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Proposed Chatham FY18 Budget Moves County Forward

Post Date:05/02/2017 8:24 AM

The Chatham County Manager’s Office unveiled the proposed fiscal year 2017-18 budget of $110.1 million at the May 1, 2017 meeting of the Board of Commissioners. The proposed budget is based on an adjusted tax rate of 62.81 cents, down 0.57 cents, and maintains the county’s focus on school priorities and preparations for growth.

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

  • May 15, 6 pm: Historic Chatham Courthouse, Pittsboro
  • May 16, 6 pm, Siler City Courtroom, Town Hall

Copies of the proposed budget are available online. CLICK HERE TO VIEW.  Printed copies will be at the three county library branches by the end of May 3, 2017.

“In many ways, we have prepared for growth and related changes through such efforts as the Comprehensive Plan and a study of the long-term fiscal impact of the Chatham Park development,” said County Manager Renee Paschal. “However, pending state legislation could throw us some curve balls, including possible harmful cuts to impact fees and sales tax revenues.”

The proposed property tax rate is lower than last year, but that is mostly due to the 2017 revaluation of all real property.

“As requested by the Board of Commissioners, we used what is called the revenue neutral tax rate, which is a confusing revaluation term,” Paschal said. “It means we calculated the revenue we would have generated with the FY 2018 property values as if revaluation not occurred. We then determined the new tax rate needed to generate this same revenue based on the FY 2018 revaluation valuations.”

Paschal said that due to revaluation, the final tax rate approved by commissioners by June 30 will affect each property owner differently. “Those who saw little change or decreases in property valuation could see a lower tax bill in August. However, if revaluation increased a property’s value, that property owner could get a higher tax bill, even with a lower property tax rate.”

The proposed budget increases overall funding for K-12 school operations by five percent. Key additions are:

  • A total of $630,000 for two new reading teachers, 3.5 instructional coaching positions, and three teachers to handle growth in enrollment;
  • A 19% increase in supplemental funds to help Chatham schools remain competitive with surrounding school systems; and 
  • A 3% increase in school capital outlay funding.

The budget proposal also fully funds debt service for education facilities covered in the adopted FY 2018-2024 Capital Improvement Plan, including a new high school for up to 1,400 students in eastern Chatham opening in August 2021, a new elementary school in the northeast part of the county slated to open in 2020; and a new Central Services Building for Chatham County Schools to open in the summer of 2022.

Of the non-school budget items, a major recommendation is $769,000 to provide a 3 percent increase in employee pay. “We increasingly must be competitive with surrounding local governments or we will lose some of our most effective and experienced employees,” said Paschal. “This is a vital investment to handle the coming growth.”

The budget proposal includes provisions to help the county develop strategies to implement the Comprehensive Plan after its adoption in the next few months. The Board of Commissioners and departments will be engaged in developing implementation strategies. Items included in the proposed budget are: 

  • $103,000 for initial funding to create a Unified Development Ordinance;
  • $43,894 for a new planner I position for half a year funded out of contingency, in case current staffing is not sufficient;
  • $30,000 (one-time cost) for an updated Parks & Recreation Master Plan; 
  • $90,000 to work with the towns on a master utility plan; and 
  • $750,000 (one-time cost) to help Siler City upgrade its wastewater treatment plant.

Several departments are already seeing workload increases due to fast-paced growth. Impacted departments include planning, GIS and tax mapping, fire inspections, building inspections and watershed protection. ”Most of these positions reflect restorations in positions that were cut during the recession. We are seeing development levels return to pre-recession levels, which does not even include the growth projected in Chatham Park over the next 15 months,” Paschal said.

As a result, the proposed budget includes the following: 

  • $51,576 for a new zoning officer position to coordinate weekly pre-application meetings with potential businesses, investigate compliance issues, and deal with an increasing number of rezoning requests; 
  • $64,410 for a new watershed specialist position that will be cross trained in several areas, but the cost for the position should be fully covered by new fees collected for expedited plan reviews; 
  • $24,993 for a new GIS applications specialist to help with mapping and related data services; 
  • 182,944 for two new building inspectors, most of which is expected to be offset by additional revenue; and 
  • $88,882 for an additional fire inspector.

A major focus on affordable housing remains a priority of the Board of Commissioners. The budget includes funds to continue a contract with the Triangle J Council of Governments to staff a standing advisory committee on affordable housing. It also includes $85,000 for the Chatham County Council on Aging to help seniors address substandard housing issues.

Because of problems at Family Violence & Rape Crisis, the FY 2018 budget includes funding to offer domestic violence victim services through the Sheriff’s Office and Family Visitation Center. In addition, the budget includes funding for a pilot project with the Chatham Housing Authority to offer victims transitional housing. The total cost in the budget is $237,946 (funded through fund balance).

“We expect to reevaluate our provision of these services next year and develop a plan moving forward that either contracts with a viable nonprofit or utilizes grant funding that is not currently available for first-year programs,” Paschal said.

Other major new items included in the proposed budget include:

  • $300,000 to add a storage building and new roof for the county facility used by CORA Food Pantry; and 
  • $24,993 for an early voting site for the 2018 Primary Election and $140,187 in contingency in case the US Supreme Court requires new elections for seats in the NC General Assembly.

The proposed budget includes some changes in county fees to cover specific services: 

  • Permitting: Eliminate the fee for construction of residential ramps to help nonprofits and others who make homes safer for seniors and disabled people.
  • Watershed Protection: Create two new fees that would allow developers, at their option, to obtain express reviews of stormwater buffer and erosion control applications.
  • Environmental Health: Establish a new fee for pool reinspections to encourage operators to have pools ready by their inspection date and increase water sample fees to reflect higher material costs.
  • Library: Increase the inter-library loan fee to encourage patrons to return materials on time.
  • Health Clinics: Increase fees for the Siler City clinic to reflect higher costs of vaccines and Medicaid rates.
  • Agriculture & Conference Center: Reduce many rental fees to be more competitive with similar venues.

Chatham County is served by 11 fire departments that are funded through separate property taxes collected by the county. Durham County Fire & Rescue, which provides services in part of northeastern Chatham, is the only one requesting a change. They have requested a decrease in their tax rate from 10.5 to 9.4 cents, with no decrease in services.

The Board of Commissioners will have a series of work sessions on the budget after the public hearings. State law requires them to approve the budget no later than June 30, 2017.

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