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)

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.”


Shifting gears, Yvonne Bagwell of Eastville spoke against tax increases: “I will not support a tax increase of any kind. I have not received a cost of living or wage increase either [retired on fixed income]. It is a poor county; we can’t afford to give any more. You need to get away from the idea that you can have anything you want [and raise taxes] — you must try and make do with the same amount of money that you had last year.”

School Superintendent Eddie Lawrence listed numerous cuts the schools still had to make, noting that in his last meeting with the Supervisors he had touted the success of the universal pre-K program. But due to state budget cuts, that program may have to be cut from two classrooms to one or even be eliminated. “Our kids, our citizens deserve at least average schools. I ask you to support the youth of Northampton County. They are our future,” he said.

Ken Dufty of Wardtown, who has led the charge against the county’s new zoning proposals, addressed the need to properly fund the schools as well as services such as Emergency Medical Service. “We need to turn the green light on for investment in Northampton. I agree with all these people here, good schools will be the economic engine that funds our county. I applaud your efforts and work you have done on the budget, but during Monday’s meeting, you denied funding for services such as EMS — we have $1.8 million in the Capital Reserve Fund. There are things that we need — fund the requests for schools and public safety issues,” Dufty said.

Parks and Recreation Director Laura Jenrette emphasized that the gym at the former middle school is very important — the basketball program alone serves over 1,000 people a season, and indoor volleyball is also gaining popularity.

Former Supervisor Spencer Murray attacked the proposal to maintain the middle school, given the projected high cost of renovations ($1.2-$5 million). “Why spend millions on a building — $100,000 for utilities for it.  The county needs money to replace the high school. We don’t need another complex. I’d like to know who is behind pushing this,” he said.

Administrator Nunez gave a lengthy presentation on estimated revenues, projected expenditures, and supporting tax rates, as well as long-term goals for the FY 2016 budget. She said that long term goals for education are to work closer with the School Board to find ways to pay for school capital improvements, as well as to continue to fund at or above the current levels per student. She said that a major economic development goal is to develop business incentives to help drive business recruitment, selection, location and development.

With the hospital moving away, the county has become fully aware of the health care issues to be faced, and Nunez emphasized that the county will continue to fund EMS services, and will ensure that a 24/7 Emergency Care Unit is operating by June 2017. The county plans to partner with Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital regarding redevelopment of the current facilities in Nassawadox.

Other long-term county goals include promoting broadband availability and providing water and sewer to the northern and southern nodes “in a financially responsible way,” Nunez said. She did not explain what role the County Public Service Authority would play in such an approach.

Nunez also gave a breakdown of county spending: The largest portion of the budget, 63% or $26.6 million, goes toward personnel. Operating expenses come next at 29 percent, or $11 million. Debt service is  7%, and general outlays are 4%.

Nunez noted that 68% of General Fund revenue comes from property taxes.

County revenue is always in flux, Nunez said with state aid being the most volatile. Sales tax revenue declined by $48,000, and Recordation tax receipts fell by $20,000. There was, however, a $77,584 increase from the State Compensation Board to pay the Commonwealth’s Attorney.

Other local revenues have held steady, with increases listed in Fines, Courthouse Fees, and Solid Waste Fees. Ambulance fees and vehicle license taxes declined, Nunez said.

In addition to General Fund expenditures (employee compensation, treasurer, EMS, solid waste, etc.), Nunez noted additional Capital Outlays for the electoral board, sheriff’s office, contribution to Eastern Shore Community College, and Harbor and Boats, such as $25,000 for floating docks at Willis Wharf, which is part of a matching Port Authority grant.

Supervisors will deliberate the proposed budget tonight (April 6) at 5 p.m., with a possible final vote on the budget and tax rates April 14.



6 Responses to “County Proposes Higher Taxes, Less Money for Schools”

  1. Deborah Bender on April 6th, 2015 7:16 am

    A lot of the problem with Northampton County is the fact that we have too many employees making far too much money. Our county administrator is overpaid. Katie Nunez is making more money than most county administrators in the STATE! We are one of the poorest counties in the state yet our administrator makes a huge salary. We have an Economic developer named Charles McSwain who hasn’t brought JOB 1 to this county. He is also grossly overpaid. Northampton County has become a CASH COW. The schools NEED more funding PERIOD.
    As far as the Public Service Authority goes they need to be disbanded. They are far from a PUBLIC SERVICE authority. They are only looking out for DEVELOPERS who are here to make a buck using the backs of taxpayers.
    The citizens of this county need to get together are send this message: WE ARE MAD AS HELL AND WE ARE NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!

  2. Spencer Murray on April 6th, 2015 7:45 am

    So let me understand this…..the hospital was given away to Riverside with no strings attached and now the county administrator says we are going to “partner” with Riverside regarding the redevelopment of the existing facilities in Nassawadox. Look out Northampton taxpayers…you are getting ready to get it again. You are going to get to buy back what you already owned with no ER and maybe a 9 to 5 urgent care facility that cannot receive ambulances all of which was predicted five years ago.

  3. Jack Demamp on April 7th, 2015 9:43 am

    I would be interested in seeing the numbers behind Ms. Bender’s claim of Mrs. Nunez being paid higher than most county administrators in Virginia.

    The Wave reported March 16 that at the March 10 Board of Supervisors meeting, Ken Dufty stated that “In Virginia, the average salary for a County Administrator is $57,000, yet we pay Nunez $120,000. The average for an economic developer is $71,000, and we pay McSwain $107,000.” The website “Simply Hired” currently lists $59,000-$63,000 as the average salary for a county administrator in Virginia. –EDITOR

  4. Jack Demamp on April 7th, 2015 12:49 pm

    Editor, thanks, hadn’t seen that. I still would like to see the numbers that show Nunez makes more than most county admins in the state though (averages can be skewed due to a few outliers, after all.) I’m also curious as to what “Simply Hired” lumps in with county administrators. After following your link, if you click their link for “county adminstrator”, it takes you to a list of 231 “county administrator jobs” that are currently being advertised…some of these “county administrator jobs include:
    science teacher, special education supervisor, commercial systems administrator, mid level system administrator, planner v, etc.

    If those jobs are being counted in with the salary figure that they give for county administrator, then their figures are horribly wrong.

    Salary Expert, updated today, has numbers that are more realistic for County Administrator positions

    All good points, to which we will add one more: the Wave never purported to characterize anyone’s salary; we merely reported what was stated at a public meeting (and which was also reported by the Eastern Shore Post and Shore Daily News). –EDITOR

  5. Bobby Roberts on April 8th, 2015 3:56 pm

    The website above doesn’t list county administrator’s salaries. Those are cities listed, not counties. Go to other county websites and try to find administrative salaries. They aren’t there. County employees don’t want the taxpayers finding out how much they really make. Top county salaries in Northampton are way too high for the government we’re getting lately.

  6. Jack Demamp on April 9th, 2015 9:16 am

    Bobby, just up the road in Accomack, the county administratoe is making $123k.

    I can guarantee you that there is no county in Virginia that pays its county admin 57k or less as Mr. Dufty believes. Heck, look at job openings on the Virginia Municipal League: Montgomery Co has an opening for an HR Director for 83k, Roanoke Co. is hiring a fire chief in the low 100s, Albemarle Co. is looking for a Director of Social Servicse for 90k-147k, James City Co. is hiring a Senior Budget and Accounting Analyst for 55k+, just to name a few.

    It’s a safe bet that the County Admins are making much more than any of those positions listed. If you can find the info, I would bet that you wouldnt find a county admin in VA making less than 90-100k. No one qualified to be a county admin would take that job for the alleged “average salary of 57k”. It’s laughable, and it is more laughable that anyone would believe it to be accurate.