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Chatham County Manager Presents Proposed FY 2020 County Budget

Post Date:05/07/2019 8:22 AM

On May 6, 2019, the Chatham County Manager’s Office presented county commissioners with the proposed county budget for fiscal year 2019-20, which provides $125 million for the general fund and a proposed tax rate of 67 cents (or $0.67) per $100 valuation. The proposed tax rate increase of 4.19 cents is due in great part to debt-funded facilities added to Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), the opening of a new elementary school, and increased support for teacher salary supplements.

“Absolutely no one wanted to end up recommending a property tax increase, our first in three years,” said County Manager Dan LaMontagne. “We held the continuation budget as flat as possible and only approved the most critical departmental expansion requests, knowing that we had a perfect storm of new growth-related expenses hitting at the same time we have seen several revenue streams level off or reduce. We also have three major capital projects recently added to the Capital Improvement Plan that require new funding. ”

LaMontagne said that over the past few years the county has seen cuts or no growth in state funding for school facilities, senior programs, and other vital services. “This occurs at a time when rapid student growth requires building and opening new schools. The Council on Aging has lost substantial state funding while they experience increased demand and longer waiting lists for several services.”

Depending on what other counties propose for FY 2019-20, Chatham’s proposed tax rate is expected to keep the county near the middle of the nine surrounding counties and also close to the statewide average. Examples of how the proposed tax increase would impact property tax bills:

  • $100,000 value = $41.90 increase
  • $200,000 value = $83.80 increase
  • $500,000 value = $209.50 increase

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

  • May 20, 6 PM: Historic Chatham Courthouse, Pittsboro
  • May 21, 6 PM Siler City Courtroom, Town Hall

Copies of the proposed budget are available on the county website at: www.chathamnc.org/annualbudgets. The county provides printed copies at the three county library branches by May 10, 2019.

The proposed budget notes that locally collected sales taxes are trending above the state and are expected to stay strong. Property tax values (real estate, personal property, motor vehicles and utilities) are expected to increase 4.5% in the upcoming budget year. Excessive rain the past year may be a factor in the leveling off of revenues from building permits and inspections as well as Register of Deeds excise tax, and fees from environmental health and watershed protection.

Despite these positive revenue trends, local governments continue to be hit by new state legislation reducing the taxable property base and also further cutting funds for schools and county services. Additionally, facility projects have been impacted by substantial increases in construction costs.

“It is important to note that the low unemployment rate is great for the economy, but it makes retaining and recruiting personnel a major challenge, especially when competing against other urban areas in the triangle region,” said LaMontagne. “High turnover comes with an even higher cost than keeping salaries and benefits competitive. For this reason, we recommend a 3 percent market pay increase.”

The budget also includes a 3 percent increase for employee health insurance and increases in retirement system contributions required by the state to stabilize contribution rates.

Highlights for K-12 school items in the proposed budget are:

  • Increase school current expense funding by 13% to $44.8 million, including $825,000 to further transition salary supplement increases for teachers and licensed personnel from a flat-rate to percentage of salary.
  • Keep funding for school capital outlay at the same level, or $2.3 million. 
  • Provide funds to prepare to open Chatham Grove Elementary at a cost of $1.4 million next year.

For Central Carolina Community College, the proposed budget would:

  • Fully fund Chatham Promise, which provides two years of free tuition and fees for all eligible Chatham residents who graduate from high school between 2019 and 2022, at a cost of $200,000 in 2020. 
  • Open the new Health Sciences Building in August 2019, requiring $245,450 in operating expense.

Debt service for three major projects added to the county’s 2020-26 Capital Improvement Plan in December require 1.5 cents on the property tax rate. They are:

  • Replace the county’s 30-year-old public safety radio system used by emergency respondera, which is a high priority to ensure public safety. Related to this, an additional $4.2 million would replace the radios carried by public safety personnel as a “pay-as-you-go” project over seven years.
  • Expand the over-capacity Emergency Operations Center, which also houses 9-1-1 communications. The site currently has exceeded space needed to add 9-1-1 communicators as the county grows.
  • Build a new Central Services Building for Chatham County Schools, allowing consolidation of all administrative staff in one facility.

Several items included in the proposed budget directly relate to the county’s 25-year Comprehensive Plan: 

  • Continue funding the new Unified Development Ordinance, a priority of the Board of Commissioners that provides a framework for implementing the comprehensive plan. For FY 2020, $90,000 is needed.
  • Continue the $200,000 contribution to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund and allocate an additional $50,000 to be set aside for emergency housing needs.
  • Increase funding for nonprofit agency grants by $17,000. Grants are targeted at goals in the Comprehensive Plan.

Three expansion items would help mitigate dwindling state funding for Council on Aging services: 

  • Replace state cuts for transportation services for seniors to access services, at a cost of $177,140.
  •  Provide $91,020 for in-home aide services, which has had level state funding for 11 years. These services are vital to help seniors remain in their homes as long as possible.
  • Increase the general allocation by $30,362 to restore cuts made during the recession.
  • Set aside $30,629 in case the state follows through with reducing funds for Home & Community Care Block Grants, which fund many senior services and senior center operations.

Five new staff positions are recommended in the proposed budget, all of which come with offsetting revenue:

  • Hire a new Cooperative Extension agriculture agent, half funded by NC Agriculture & Technical University. This agent would work with the Community Rural Development program and create programs for under-served and lower income populations, including young people. Net cost: $26,863
  • Add two new child welfare workers in Social Services to reduce the caseloads to levels set by state and federal standards. Net cost for both: $69,736
  • Add an emergency assistance services social worker to address incase caseloads. Net cost: $22,704
  • Add a water utilities service worker due to increased demand as the system grows. Net cost: $78,743

Other recommended miscellaneous items in the proposed budget are:

  • Provide $42,386 to help Central Permitting retain building inspectors through a training incentives program.
  • Purchase a van for Cooperative Extension’s 4H youth development program at a cost of $45,320, with the goal of increasing youth participation.
  • Provide several items for Emergency Management & Operations: $79,000 toward a new backup generator for Chatham Central High, which would serve as a shelter during disasters; $10,500 for a new trailer to bring supplies to emergency shelter locations; and $75,000 to conduct a professional study to determine the best option for delivery of emergency medical services in Chatham.
  • Continue scanning medical records in the Health Department, at a cost of $34,450.
  • Purchase a second computer network security device at a cost of $12,000.
  • Purchase equipment for Parks & Recreation to groom baseball and softball fields at a cost of $12,625.

Fire districts across the county recommend their own tax rates, which are approved by the Board of Commissioners. North Chatham Fire Department is the only one requesting an increase from its district residents to add six part-time positions, replace old equipment, and buy additional equipment for water rescue. If approved, the district’s tax rate would increase from 10.3 cents to 10.8 cents per $100 valuation.

The proposed budget recommends several changes in fees collected to help cover costs of services:

  • Add a one-time fee of $2,500 for Stormwater Control Measures inspections, which must be monitored in perpetuity and are very time-consuming.
  • Increase several Parks & Recreation fees for youth basketball and softball fees to move toward covering 50% of program costs.
  • Increase some Parks & Recreation facility rental fees for shelters and ballfields.
  • Consolidate the separate fees for Solid Waste Collection Centers and Solid Waste Disposal into one fee paid by residents in the unincorporated areas of the county.