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Proposed Chatham County budget retains tax rate while boosting school support

Posted Wednesday, May 9, 2012

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Pittsboro, NC - The Chatham County Board of Commissioners received the County Manager’s proposed budget for 2012-13 during its meeting on May 7, 2012. The proposed budget includes no property tax increase, while providing additional funding for various needs, including schools and new or planned facilities.

Two public hearings have been scheduled for residents to provide feedback on the proposed budget:
• May 21, 6 pm, Agriculture Auditorium, Pittsboro
• May 22, 6 pm, Siler City Courtroom, Town Hall, Siler City

“We were able to make cuts this past year and postpone borrowing. We also are in a sound financial position, which gives the county flexibility to absorb new expenses in key areas without a proposed tax increase,” said County Manager Charlie Horne. Five of the county’s fire departments have proposed tax increases for their services that would impact specific districts, but not countywide.

Horne noted that the major area impacted by state budget cuts over the past four years is education. “County support has helped the school system absorb the cuts during this period but the school system has eliminated 54 positions, nearly all vacant positions. We propose an additional $800,000 for schools to handle increased enrollment and to address an expected budget shortfall due to reduced state funding.”

Besides the $800,000 increase for operating funds, the budget recommends new funds for school capital projects, including $304,690 to replace the roof at J.S. Water School.

About one-third of the school increase comes from postponing construction of the new high school by one year, as approved by the Board of Education. This action reduces the county’s contribution to debt reserve, freeing up ongoing funding for schools. The school system requested an additional $400,000 in one-time funding that was included, and the county absorbed the remainder in the general fund.

The recession also has impacted county government’s work force over the past four years. “Not only have we reduced positions, many remaining employees have experienced heavier workloads,” Horne said. The county also has not provided increases pay or benefits during this time other than a one-time bonus earned by some employees as part of their 2008-09 performance agreements. The one-time bonus was paid two years later.

The budget proposes to address the salary issue by recommending partial implementation of a 2008 pay study, which showed that county employees’ salaries overall were already behind their counterparts in surrounding communities by 15 percent. Horne said, “The commissioners asked us to work hard to find the money to help us remain competitive in the region.”

Full implementation of the pay study would cost $3 million. “This is not financially feasible at this time, but we recommend funding the first phase at a cost of about $1.3 million. Everyone will receive at least two percent, but some will get more depending on how far below the local average their salary was based on the study,” Horne said.

Facilities also had an impact on new budget expenses:

  • $678,543 to cover debt service for a new jail;
  • $837,000 to cover six months of operations for the new Justice Center; and
  • $1.6 million for the first phase of renovations of the Courthouse Annex building once the Justice Center opens.

In the past four years, Chatham County cut 19 positions, but only four were actual layoffs. The proposed budget would cut an additional four positions, with one of those requiring a layoff. The Public Health Department eliminated some vacant positions through a merger of two divisions, including a vacant public health educator supervisor, a $60,455 savings.

Other positions eliminated in the proposed budget were areas flagged by the Board of Commissioners earlier this year:

  • Code enforcement officer in the Planning Department, a filled position eliminated due to reduced workload. $54,704 savings
  • Childhood lead poisoning prevention staff, two vacant positions eliminated due to lower than expected need for services, $143,314 savings, but the department will continue to operate the program with existing staff.

The proposed budget recommends transition funding for the N.C. Arts Incubator in Siler City. Central Carolina Community College and Chatham County simultaneously decided to terminate lease, which expires in September, because the college no longer needs the space. “Based on the strong recommendation of our Nonprofits Grants Review Panel, we propose using contingency funds for transition funding, equivalent to an additional six months of the lease,” said Horne.

The budget recommended reducing the county’s contribution to the Chatham County Economic Development Corporation by $45,000, which the Board of Commissioners has asked to secure more private funding.

Five of the county’s 12 fire districts requested tax rate increases that will only impact those areas of the county:

  • Bennett: one cent to cover fuel costs and vehicle maintenance
  • Moncure: 2.29 cents to replace aging equipment, pay debt on a ladder truck and add six paid firefighters. It recently improved its fire ratings to substantially lower insurance costs for homeowners in the district.
  • North Chatham: 2.2 cents to fund construction of two new substations, including 12 new full-time firefighters and related equipment. This will have a major impact in lowering district homeowners’ insurance premiums.
  • Pittsboro Fire & Rescue: 0.76 cents for higher fuel and utility costs and to add three full-time firefighters for a newly constructed substation. The new substation will substantially lower homeowners’ insurance premiums south of Pittsboro.
  • Silk Hope: 0.18 cents to make repairs to main station and buy supplies.
  • Northview Fire District requested a tax rate decrease of .05 cents and the others will stay the same.

Copies of the complete budget proposal can be found at:online CLICK HERE or printed copies are available at the three county libraries.

 
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