Under a Democratic party majority the proposed 2018 Chatham budget includes tax increase

Pittsboro, NC – The Chatham County Manager’s Office presented the proposed 2016-17 budget to the Board of Commissioners on May 2, 2016. The proposed general fund budget of $107 million includes a property tax increase of 1.19 cents to fund three major new facilities in the adopted 2017-2023 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP).

Public hearings on the budget proposal are slated for May 16, 2016, 6 pm, Historic Courthouse in Pittsboro and May 17, 2016, 6 pm, Siler City Courtroom in Town Hall.

County Manager Renee Paschal

Chatham County Manager Renee Paschal

County Manager Renee Paschal said, “Our revenue growth remains healthy and is sustaining our general operations, including opening the new Agriculture & Conference Center.  However, three major construction projects in the CIP represent a large share of growth in the general fund budget. The tax increased will be dedicated to the transfer to debt service for fund those projects. It is the first property tax increase since 2010-11.”

For someone with a $100,000 home, the proposed tax increase would add about $11.90 per year to the property tax bill, or less than $1 per month if paid using monthly mortgage escrows. For a $500,000 home, the tax bill increase by about $59.50 per year.”

The tax increase will help fund:

*         A new Health Sciences Building for Central Carolina Community College, slated to open in 2018, construction in 2017, $14.3 million

*         A new elementary school in northeast Chatham, slated to open in 2021, $30.6 million

*         An expansion of the planned new high school in the northeast from an initial capacity of 800 students to 1,000 students (maximum capacity of 1,200 students), slated to open in 2021, an additional $5 million in the CIP

The proposed budget includes a five-percent increase in funding for Chatham County Schools, including: an additional $846,000 for current expense (three reading teachers, five positions to manage grade configurations in small schools and 10 testing positions); an additional $320,000 for capital outlay; and $300,000 in contingency if the state approves pay raises.

Paschal said that growth in revenues this year will help with new operational expenses, including $221,766 for an almost full year of operations of the new Agriculture & Conference Center and $245,000 to fund a full year of operations for the new Joint County-Schools Bus Garage.

Most growth in revenues has come from locally collected sales taxes, up 12 percent from last year, and vehicle taxes, up eight percent over last year.  The growth in sales taxes is considerably higher than the statewide average of five percent and may be due in part to a county management campaign to have sales outside the county correctly assigned to Chatham if the purchases are delivered here.

Lisa West, budget manager, said that the General Assembly also has given the county additional sales tax revenue, starting in 2016-17.  This new revenue kept the recommended tax increase about one cent lower than would be required otherwise.

Other CIP changes in the proposed budget include:

*         Transferring $936,219 from fund balance to open the new Animal Shelter in 2018-19, one year early.

*         Moving $161,157 from the Pittsboro Elementary roof project to a mobile pod for Northwood High, which will increase its capacity until a new high school is built. School officials believe the Pittsboro Elementary roof can be funded as planned, even with this shift in funding.

County Manager Paschal said that Chatham County continues to battle competitive salaries in surrounding urban and suburban counties.  “In fiscal year 2014, we brought employees up to market pay with the support of commissioners. To stay competitive in this region, we are including a recommended three percent salary increase for all employees.”

As is happening across the state and nation, the cost of employee health insurance is increasing, up by 15 percent in the county, despite a major management focus on wellness and prevention. The county also is required by the state to increase contributions to the retirement system by 0.25 percent.

The proposed budget includes funding for 10.5 new staff positions at a net cost of $324,543:

*         5 positions required for jail operations to comply with new federal requirements to prevent rape in jails and prisons;

*         2.5 positions in Social Services to handle increased workload for the NC Fast program;

*         A new administrative position for Central Permitting, the second  largest department without such support;

*         An event services manager for the new Agriculture & Conference Center to supervise part-time temporary workers for event setup and breakdown (county could not identify a qualified contractor to do the work);

*         Conversion of a health nutritionist to a full-time position due to increased workload; and

*         Conversion of the library system’s outreach director to full time to increase community-based services.

Three of the counties fire districts are requesting increases in their tax rates, while one is requesting a decrease:

*         Bennett seeks an increase from eight to nine cents to cover a new fire engine;

*         Goldston seeks an increase from eight to nine cents to hire four new part-time personnel, create a fund for future equipment needs, and to help fund the purchase of property and a fire station;

*         Northview seeks a 0.3 cent increase to 8.6 cents to match the amount it gets from Lee County; and

*         Parkwood requests a decrease of one cent to 10.5 cents thanks to savings from restructuring.

The proposed budget supports a priority goal of the Board of Commissioners on affordable housing in several ways. Highlights are:

*         Triangle J Council of Governments providing staff support on the issue;

*         School of Government development of plans to turn Henry Siler School in Siler City into affordable rentals or low-income senior housing;

*         Council on Aging and Rebuilding Together partnership to address substandard housing needs;

*         Matching funds for a collaborative grant on affordable housing, in partnership with United Way and Triangle Community Foundation; and

*         Elimination of the permit fee for building residential handicapped ramps.

Technology enhancements including:  software that will make it easier for residents to complete forms and track them online; software allowing mobile access by permitting inspectors; and expanded uses of geographic information systems (GIS).

A few county fees are recommended for changes, primarily increases in Public Health clinic fees to match Medicaid reimbursement rates.  The planned rental and usage fees for the new Agriculture & Conference Center have been adjusted to better reflect rates of similar conference facilities in the region.

The proposed budget is on the county website. Look for the Quick Links box at the top right of the page. Printed copies of the recommended budget are also available at the three library branches.