Four people spoke during a public hearing on Halifax County’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
Three of the speakers represented the ABC2 organization and the other was an educator who encouraged the board to get on one accord when it comes to education.
Action on the proposed fiscal year 2023-24 plan will be taken when the board meets on June 19 at 9:30 a.m.
Before the public hearing County Manager Dia Denton said that the Scotland Neck Fire Tax District would remain at 7 cents per $100 of valuation while the Rheasville Fire Tax District will go to 9 cents per $100 of valuation from the existing 6.633 cents per $100.
The budget as proposed is $54,609,969, calls for no tax increase, gives employees an 8 percent cost of living adjustment and draws $3,856,950 from the fund balance.
During the public hearing on the proposed budget, Makayla Johnson of ABC2 encouraged the board to consider all aspects of American Rescue Plan Funding before acting on the plan. “The main goal of the ARPA project is to bring community sectors together so we can come together to talk about funding and also to create accountable and equitable priorities for these recovery funds.”
In meetings to discuss ARPA funds, Johnson said the priorities which surfaced are broadband, safe and affordable housing, county-wide recreation and education and transportation.
She also said access to healthcare, wastewater and sewer management as well as infrastructure has been discussed. “While I know a lot of these things are in this proposed budget for this year, I also wanted to take the time today to raise community voices again to you all so that you guys might have that fresh in your mind before this budget process closes.”
Terrence Whitby of ABC2 told the board recreation has been an important issue in his discussions with people “so we can advocate for healthy and safe spaces for kids to meet and join together to organize. I think that would really be important to us, especially for the youth.”
Whitby said mental health has been an important topic. “Children who are impoverished do not have access to resources that many other communities may have access to. This will also let us be more effective at work and also within our communities to be advocates.”
Regina Brooks, a retired educator who lives in Weldon, told the board, “I am so distressed, so upset with the educational system, not only in Halifax and Martin counties, but our country.”
Brooks asked the board, “To get on one accord with your local school board members, your local schools, your local communities. Our communities need to do better. Education begins at home. The foundation is from birth to 5-years-old. I ask you to get on one accord. It’s time for a change in education. Why don’t you be at the forefront and show North Carolina, show Halifax, Martin and other counties and the country what education can and should be.”
Chester Williams, CEO of ABC2, highlighted some of the things the other ABC2 partners discussed with the board. “I want us to take a look at the current health rankings we started in 2014 at number 99. In 2020 it was 95 and now in 2023 we are 97. I think recreation is one of those critical points we should focus on. It’s not going to be an overnight sensation because we didn’t get here overnight.”
One thing Willliams said he would like to see is a district park in the southeastern part of the county as well as a countywide recreation department. “If we begin to coordinate we can really look at our recreation gaps.”
In addition to recreation, Williams discussed housing. “I know Halifax County is already part of the Roanoke Chowan Housing Consortium,” and that the opportunity should be used to set standards. “So we’re looking at recreation, digital inclusion, food access and healthcare as we establish these housing units throughout the county or the region.”
He also said the county needs to look at wastewater and sewer remediation and look at funding assistance for homeowners who might not be able to afford those improvements.
Williams said the county should do an analysis of the entire water supply.
He said the county needs to increase the pay for poll workers in order to recruit others. “Increased pay can ensure polling places are adequately staffed and prevent long lines of voters during election days.”
There is also a need for new voting machines for those who are disabled. “The current … machines are nearly 20-years-old and upgrading to express … machines will provide a better voting experience.”
Transportation is also a priority, Williams said. He said a county-wide transportation plan should be brought back to the forefront “because transportation is critical to our entire economic vitality.”