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Proposed FY19 Chatham Budget Makes Progress on Goals While Maintaining Tax Rate

Post Date:05/08/2018 9:23 AM

The Chatham County Manager’s Office presented the proposed budget for fiscal year 2018-19 at the May 7, 2018 meeting of the Board of Commissioners. The proposed general fund budget of almost $114 million would maintain the property tax rate of 62.81 cents (or $0.6281), but provides two percent growth in spending to focus on several priority county goals.

Residents are invited to provide comments on the proposed budget during public hearings scheduled for:

  • May 21, 6 pm: Historic Chatham County Courthouse, Pittsboro
  • May 22, 6 pm, Siler City Courtroom, Town Hall

The entire proposed budget is available online:  CLICK HERE TO VIEW   Printed copies also will be available at the county library branches by May 10.

“The recently adopted Comprehensive Plan acknowledges the tremendous growth and opportunities knocking at our door, while also challenging us to protect what we hold dear, including natural resources, farms and our rural way of life,” said County Manager Renee Paschal. “The proposed FY 2019 budget helps us move forward on both fronts by focusing on the goals and strategies in the Comprehensive Plan. In January, the Board of Commissioners adopted the Comp Plans goals as its county goals.”

The proposed budget includes funding related to several priorities in the Comprehensive Plan, such as: implementing a consolidated and streamlined Unified Development Ordinance; increasing affordable housing options; improving long-term water and wastewater capacity in the region; ensuring that new school buildings meet energy-efficiency standards; and completing a countywide master plan for recreation and walking trails.

“We have also convened county departments and key partners as Collective Impact Teams (CIT) to develop strategies to implement Comp Plan goals and link these to departmental and employee work plans,” Paschal said. She expects the emerging CIT strategies to generate additional budget items for FY20 and beyond.

Two positive revenue trends helped ensure the modest 2% budget increase without a tax rate increase:  

  • Growth in sales tax revenues continues and is projected to be six percent greater than FY 2018. Much of the growth stems from a strong state and local economy.
  • The property tax base is expected to be nearly six percent higher than FY 2018.

Quality education for all is a key goal of the Comprehensive Plan. The proposed budget increases funding for K-12 school operations by four percent (+$1.075 million), which does not include funds for debt service and capital facilities.

The additional K-12 funds will help the school system to continue “enhancement classes” like music, physical education, arts and world languages should they have to divert funds to implement a state-mandated reduction in class sizes for grades K-3. A court will be determining the fate of recent legislation that would help schools pay for this mandate.

If the school system does not have to fully fund the smaller class sizes, school officials can use up to $450,000 to begin transitioning salary supplements for licensed employees from a flat rate to percentage based. The remaining new county funds ($625,000) will offset inflationary cost increases and help pay for other program enhancements.

The budget proposal fully funds debt service for education facilities covered in the adopted FY 2019-2025 Capital Improvement Plan, including a new high school for up to 1,400 students on Seaforth Road opening in August 2021, a new elementary school on Andrew Store Road slated to open in 2020; and a new Central Services Building for Chatham County Schools opening in 2022.

The budget proposal also funds debt service the new Health Sciences Building for Central Carolina Community College that will soon be under construction on US Highway 15-501 near Briar Chapel.

Beyond education, the proposed budget includes new funding for several Comprehensive Plan’s priorities:

  • Affordable Housing Trust Fund – $200,000 to start a trust fund that will be used to leverage other funds to increase affordable housing options. The Affordable House Advisory Committee is in the process of developing guidelines for the trust fund.
  • Council on Aging – $25,000 increase in funds for the Council on Aging to expand its work with Rebuilding Together of the Triangle to make home repairs so that lower-income people, especially seniors and disabled, can remain safely in homes. The funds should help reduce a current waiting list. Every $1 provided by the county has leveraged $3 from other sources.
  • Parks & Recreation — $96,285 for a new department assistant director and $51,635 to complete the Parks & Recreation Master Plan. Both are key to the Comp Plan goal of doubling the mileage of trails in Chatham and implementing other recreation strategies.

Other new items in the proposed budget relate to the pace of growth in the county:

  • Environmental Health Specialist – $72,924 to hire another onsite wastewater specialist. A study by NC Department of Health & Human Services and the longer timeframe for issuing permits both indicate that this division is understaffed.
  • 9-1-1 Communicators – $55,562 for additional telecommunicators to handle the growing volume of calls handled by the 9-1-1 Center and to insure proper staffing and supervision. 
  • Online Permitting Portal – $58,000 to improve the nline permit system  (CityView) to enhance staff efficiencies and customer experiences.
  • Water Utilities Billing – $46,876 to add a billing administrator and $76,536 for an additional service repair worker. Both are needed due to customer growth in the county’s water system.
  • Elections – $24,761 for an elections specialist position to handle duties related to more registered voters, including updating several databases and producing a larger volume of reports.

Chatham County is served by 11 fire department districts that are funded through separate property taxes collected by the county. For FY 2019, two fire districts are requesting increases. The Silk Hope Volunteer Fire Department seeks an increase from 6.85 cents to 7.85 cents in the tax rate to add two part-time paid positions for weekdays. Durham County Fire & Rescue, which provides services northeastern Chatham, seeks an increase from 9.4 cents to 10 cents on tax rate.

Other specific budget additions are recommended:ther 

  • $38,483 for the Sheriff’s Office to purchase an inmate management system, Guardian RFID, which will enhance overall safety and security. The system also will help the Detention Center receive its accreditation based on national standards.
  • $19,531 to consolidate several court-related programs into one department to improve coordination.

Due to a state law passed in 2017, all local governments with water or sewer system development fees had to perform an updated study of their fee structure. Development fees are one-time fees paid to help fund expansions of the water system to meet the demands of new growth. Chatham County completed its fee study and a public hearing on the proposed new fee structure is slated for a public hearing on June 18, 2018. If approved by the Board of Commissioners, the new water development fee structure will be included in the county budget. While some fees for some larger meters would increase, the fee for the basic residential meter size would be reduced slightly.

Several departmental fees could be revised:

  • The Fire Marshal would add an inspection fee of $75 for after-hours inspections for special events. 
  • Registration fees for youth basketball would go up over the next two fiscal years. For FY 2019, the fee for in-county registrants would be $35 (up $5) and out-of-county registrants would pay $50 (up $10).
  • Several Health Department clinic fees will increase to reflect Medicaid rates and to improve the reimbursement rate.