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Chatham County’s proposed budget holds line on tax rate

Posted Wednesday, May 6, 2015

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Pittsboro, NC — On May 4, 2015, the Chatham County Manager’s Office presented the Board of Commissioners with a proposed budget for fiscal year 2015-16 (FY16) that keeps the same property tax rate (62.19 cents ), while providing enhanced funding for several key county priorities.

County Manager Charlie Horne said, “An improved economy means healthier projected growth in revenues. Combined with the county’s sound fiscal planning over many years, we are positioned to increase funding for schools and other commissioners’ priorities established at their budget planning retreat, such as a comprehensive land use plan and opening and marketing the new Agriculture and Conference Center.”

The proposal recommends a general fund budget of $99.45 million, up 5 percent over FY15. This is the sixth straight budget year with no property tax increase proposed by the County Manager’s Office, but four fire districts are requesting increased tax rates: North Chatham/Bells Annex, 1.5 cents; Moncure, 1.46 cents; Parkwood, 1.5 cents; and Pittsboro/Circle City, 0.67 cents.

The Board of Commissioners will hold public hearings and work sessions to discuss the budget and usually make revisions before adopting the budget in June. The hearings will be held on May 18 at 6 pm in the Historic Courthouse and on May 19 at 6 pm at the Siler City Town Hall Courtroom.

Copies of the proposed budget will be posted on the county website as a news item on the homepage. Printed copies also will be the three county libraries in Siler City, Goldston and Pittsboro by May 6.

Horne noted that several specific revenue sources have improved as the economy has experienced growth: sales tax (up 16% locally and 12% statewide), building permits (up 7%), and excise taxes in Register of Deeds (up 9%).

The budget proposal for Chatham County Schools continues the county’s tradition of maintaining per student funding among the highest in the state. The county manager proposes a $1.4 million increase in school current expense (up 6%) and a $502,252 increase in capital project expenses (up 36%). The additional funding provides an increase in the local salary supplement, restores the middle school world languages programs, and offsets the state’s elimination of funding for driver’s education.

The budget keeps on track all Capital Improvements Program (CIP) projects through a transfer to capital reserve and to the debt service fund. School projects in the adopted CIP that will be underway this budget year are the new Joint Bus & County Garage, the purchase of several new mobile classrooms, the replacement of the heating and cooling system at Northwood High School and continued replacement of roofs at several schools.

A major new item in the budget is $325,000 for a comprehensive land use plan, a major goal of the Board of Commissioners. In 2014, the US Census Bureau reported Chatham County as the second fastest growing county in the state.. County Manager Horne said that the plan, when completed, will provide a roadmap for decision making as the county prepares for a growing population..

The FY16 proposed budget includes a three percent pay adjustment for county employees at a cost of $700,000. Horne said, “We made great strides in the past two years bringing employees up to more competitive salary levels, but we also need this pay adjustment to keep them at a competitive level.”

The proposal also includes an additional $270,196 for increasing health insurance costs for employees.

Several new items in the proposed budget relate to the opening of facilities, including $144,965 to provide staffing, utilities, maintenance and other operating expenses for the Agriculture and Conference Center, slated to open in spring of 2016. This includes a new staff person in the Convention & Visitors Bureau to market the facility to outside groups and coordinate events.

The county is in the process of developing proposed policies and fees for groups to use the Agriculture and Conference Center that will be brought to an upcoming budget work session.

Although the new garage shared with Chatham County Schools opens to the school system in the latter part of FY16, the county’s use of the facility will not begin until FY17. However, the county must start the planning and transition process ahead of time, so $87,000 is proposed for FY16 start-up costs.

The budget proposal makes no changes in the funding schedule for facilities and projects in the adopted FY16-22 CIP. However, it does include planning funds for two future projects: $50,000 to plan for replacement of the emergency radio system and $30,000 for a feasibility study for Central Carolina Community College’s proposed Health Sciences Building.

Some smaller projects not funded through the CIP are included in the budget proposal. The Council on Aging is slated to get $75,000 for building maintenance and repairs at the senior centers. Other examples are $160,000 to repave two parking lots; $149,060 for construction, equipment and maintenance of a permanent morgue; and $71,868 for new software.

Related to a commissioners’ goal to improve customer service, Central Permitting would get additional funds to expedite plan reviews for small projects and commercial projects. A plan review officer position is recommended for this effort, with new fees partially offsetting the expense ($34,687 net cost).

Another commissioners’ goal focused on protecting water resources is addressed by recommending a new erosion and sedimentation control officer, vehicle, and operating expenses at a cost of $86,318. The county’s award-winning small Erosion Control Office has seen significant increases in workload in the county and, in FY15, took over the administration of the Town of Pittsboro’s sedimentation and erosion control program.

The budget proposal includes $118,413 net cost for two additional positions in the Sheriff’s Office (court deputy and narcotics investigator) as well as picking up $62,878 of a previously grant-funded position for electronic monitoring of domestic violence offenders. It also includes the first full year of operations for the new jail.

Several other new or expanded staff-related costs in the proposed budget include:

· Economic Development Corporation: $23,000 to pay its share of a coordinator for the Small Business Center at Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro.

· Planning Department: $20,657 to increase planner II position from 75% to full time.

· Cooperative Extension: $20,580 to increase extension specialist from 50% to 80% time.

· Facilities Management: $58,233 for a new maintenance technician..

· Parks & Recreation: $25,015 to increase a half-time park attendant to full time.

· Contingency: $190,814 is set aside for possible new positions in 911 Communications, Animal Services, Planning, and Cooperative Extension.. Funds will be released if needed.

The fire departments in Chatham are funded through property taxes and submit their rate requests annually. Any requests for changes are reviewed by the Fire Marshal and Finance Officer. Four requested increases for FY16 and the budget includes the following recommended increases:

· Bells Annex and North Chatham (both served by North Chatham Fire Department), an increase of 0.015 cents to a rate of .1030 to fund a new fire station on Manns Chapel Road, new staff and equipment.

· Moncure, an increase of 0.0146 cents to a rate of .1250 cents to cover large losses in property tax from the closing of both Duke’s coal-fired plant and Performance Fibers. The increase will allow the department to maintain current service levels.

· Circle City (Pittsboro), an increase of .0067 cents to a rate of .1225 cents to fund additional personnel and create a fund for future replacement of aging equipment.

· Parkwood, an increase of .0150 cents to a rate of .1150 cents to match Durham County’s funding level. This department has been restructured and is now part of Durham County’s Fire & Rescue Department. The rate increase will fund additional personnel and related equipment.

The proposed budget includes recommended new fees or fee increases to help recoup $40,000 of the costs of providing specific services:

· Central Permitting: New fees for commercial plan review, removal of stop work order, and expedited plan review for small and commercial developments (a new service option).

· Health Clinic: An increase in immunization fees to match the Medicaid rate and draw down full reimbursement.

· Environmental Health: Fee increase to cover increased state-level lab costs for bottles and testing.

· Animal Services: New refundable fee for resident rental of animal traps and a new fee for adoption of non-traditional animals not covered by existing policy.

· Parks & Recreation: Fees for a new youth volleyball program and increased fees for summer camp (the latter takes effect summer of 2016), adult softball and adult basketball.

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Chatham County’s proposed budget holds line on tax rate