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Chatham’s proposed budget holds line on taxes while supporting schools

Posted Friday, May 9, 2014

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Pittsboro, NC - On May 5, 2014, Chatham County Manager Charlie Horne presented the proposed county budget of $94 million for FY 2014-15 to the Board of Commissioners. The proposal holds the property tax rate at 62.19 cents and includes funds for a new teacher incentive pay program and continuation of the high school one-to-one laptop initiative.

“This proposed budget continues our dedication to the prudent use of taxpayer dollars. With this budget, we recommend funding high priority education facilities and classroom programs,” said Horne.

Horne said the budget proposal also “furthers our goal toward achieving a AAA bond rating. We already have the highest bond rating from rating agencies for counties of similar population size."

Residents are invited to attend and make comments at two public hearings on the proposed budget:
• May 19, 6 pm, Historic Courthouse, Pittsboro
• May 20, 6 pm, Siler City Courtroom in Town Hall

One of the key budget recommendations will continue efforts to bring county employees’ salaries closer to the salaries of their counterparts in competing areas. “With an improving economy, we already see evidence of a more competitive local market, so this is an important step in retaining our many excellent employees,” said Horne.

An allocation of $535,086 would bring the salaries of any county employee below market rate (based on a 2014 study) halfway up to market rate, with the goal of funding the remainder next year. Under this proposal, all employees who are already at the market would receive two percent.

Assistant County Manager Renee Paschal, who oversees the budget process, said that there are signs of an improving local economy, including major growth in building permits, new jobs in the county and capital investments by businesses. “We also are seeing more growth in sales tax revenues, well above the statewide average.”

Paschal said the economic growth has not yet been realized in the property tax base, the county's major revenue source. For that reason, the overall budget was increased a modest one percent. The growth that was realized in other revenues helped the county fund employee raises, incentive pay for educators, and the laptop initiative.

The new school budget items include:

JOINT SCHOOL-COUNTY GARAGE: The growth in the county’s collection of school impact fees means that a joint county and school system garage can be added to the FY 2015-2021 Capital Improvement Plan. While no funding is needed for FY 2015, the proposed budget would allow the county to begin work on the facility in late 2014.

A 2011 study found that both the county’s garage and the school system’s garage were undersized, inefficient and outdated. The county is currently contracting out these services. A new joint garage would likely be built on county-owned land west of Pittsboro off US 64.

Paschal said that combining the borrowing for the $8 million garage with the $12 million Agriculture & Conference Center will help the county leverage better borrowing terms and interest rates.

INCENTIVE PAY FOR SCHOOLS: Based on research, the Chatham County School system likely is the first in the state to offer local educator bonuses if they exceed or meet new statewide academic growth targets. These incentives should help the school system recruit and retain teachers capable of using innovative strategies to meet the state’s targets.

Licensed teachers and other educators who directly affect performance in the classroom can earn $500 per year for meeting student growth targets and $1,000 per year for exceeding them. Classified personnel (teaching assistants) can earn $250 for meeting student growth targets and $500 for exceeding them. The proposed budget includes $575,000 for this program.

STUDENT LAPTOPS: The proposed budget funds the renewal of the One-to-One Student Laptop Program in schools. Entering its fifth year, the program provides high school teachers and students an array of expanded learning opportunities outside the classroom and online progress assessments.

The proposed budget includes a current expense appropriation of $577,323 for the laptops, with the school system reallocating funds to cover the remaining cost. Using this funding option instead of capital outlay means that these funds must be shared with charter schools.

CENTRAL CAROLINA WORKS: The budget proposal includes $25,000 in second year funding for Central Carolina Works, a regional partnership involving several K-12 school systems in the region and Central Carolina Community College. The program will place academic and career advisors in all high schools, with the goal of increasing students taking advantage of tuition-free college credit classes.

OTHER SCHOOL FACILITIES: The proposed budget includes funds for two other multi-year capital projects involving several schools:

  • School roof replacements: The capital reserve budget includes $1,098,000 to continue the plan to repair and replace all roofs in need. This year’s work will include Horton Middle School and the administrative building in Pittsboro.
  • Pavement repair and replacement: Several schools (Chatham Central, Chatham Middle, Horton Middle, Jordan-Matthews, Siler City Elementary and Silk Hope) have pavement in bad condition or they need additional paved areas. The $30,000 proposed for this year will complete the five-year project.

County Manager Horne said that economic development is a focus of the budget proposal. It includes $361,000 for the engineering costs of water-sewer lines at the Chatham-Randolph Megasite west of Siler City and $50,000 for the Chatham Economic Development Corporation to market the 1,800-acre megasite to potential industries.

The budget proposal provides $181,000 to help the Town of Goldston with its sewer installation process, which has already been approved by Commissioners, and a one-time allocation of $120,000 in matching funds to improve the airport in Siler City.

Other major items in the proposed general fund budget include:

  • An additional $800,000 for operations of the new jail (full year of operations)
  • An additional $170,555 for additional health insurance costs
  • $106,108 net cost for five new positions in the Sheriff’s Office, Central Permitting and Social Services related to increased workload (two are temporary positions converted to permanent)
  • $70,388 for new emergency communications radio towers in Goldston and Governor’s Club

The Public Health Department submitted a budget with a total reduction of $154,901 by unfunding two vacant positions and implementing other department efficiencies.

Most fire districts across the county requested the same tax rates as last year, with one exception. Siler City has requested an increase from 8 to 10 cents. Staff continues to review fire department budgets and will provide more information before the public hearings.

Developing fire district budgets presented a challenge this year due to delays in revenue estimates caused by the state taking over collection of motor vehicle taxes.

The Manager’s Office has proposed moderate fee increases for a few specific services in Planning, Permitting, Health and Animal Services to better reflect actual costs. However, a couple of fees in Recreation and Planning would be revised or reduced, with either no impact on revenues or a small decrease.

The proposed budget recommends a one-year delay in the completing the renovation of the Courthouse Annex Building until the current Agriculture Building, which happens when the new Agriculture & Conference Center opens. This would allow the Tax Office and Finance Office to move into the Ag Building during renovations.

To view the complete proposed budget for FY 2014-15, click here or go to one of the three library branches in Goldston, Pittsboro and Siler City after May 6.

 
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