CHAPEL HILL- Orange County Manager Frank Clifton presented his recommended 2013-2014 budget on Tuesday, and if the board of commissioners approves the plan as written, it would be the fifth year in a row without a property tax rate increase.
Clifton said despite a slow rate of growth, the county is on solid financial footing.
“As dire as some people may want to predict the county’s budget process is this year, we are probably in far better shape than a lot of other counties in this state,” Clifton told the board.
While the $185.9 million dollar spending plan fully funds all current services and provides for school enrollment growth, it does not meet the budget requests submitted by either the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools system or the Orange County Schools system, requests that totaled $8 million in additional funding.
“Balancing today’s demands while sustaining the financial capacity to address the challenges of tomorrow requires difficult decisions,” said Clifton. “Fully funding every request, no matter how well intended the support or demand for those requests, is not a practical reality.”
The recommended $87.8 million education budget falls $6 million short of what the school systems asked for, but Chief Financial Officer Clarence Grier said the board does have options if commissioners wish to increase school funding.
“You could propose or approve a property tax increase to address any funding issues not addressed in the recommended budget, or increase the Chapel Hill-Carrboro special district tax in order to address their funding needs,” said Grier. “Also, both school districts have fund balance in excess of the required minimums that could be utilized to fund their needs.”
The board would need to raise the property tax rate 5.5 cents to generate the full $8 million. Raising the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools special district tax by 5.5 cents would generate an additional $5.6 million for the school system.
The budget proposal includes funding for new EMS and IT personnel and raises the level of county funding to the Chapel Hill Public Library to $483,000 a year.
Grier said the county will likely spend about $3 million on landfill closure costs next year. The budget plan would double the annual household solid waste fees to $20 for urban residents and $40 for rural residents, raise the recycling fee by $10 and institute a new $10 mattress disposal fee.
Commissioners will hold the first of two public hearings on the budget on Thursday. That gets underway at 7 o’clock at the Department of Social Services in Hillsborough.