By WAYNE CREED
Cape Charles Wave
April 6, 2015
There was standing room only March 31 at the public hearing on the Northampton County proposed budget. As a show of support, students, teachers, and administrators from the county schools were on hand, wearing Kiptopeke t-shirts and holding signs that read “Put Kids First.”
Due to the resignation of Financial Director Leslie Lewis, County Administrator Katie Nunez had the marginally unpleasant task of presenting the proposed $41.1 million budget, including the tax increases it requires. The real estate tax rate would rise from 67 to 70 cents per $100 assessed value. Personal property taxes could increase from $3.85 to $3.90 per hundred dollars.
Many folks were on hand to show support for a more robust school budget, which as proposed is almost 1 percent less than last year. Nunez noted that the county is only required to contribute $5,339,712 to the school budget (the remainder comes from the state), yet it actually funds schools $8,339,472. There was a spike in FY2009, where county contributions were over $9 million, but since have leveled off to around the $8 million figure.
During public comments, Occohannock math teacher and president of the county teachers union, Justin Wheeler, asked the Board of Supervisors, “Look around. Why do you think all these students and teachers have come out tonight? Because we care. Because it’s about the safety of our schools, about the future of Northampton County — we are the face of the county; it is time to put kids first. Why must we come before you and beg for raises? I’m asking you to fully fund our schools. You must ask yourselves, what side of history do you want to be on?”
School Board member JoAnn Molera of Franktown asked the Board of Supervisors to think outside the box and be more conceptually forward regarding the role of schools in the county. “Luckily, people from Washington DC have not found out about Northampton County, but even as we want to see our population grow, it is our schools — we can use our schools to attract the kind of people we want to move here.” Given the nature of Northampton, “we can educate our children in a unique way, to use our schools as a way to draw people here. Outstanding schools will make people want to move here. We [Supervisors and the School Board] need to limit the friction, to be more collaborative, and work together to make our schools better . . . Give the kids an education that makes them want to be long-term learners. They will be people who can pay taxes and who will want to [stay in Northampton] to send their kids to our schools,” and not wind up in our jails, Molera stressed.
Cathleen Buyrn of Cheriton followed that train of thought: “There is no more important asset than the people that work in our schools. I will not support a tax increase for more jails or a courthouse, but I will support a tax increase for our schools. It is the right thing to do. It is our turn, our kids’ turn — it is time to address new schools, and a raise for our teachers,” she said, adding that due to low salaries, some teachers’ children “qualify for free and/or reduced lunch programs.” [Read more…]
April 6, 2015
EDITOR’S NOTE: In the following excerpts from a letter to Northampton County Supervisors, Exmore resident R.H. “Bob” Meyers documents numerous problems with the county’s decision to begin billing twice annually for property tax. The first installment will be due June 5, with a 10 percent penalty for taxpayers who miss the deadline. Meyers shares his conversations with County Treasurer Cindy Bradford and County Commissioner of the Revenue Anne Sayers, both of whom cited problems with the new tax billing system and said they wished it would be repealed. Meyers advocates an immediate resolution doing just that.
TO: Northampton County Board of Supervisors
FROM: R.H. Meyers
SUBJECT: Mid-year Tax Billing
After talking to the County Treasurer, Cindy Bradford, and the Commissioner of Revenue, Anne Sayers, on April 3, several facts are clear relating to the currently scheduled mid-year tax billing:
BRADFORD: The twice a year billing will cost the citizens $20,000.
SAYERS: Actually twice-a-year billing results in three separate billings. The first and last billings have to be of equal amounts. This in itself knocks us back about 20 years when new construction was done as a separate billing. We worked hard to get the new construction done and in the system in time for the December 5th billing; the purpose was eliminating the cost in the supplemental billing.
BRADFORD: A non or underpayment in June will incur an immediate 10% penalty + interest on the unpaid balance.
SAYERS: True statement
BRADFORD: The potential June billing has created computational problems for many mortgage companies and generated thousands of irate phone calls to the Treasurer’s office from citizen mortgage holders who are required to escrow their tax payments monthly.
SAYERS: True statement not only for the Treasurer but we have gotten, and are still getting, many phone calls.
BRADFORD: The work required to do a mid-year billing creates an unnecessary workload for the Treasurer’s office for which they are not staffed.
SAYERS: The early billing also gives this office less time to get all the changes in ownership, etc., in the system. [Read more…]
By RANDALL PARKS
Vice Chairman, Northampton School Board
April 6, 2015
I feel that there are many citizens of Northampton County who like me are somewhat befuddled as to the rezoning issues facing us. Frankly it is difficult for me to determine which are real concerns and which are simply of the “hysterical” variety designed to frighten the voters. Attending one Board of Supervisors meeting, I heard one concerned lady tell of the possibility of instead of the present limitation of 50 homes in an area, the changes would allow for 1,200. I wondered where those 1,200 families would come from and why they would move here.
I seriously doubt that a single person can be found who does not want the protection of our environment to be of utmost concern, yet some of the dire warnings seem to be designed to scare us instead of being reasonable concerns as to our future. Obviously real “by right” concerns need to be addressed, but some of those raised by the opponents of any rezoning are, well — ludicrous. Our Supervisors are attempting to enlarge the tax base of our community as they understand the future needs of our county and are doing their best to make this happen. They have held innumerable public work sessions dealing with the rezoning issues yet are being accused of making decisions in secret. It is apparent to me that there are people living in our community who oppose any changes whatsoever.
Our world here is not simply a society peopled by members of the upper middle class and and the very rich. There are numerous citizens who work in dead-end jobs earning the minimum wage struggling to get by on a week-to-week basis. Their children attend our schools which should offer a possible way out of their circumstances but are unable to do so because of lack of community support. Middle and high school students are “housed” in a building both too small and most importantly simply crumbling around them.
Previous Boards of Supervisors have concentrated on building new courthouses, jails, offices for the bureaucrats, and social services structures — all the while ignoring the needs of our children. Seven years ago engineers alerted our then Supervisors of the impending situation with the potential failure of the walls of our high school, yet instead of dealing with the situation, they chose to use a band-aid approach which would last only a short time. Now we are faced with pouring more money down a rat hole in an attempt to make it less dangerous for our children. [Read more…]
CITIZENS FOR A BETTER EASTERN SHORE
April 6, 2015
Budgets work best when the dollars coming in are equal to — or even better, are a little bit more — than the dollars going out. Spend only what you’ve planned to spend, except for real emergencies. Corporate finance people know this. Small business owners know this. Men and women running their household budgets know this. Even kids with weekly allowances know this. So, that should mean that our local governments ought to know this too – adopt the budget, know where every cent is going, and stick to it except for real emergencies. There absolutely cannot be off-budget, additional, “discretionary” spending by county administration without scrutiny and approval of the governing body.
State and local governments are usually faced with more requests for funds than there is revenue coming in – and Northampton County is no exception. The preliminary budget showed Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 revenues at $24.8 million and requests for funding for county operations and debt at $27.6 million – a shortfall of $2.8 million. The county budget is separate from the school budget, which was proposed at $20.3 million.
This equals the grand total of close to $48 million to run a county of 12,125 people, a county with a shrinking population and a declining school enrollment. If all the new funding requests had been adopted, an alarmingly large tax increase would have followed.
It wasn’t only more funding increases that caused the shortfall. Decreased revenues are likely for both county and school budgets as state-level budget-balancing transfers more required expenditures from state to local governments. Locally, lower real estate property tax revenues may occur if property values decline. And sales and personal property tax revenues may also decline below projections as families juggle their own household budgets. [Read more…]
By WAYNE CREED
Cape Charles Wave
April 6, 2014
According to a new report released by the U.S. Geological Survey, an excess of fertilizer and manure being used on Eastern Shore farms is excessively polluting rivers, streams and tributaries that flow into the Bay. The report, “Understanding Nutrients in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed and Implications for Management and Restoration – The Eastern Shore,” is based on research and data which looks at the Eastern Shore, which is responsible for nearly twice as much nitrogen and phosphorus per square mile of land area as other parts of the watershed. The report indicates that most of the excess nutrients come from agricultural production of crops and livestock, which use inorganic fertilizers or manure.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency established the landmark Chesapeake Bay “pollution diet” in 2013 to restore clean water in the region’s streams, creeks, and rivers. Formally known as the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), the pollution diet identifies the necessary reductions of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment from Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia. Key components are committing to more stringent nitrogen and phosphorus limits at wastewater treatment plants, dramatically increasing enforcement and compliance of state requirements for agriculture, and committing state funding to develop and implement state-of-the-art-technologies for converting animal manure to energy for farms.
Despite the federally imposed “Bay Pollution Diet,” the bay continues to be damaged by excessive nutrients, mostly nitrogen and phosphorus, which deplete the bay of oxygen needed for fish, crabs, and oysters, disturbs the habitat of underwater plants crucial for aquatic life and waterfowl, and causes harmful algal blooms and decreased water clarity, submerged aquatic vegetation, and dissolved oxygen.
“On the Eastern Shore, the concentrations of nitrogen in groundwater, and nitrogen and phosphorus in surface waters, are well above natural levels and are among the highest in the nation,” said co-author Scott Ator. “We are also seeing worsening nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations in the Choptank River, which is the largest river on the Eastern Shore, despite management practices to improve water quality.” [Read more…]
By JOE VACCARO
American Legion Post 56 Commander
April 6, 2015
Members of American Legion Post 56 attended a funeral March 28 for our friend and fellow Legionnaire Jack White. Jack’s passing had many of his friends and family remembering all the good works he performed and the various committees he served on. They also recalled his great passion for the people of Northampton County and the shore in general — but for me it was a little more personal.
Over a decade ago I was a fresh arrival to the Town of Cape Charles from another garden spot of the world that I had recently served in. It took about two months to get back into the swing of things again and somewhere during that time I had the honor and privilege to meet Mr. Jack White at Rayfield’s. As I recall he was living close to the beach in those days and I was invited into his home to chat about my recent overseas adventures.
It was during one of these conversations that I learned that Jack served in the military during WW II with the Army Air Corps, the forerunner to today’s Air Force, but what he really liked to talk about was his brother who was a former POW in Germany. Jack’s eyes beamed when he spoke about his brother and he made it an emphatic point that his brother was in a “stalag” prison camp just like one depicted in the movie Stalag 17. Jack was proud of his military service and loved everything that America represented so it was just a matter of time before I’d see him at the newly revived Legion Post. [Read more…]
“Local (In)Vesting: Promoting Entrepreneurship on the Shore,” sponsored by the Science and Philosophy Seminar of the Eastern Shore of Virginia, will be 12:30 p.m. Friday, April 10, in the Eastern Shore Community College Lecture Hall, 29300 Lankford Hwy., Melfa. [Read more…]
Hungars Music Ministry presents a concert by Debra Wendells Cross (flute) and Barbara Chapman (harp) 4 p.m. Sunday, April 12, at Hungars Episcopal Church, 10107 Bayside Road in Machipongo. The event is free and open to the public. [Read more…]