, 2015

Northumberland’s proposed
$37.6 million budget will
require a real estate tax hike

by Renss Greene

HEATHSVILLE—The Northumberland board of supervisors has advertised a proposed $37.6 million fiscal year 2014-15 budget that requires a real estate tax increase and includes a new sheriff’s office and money to buy the EVB bank building in Heathsville.

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Under the proposed budget, the real estate tax rate would climb from 42 cents per $100 to 49 cents. The budget also includes a 4.3% increase in revenues and expenditures, from $36,073,548 last year to $37,623,600 this year. Many of the major changes within the budget are due to transfers and accounting methods within the budget, although it does include $1.8 million towards the new sheriff’s office and $200,000 for the EVB bank building in Heathsville, while dropping $100,000 in expenditures with the conclusion of the Light Street project.

Tax increase

County administrator Kenny Eades characterized the real estate tax increase from 42 cents to 49 cents per $100 of assessed value as a three-cent increase on top of keeping up with the tax base under falling appraisal values. To keep the same revenue after property in Northumberland lost value in a recent reappraisal, he said, Northumberland would have to increase the tax rate from 42 cents to 46 cents.

“The total assessment dropped 9.7%,” Eades said. “So when that dropped, to equalize the rate so that the same amount of money was brought in, the tax rate would have had to be 46 cents. So it’s not a jump from 42 to 49, it’s a jump from 42 to 46, and then we’re adding a three-cent tax increase on that. It looks terrible, it looks like we’re raising taxes 7 cents, but in actuality it’s only 3 cents.”

Capital projects

The budget also includes $200,000 in capital projects for the purchase of the EVB building. The total cost of the building would be $250,000. Eades says the board has not yet decided what to do with the building if it purchases it.

“There’s been a lot of talk about maybe school board, I know it’s got a drive-in window and the treasurer’s interested in it,” Eades said. “The board hasn’t really decided yet. My interest is to consolidate these fragmented buildings we have scattered all over the place.”

Eades says the county is being offered the EVB building at half of its assessed value.

“They made it definitely worth our while,” he said.

The capital projects budget also includes a $60,600 increase for maintaining county facilities to $100,000. The increase is for major painting and maintenance to the county office building. There also is a new $1.8 million line item for construction of the sheriff’s office.

Accounting changes

Many of the apparently dramatic changes to the budget come from shifting funds within the budget or changes in reporting. The “other local sources” revenue category is advertised as increasing 33.5%, from $3,378,280 to $4,509,960, and the general fund balance is shown to fall 49%, from $5,645,312 to $3,788,805. However, according to Eades, the bulk of this change is the transfer of $1.8 million for the sheriff’s office from the general fund to the capital projects fund. Capital projects are reported under other local sources of revenue.

Public safety costs expenditures rose 17.9%, from $3,999,777 to $4,715,408. $92,759 of that cost is a line item for repairing the Rappahannock Regional Fire Training burn building, for which Northumberland has been given a grant. $198,711 of that is represented by new budget items associated with Northumberland’s beginning transition towards professional rescue service, such as salaries and equipment costs. Another $60,000 increase will go towards police vehicles, bringing that cost up from $150,500 to $210,500. There also is a $140,000 line item for bringing Virginia State Police “Live Scan” technology to Northumberland. The Virginia State Police describe Live Scan as “an integrated booking system that electronically captures, prints, and transmits fingerprints and data.” Live Scan is meant to speed up identification and filing of arrestees by allowing electronic communication between agencies.

A 26.8% decline in the health and welfare category also is due to reporting changes, said Eades. Funding for the Department of Social Services previously included state and federal funds. This year, the budget will only show the local contribution to social services. The removal of federal and state numbers drops the reported budget for social services by $719,041.

“When my auditors do it every year, they only pull out the local amount and put the local amount in the audit report,” Eades said. “So I figured rather than me confusing everything and keeping that larger number in there, that I’ll just show the local expenditure.”

In fact, Northumberland this year added a $10,000 line item for heating assistance to help defray the loss of heating assistance funding from Dominion Virginia Power’s EnergyShare program. Dominion this year made drastic cuts to its EnergyShare emergency heating assistance program, causing Social Services workers to worry that needy families and seniors in Northumberland would be left unable to afford adequate heat this winter.

The $100,000 removed from budgeted expenditures by the end of the Light Street project also falls under health and welfare.The clerk of the General District Court has asked for supplemental salary and wages from Northumberland. Wages for the clerk’s office are paid for by the state, but Northumberland is permitted to provide supplemental wages. The proposed budget includes $10,000 for the office of the clerk.

Federal and state funding in question

The budget predicts a 1.1% decrease in state and federal sources of revenue from $10,053,268 to $9,944,210, but without a budget by the Virginia General Assembly, the number is speculative. Eades says he is concerned that funding from the state may drop even further than predicted.

“I’m expecting it more now than I was when I was doing the budget, because they’re showing a shortfall,” Eades said. “I’m kind of concerned now that localities are going to be left to pick up the shortfall.”

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