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One person spoke during a public hearing this morning on Halifax County’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

William Hodge of Roanoke Rapids commended the board for looking out for employees in the 2020-21 financial plan. 

“I would like to congratulate (county manager) Tony Brown and his staff for focusing on important compensation issues for all Halifax County staff in the new budget. Numerous new programs will help all Halifax County employees to have new opportunities to increase skills and improve their incomes.”

He said the budget makes sure that all mandated programs can be adequately funded for unknown future emergencies. 

The $13 million unassigned fund balance, he said, “Gives you financial breathing room in future emergencies.”

But, Hodge said, he disagrees with Brown on his property tax study comparing Halifax with neighboring and other Tier 1 and low-wealth counties. “The numbers and math are correct,” he said, but told commissioners Halifax County is the only county in North Carolina where all property owners are asked to pay a significant amount for public schools in the form of supplemental education taxes. “In neighboring counties education expenses are funded in their annual budget.”

He said state Department of Public Instruction studies show that neighboring counties provide almost double the funding for public education than Halifax County has provided. “On average, our eight local counties spend $1,804 per pupil … That means Halifax County has three school districts; each one of them has a supplemental tax; taxpayers pay that tax and when we average that up it’s $907. Half of all the other surrounding counties give to their students.”

Roanoke Rapids would be 78th in the state with supplemental tax funding, he said, Halifax County would be 42nd and Weldon would be 16th, a misnomer he explained because of how low the student population is in the Weldon district. “This is approximately 50 percent of the neighboring counties. Adequately funded education without any extra taxes, my only question is why is Halifax County education spending supporting only 50 percent of our neighbors.”

Four years ago, Hodge said, citizens approved a supplemental tax for the Halifax County school district “because they wanted their children to receive an improved education.”

The COVID-19 pandemic put a hold on the revamping process for school funding as ordered in the Leandro lawsuit. “In December the court had suggested $8 billion over eight years to improve education for students in low-wealth school districts,” Hodge said. “Teachers, educators and parents want their children to have the opportunity to modern, technological education which would enable them to help move the county forward. Education is our best key for opening the door to a better tomorrow. Future budgets need to investigate increasing expenses for public school  funding.”

Other budget highlights

This proposed budget allocates $1,029,700 from fund balance to cover additional human capital needs, general capital needs and also to assist non-profits in their support of community needs. This use of fund balance and tax rate adjustment is in addition to maintaining the cuts and reductions made by departments over the last 11 fiscal years. 

This year’s proposed budget provides additional capital funding for public schools and the community college totaling $560,000. 

The proposed financial plan will continue to address pressing capital needs by funding, among other things, debt service payments for Enfield-Inborden School, Manning Elementary School, Social Services facility and Water Service Line construction, in addition to the Solid Waste Transfer Station.

Final adoption scheduled for Monday, June 15 at 9:30 a.m. The proposed budget is available on the county’s website.