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Posted Thursday, June 28, 2012
Pittsboro, NC - On June 18 we passed the FY 2012-2013 budget. I want to touch on the highlights of the budget and make a few comments in areas that might need some clarification. To see the approved budget and a more complete summary please visit the county website.
When the majority took office we pledged to make spending cuts, focus our spending on core functions, and raise taxes only as a last resort. We knew that by prioritizing dwe could increase spending in core areas without additional tax burden to the citizens. I'm pleased to say that the county staff has been able to once again prepare a budget that allows us to maintain our property tax rate at 62.19 cents.
The funding reduction strategy adopted last year and the targeted cuts this year made it possible to increase our investment in education, teacher and teacher assistant pay, Chatham Transit, public safety, and begin to implement the 2008 pay study that gives county employees a salary increase.
I know that anytime we increase salaries it will be controversial so I want to give you my thoughts on it. Our county employees are some of the best in the state. A pay study conducted in 2008 showed that our employees were 15% behind their counterparts. To be competitive we felt it critical that we implement a portion of the study.
The decision to increase the supplement to teachers was made after looking at several scenarios. The county has always showed great support to teachers but we continually hear that they have to purchase hundreds of dollars of supplies out of their pocket each year. That is unacceptable. Unfortunately, there isn't much we can do to address it. Originally, the majority wanted to establish a separate fund from which teachers could be reimbursed. Turns out, that isn't allowed by law. Our only recourse is to increase the supplement. While the amount allocated won't solve the problem, we hope that it helps.
Another controversial point in the budget is the timing of building a new high school in the northeast. Everyone acknowledges that a new school will be required, the question is when. In talking with the school board and others, the majority of commissioners agreed that we should postpone the project. Given that a new high school will cost between $44 and $50 million, I believe it would be unwise to build it before it is needed. In addition to enrollment numbers not yet to the point of needing it, school officials pointed out that we could actually harm some programming in the system if built too early. We do have immediate issues with travel time to the existing school for the residents living on the east side of Jordan Lake that we need to address. I have some questions in my mind about whether the current proposed location for the school would address this problem. In the interim, I hope to work with the school board chair and the superintendent to alleviate the long travel time. We have discussed options and I feel we'll be able to come up with a solution.In a budget this size, the result will always contain compromises. There will be some areas that we agree with and others that we don't. By keeping an eye on the larger picture and ensuring that the compromises are on the specifics rather than principle we can ensure that the agreed upon goals are met.
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