Supervisors Set to Agree on Smaller Tax Increase

By WAYNE CREED
Cape Charles Wave

April 13, 2015

Northampton Board of Supervisors met April 6 to finalize work on the FY 2016 county budget. At the heart of the matter was a $322,706 increase in funds for the schools, a portion of which the Board of Supervisors hopes the School Board will allocate for a raise in teacher salaries.

On the county side, there was still a deficit of $135,288. The task for County Administrator Katie Nunez was to somehow balance this budget, and by the end of the meeting, have a workable document, built upon Board consensus, that could be voted Tuesday, April 14.

Despite all the things that different factions deem the most important, the money does not magically appear out of the mist — Northampton County has to scratch and work for every penny. What that means at budget time is that to give to one, you must take from the other. The metaphor robbing Peter to pay Paul is never as rich as at budget time.

Nunez and the Board worked into the evening, cutting, moving, and juggling wherever there was any wiggle room, yet when all was said and done, there was still a deficit of $152,000. With all alternatives seemingly exhausted, in order to balance the budget, the consensus was to raise personal property taxes by 5 cents per hundred dollars value, and real estate by .77 cents (about a $15 increase for a house valued at $200,000).

“This is where we need to be,” said Supervisor Granville Hogg. “Time to move forward.”

The tax increase did not come without some debate. “The citizens deserve a break,” announced a frustrated Supervisor Larry Trala [up for re-election in November]. “They deserve a balanced budget, without a tax increase.” A major point of contention for Trala was $45,000 being budgeted for roof repairs at the Government complex, an expense he felt could wait. “I don’t believe the roof is going to fall in if we wait.”

The roof at the complex was not the only one in need of repairs. The transfer station roof has been coming under attack from massive amounts of bird droppings. A $10,000 wire mesh to deter birds stayed in the budget.

Two new Sheriff’s Department vehicles totaling $81,670 also remained in the budget. It was the consensus among Board members that the Sheriff’s Department was one of the most critical, and productive in terms of revenue generation, so providing the best possible equipment to get the job done seemed prudent. Supervisor Oliver Bennett addressed Nunez: “This department brings in over $500,000 a year. Is there any way we can put more on the task? If you drive enough on [Route] 13, you will get a ticket. I have experienced that myself.” [Read more…]

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Bennett, Wendell Rip Apart Town Comprehensive Plan

By WAYNE CREED
Cape Charles Wave

April 13, 2015

After over two years and close to $8,000 in consultant fees, the Cape Charles Planning Commission produced an updated Comprehensive Plan and submitted it for review by Town Council. But at the April 7 joint Town Council/Planning Commission meeting, two Council members, Steve Bennett and Frank Wendell, proceeded to rip the Plan apart.

Providing a summary overview of the draft Plan, consultant Elaine Meil of the Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission said there were 50 major changes to the document, including references to the new hospital, the 2010 census, and IRS zip code data, and VDOT review. The Planning Commission also included some facilities changes, as well as major new property acquisitions by the town including the new library and the seven lots purchased from Dickie Foster.

Missing from the document, however was the major property the town divested — namely, the old high school, which was at the time assessed at over $900,000, and which the town sold for $10 after performing a spot rezoning to R-3 in an R-1 (single family) zone.

In regard to the required VDOT review, Mayor George Proto voiced concern that Mason Avenue could need to be widened, which could affect the “very walkable” character of the town. “That is not in the offing,” responded Assistant Town Manager Bob Panek. Since Mason Avenue has a width of 22 feet from the center line to the parking areas, it falls well within the VDOT range, and will not require modifications, Panek said.

“This is some good work,” offered Proto. “I’m pleased — but I would like to have seen more detail.”

“Well, we attempted to use a broad brush,” replied Councilwoman Natali, who also serves on the Planning Commission. “We tried not to be specific.”

“We’re talking about the future,” noted Planning Commission member Andy Buchholz.

Then Councilman Steve Bennett began his attack, criticizing the overall quality, professionalism, and style of the document. “I just wish the writing was more . . . it’s just not progressive,” he said.

“I find it hard to read,” agreed Planning Commission member Dan Burke. “I don’t think anyone in town is going to read this thing, I’ll tell you that.” [Read more…]

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Opera Singer Picked to Head Arts Enter

LARRY GIDDENS

LARRY GIDDENS

April 13, 2015

The Board of Directors of Arts Enter Cape Charles has named Larry Jay Giddens, Jr., of Nassawadox as its Executive Director effective April 9, succeeding founder Clelia Sheppard, who announced her retirement last month.

Giddens, a native of Virginia’s Eastern Shore, is an accomplished opera singer. He has performed with the Virginia Opera, Todi Music Festival, Symphonicity, and the Virginia Arts Festival in the Hampton Roads area, the National Philharmonic, the Opera Theatres of Pittsburgh, PA, Sarasota, FL and Edmonton, Canada, and toured Europe, Russia, Australia, and New Zealand in the roles of Crown and Jake in Porgy and Bess.

In addition, Giddens has been actively involved in creating, organizing, and managing non-profit community-based organizations, most notably as Board President of Eastern Shore Pop Warner, Director of Day Camps for Longmont Parks and Recreation, and as Executive Director of the Randy Custis Memorial Fund in Nassawadox.

Giddens has a strong sense of the essential role the arts play in a community, and his career exemplifies his deep personal engagement in promoting the arts. He is grateful for the opportunities that led him to this new role: “I discovered a profound love for the arts that has taken me all over the world. I understand how the community needs an organization like Arts Enter, not only for the arts to survive but also to grow and become the preeminent arts organization on the Eastern Shore,“ he says. [Read more…]

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Spencer Murray Hopes to Return as County Supervisor

MURRAY

MURRAY

CAPE CHARLES WAVE

April 13, 2015

H. Spencer Murray of Franktown, an outspoken critic of current county administration, has announced his candidacy for Northampton County District 4 Supervisor in the November 3 election. District 4 includes Wellington Neck, the western portion of Franktown, and a section of Seaside Road.

Murray was District 4 Supervisor from 2008-2011 but did not seek reelection due to a family illness. He was succeeded by Rick Hubbard, who currently is Board Chairman and is expected to run for re-election. When Murray won his Supervisor seat in 2007, he had three opponents, one of whom was Hubbard, who finished third.

Only two Board seats are up for election this year, the other being that held by District 5 Supervisor Larry Trala. Robert Duer has announced his candidacy for District 5.

In the most recent election, November 2013, three Supervisors were chosen, but only one was contested: Granville Hogg defeated District 1 Supervisor and Board Chairman Willie Randall. District 2 Supervisor Larry LeMond and District 3 Supervisor Oliver Bennett were elected without opposition.

Murray has lived on the Eastern Shore for over 28 years. Born in Richmond, he is one of seven children. He attended the College of William and Mary, and after graduation served in Army Intelligence in Vietnam in 1967-68. Afterward, he worked in the financial industry, holding several executive positions and later establishing his own consulting firm specializing in revitalizing troubled companies and managing large-scale information technology projects for international and Fortune 500 clients. [Read more…]

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Cape Charles Rotary Partners with Boys and Girls Club

Cape Charles Rotary Club members join with Boys and Girls Club participants.

Cape Charles Rotary Club members join with Boys and Girls Club participants.

April 13, 2015

Cape Charles Rotary sponsored a Career Day at Occohannock Elementary School March 28 to provide area teens with a jumpstart on successful careers. The event was part of a new partnership between the Rotary Club of Cape Charles and the Eastern Shore Boys and Girls Club.

A team of Cape Charles Rotarians facilitated five Career Day workshops for almost 50 Boys and Girls Clubs teenagers from the Eastern Shore and across the Hampton Roads area. In round-robin fashion, the young adults attended workshops structured to begin preparing them for college and workplace realities: Resume-Writing, College-Bound, Interviewing Skills, Dress for Success and Workplace Etiquette.

The partnership with the Boys and Girls Club is an important new initiative of the Cape Charles Rotary Club, which supports the community through a variety of additional grants and service projects. Monika Bridgforth, Cape Charles Rotary President-Elect and Career Day project coordinator explains, “The Rotarians were eager to share lessons learned from our own careers. From practical tips about how to dress for an interview to more thought-provoking discussions about the value of a college education, the students had a comprehensive introduction to career planning. And we are already refining for next year!” [Read more…]

County Proposes Higher Taxes, Less Money for Schools

Put kids first

County school employees and students demonstrate at March 31 Northampton budget hearing. (Wave photo)

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…]

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Strong Pushback Against June Property Tax Bills

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:

COST
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.

PENALTIES
BRADFORD: A non or underpayment in June will incur an immediate 10% penalty + interest on the unpaid balance.

SAYERS: True statement

ESCROW
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.

WORKLOAD
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…]

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REPORT: Fertilizer and Manure Are Polluting the Bay

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…]

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