicating that citizens own more property, are paying more of the taxes they owe, or both.
The collection of personal property tax has become more successful in the last four years, from about 85.5% to 91.5%, an increase around seven percentage points. Real estate tax collection increased one percentage point, from 96% to 97%.
“All those keep tax rates down for all of us,” Chandler said.
The real estate tax rate of $0.83 per $100 of assessed value has remained the same for the last four years, in part because more taxes owed were collected.
Some real estate tax bills were higher because property values increased, supervisors noted.
Farmers received some tax relief when supervisors lowered the farm equipment tax from $1.43 to $1.20 per $100 of assessed value, a 16% decrease.
Chandler’s numbers also appeared to indicate tourism growth, with revenues from transient occupancy taxes rising from about $259,000 in 2015 to nearly $469,000 in 2019, an increase of 81%.
During the same period, sales tax revenue grew from approximately $1.1 million to nearly $1.35 million, an increase of more than $250,000, or about 24%.
Northampton’s general fund revenue grew an average of $1 million per year since 2015, from $24.7 million to $28.8 million, or a total increase of $4.1 million.
Northampton’s rainy day fund, known formally as its undesignated fund balance, grew nearly 44% in four years, from about $3.5 million to nearly $11.5 million.
Other highlights from the last four years included the demolition of the 1914 jail, the construction of the new EMS garage in Machipongo, and the dredging of the Willis Wharf harbor.
A new Royal Farms opened near Kiptopeke State Park, which generates as much tax revenue as 10 half-million-dollar homes, Coker said.
Northampton supervisors replaced the unpopular 2015 zoning changes, oversaw the restructuring of commissions including the Eastern Shore of Virginia Tourism Commission and the ANTDC (Accomack-Northampton Transportation District Commission), and presided over the Cape Charles rail yard going up for sale.
They saw the hiring of Director of Finance John Chandler, County Administrator Charlie Kolakowski, and the Berkeley Group consulting firm that is getting Northampton’s comprehensive plan on track to be completed by next summer.
Northampton supervisors supported the redesign of the county’s official website.
The county received a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for assessing the presence or absence of contaminants at former commercial or industrial sites that could be redeveloped for future economic growth.
In Eastville, Northampton supervisors facilitated downtown renovations and adjusted the voting district boundary line. In Exmore, they were responsible for arranging the replacement of substandard housing on Occohannock Neck Road.
The presentation was wrapped up by thanking Murray and Duer for their service on multiple committees.
“A lot of people think we just sit up here, this is the only time we spend on being a supervisor,” Coker said.
“Well, I got news for you. There’s a lot of other stuff we do.”