Chatham County Increases Tax Rate in New Budget

Chatham County residents will have their taxes increased for the first time since the 2010-2011 fiscal year in the new budget adopted on Monday night by County Commissioners.

The $107.5 million budget is based on a 63.38 cent property tax rate.

The increase is a 1.19-cent bump. For a resident with a $100,000 home, the increase would result in an increase on a property tax bill of $11.90.

Commission chair Jim Crawford said the budget prepares Chatham County for the “future we know is coming.”

Three areas of the Capital Improvement Project had the most influence on the tax bump, a new elementary school, an expansion of a planned new high school and a new building for Central Carolina Community College.

The new elementary school is slated to open in northeast Chatham County in 2021. The new high school, which is also slated to open in 2021, was budgeted an additional $5 million to expand from an 800-student capacity to a maximum of 1,000 to 1,200 students.

The new Health Sciences Building for CCCC is set to open in 2018.

The budget also includes a five-percent increase for Chatham County Schools, a three-percent salary increase for all county employees, an increase of 15 percent for employee health insurance and funding for 10.5 new positions.

Orange County Set to Adopt Operating Budget

The Orange County Board of Commissioners is set to finalize the 2016-2017 budget Tuesday, without an additional tax increase.

During Thursday’s meeting, the Board voted to increase funding for the two local school districts to approximately $5.4 million above what the county manager recommended, but was still short of what the districts requested. A .6% tax increase to generate over $1 million for school funding was proposed during last week’s budget work session but did not pass.

This puts the board on track to vote Tuesday without any additional amendments to the budget.

In addition to finalizing the budget, the Board of Commissioners plans to strengthen ties between Orange County, the Town of Chapel Hill and ‘LAUNCH Chapel Hill,’ the small business incubator. The board plans to give the company $33,500 for the next three years to support its 3,700 square foot expansion. The added space will help the company accommodate more start-ups and in turn create more jobs for Orange County residents.

The board is also scheduled to approve amendments to the Bicycle Safety Task Force. The task force was formed after community members raised concerns about how bikes are impacting traffic flow and raising potential safety issues.

The task force was charged with recruiting no more than 18 members including people from law enforcement, the school system and bike advocacy groups, to name a few. The group is also in the process of appointing a liaison to work with the Board of Commissioners and communicate the needs and concerns of the task force.

These changes, the budget and more will be voted on at seven o’clock Tuesday night at the Southern Human Services Center in Chapel Hill.

Chapel Hill Approves $103 Million Budget

The Town of Chapel Hill is proceeding into the new fiscal year with a newly adopted $103 million budget.

The budget is balanced and requires no tax increase – the third consecutive year without such an increase.

The Town Council unanimously approved of the final proposal on Monday night.

Town Manager Roger Stancil told the council this budget reflected the priorities of the council and citizens of Chapel Hill by supporting areas including affordable housing.

“This budget continues the penny for affordable housing,” Stancil said, “and adds $28,000 per year to the contract for the community land trust.”

Stancil said affordable housing was an important piece of the puzzle, but added it was just one of the priorities considered when crafting the budget.

“Other examples that are reflected in the budget are additional funding for human service agencies,” Stancil said. “While we made it through the recession without reducing that funding, it was time – after a long time – to think about how you might fund other human service agencies.”

The initial recommended budget was brought to the council in early May. Since then, there have been two budget work sessions and a public hearing. Stancil said changes were made to the proposal to implement desires of the community.

“The funding for the Visitor’s Bureau was increased by $25,000,” Stancil said, “in part, to try to respond to the impact of HB2 on tourism in North Carolina and Chapel Hill in particular.”

Stancil also pointed to funding to expand Launch Chapel Hill – the business incubator collaboration between UNC, Chapel Hill and Orange County – and restoring three days of swimming hours as areas that were adjusted after public input.

Every member of the Town Council that spoke seemed pleased with the overall budget in terms that it did not require a tax increase, including Mayor Pam Hemminger.

“[We] appreciate a budget that came forward without the tax increase this year as we had promoted the bonds for the vote saying that we wouldn’t need a tax increase for bonds,” Hemminger said referencing the $40 million in bonds approved by Chapel Hill voters in the fall.

The budget also includes a pay raise for town employees, Stancil said, which is broken into a two percent increase in July and another 1.5 percent increase in January.

“That split is in anticipation of the future implementation of a pay for performance or pay for value added [model].”

Council member Nancy Oates said she wanted to address pay raises for town employees going forward in hopes of giving those at the lower end of the pay scale larger raises rather than an across-the-board percentage jump.

Budget Approval On Docket for Chapel Hill Town Council

The Chapel Hill Town Council could adopt its final operating budget at its meeting Monday night.

Town manager Roger Stancil presented the recommended budget to the Town Council in early May. There have been three subsequent work sessions to discuss budget priorities since that presentation.

Stancil’s initial proposal included no tax increases and was a balanced budget that he considered to be a conservative approach because of market volatility.

“I’ve heard from different sources, different economics that although we might have a weak recovery, it’s perfectly feasible to think that within another year we could have the beginning of another recession,” Stancil told the council on May 9.

The Town Council will also consider the installation of a pedestrian bridge over Morgan Creek using 2015 bond funds and the council will hear presentations on the status of two public-private partnerships that include developments that will house fire facilities in Chapel Hill.

The meeting is scheduled to be held at Town Hall at seven o’clock Monday night.

Busy Week for Orange County Commissioners with Meeting and Budget Work Session

The Orange County Board of Commissioners will hold a regular meeting Tuesday night ahead of a budget work session on Thursday night.

Public comment will be taken at the meeting on Tuesday, among the other issues being considered by the board. There is no public comment session during work sessions.

School funding for both the Orange County and Chapel Hill – Carrboro City School Districts have been a major talking point so far in public comment sessions regarding the county manager’s budget proposal.

The commissioners are expected to vote on a final budget on June 21.

The meeting is scheduled for seven o’clock Tuesday night in the Whitted Meeting Facility in Hillsborough.

CHCCS Working Through Budget Questions

Chapel Hill – Carrboro City Schools assistant superintendent Todd LoFrese said at the Board of Education meeting last Thursday that the system is receiving new information regarding the budgetary process, but that does not necessarily make the picture any clearer.

“We do have a lot more information,” LoFrese said, “however, we have the same amount of uncertainty I think because we really don’t know what’s going to happen, as of now, and what it all means for our operating budget next year.”

The muddiness of the situation comes because no state or local operating budget is set in stone.

The state House and Senate have both released appropriations proposals, but LoFrese said the two proposals have very different strategies and outcomes regarding teacher pay.

“The House provides a more modest increase of around 3.5 percent, an average of 3.5 percent that is,” he said. “The Senate’s version is closer to six percent.”

In the school board’s budget request to the county, the system had estimated a five percent increase across the board.

The school’s budget also asked for approximately $4.5 million in additional funds from the county in order to boost teacher pay. The district has already committed to the additional funding to boost the local teacher pay supplement, in response to Wake County increasing its local supplement.

The county manager’s budget proposal did not fully fund the increased requests from each of the local districts, which has been the subject of two public comment sessions to the County Commissioners.

Board member Pat Heinrich said the district has already seen a positive impact in recruiting potential teachers with the increased supplement.

LoFrese said, while the recommended budget does not fully fund the requests, there is an increase in per-pupil spending.

“Twenty-four dollars [increase] per pupil,” LoFrese said. “And [the manager] also recommended funding all of the nurses and school resource officers in the district, as well as Orange County Schools.

“This is a benefit to the district.”

LoFrese added that the net increase from increased per-pupil spending may not be what some were expecting because the district’s enrollment is projected to decrease next academic year.

“The net increase in funding to the district is about $350,000,” he said. “Our request was a request of about $4.5 million.”

LoFrese said the district has received concerned comments from parents over the decreasing in staffing at some schools, but LoFrese said that correlated to the drop in enrollment and was not a reflection of any budget concerns.

The County Commissioners will meet several times in the month of June – including a regular meeting on Tuesday and a budget work session on Thursday of this week – before possibly approving a final budget on June 21.

Chapel Hill Town Council Budget Work Session Canceled

A Chapel Hill Town Council budget work session that had been tentatively scheduled for Monday has been canceled.

The council is considering the budget put forward by town manager Roger Stancil and held a work session on the budget on June 1.

Stancil brought the council a balanced budget that featured no tax increase and no increase in stormwater fees.

The next council meeting is scheduled for June 13; the budget could be adopted at that meeting.

Meyer: House Budget “Doesn’t Go Far Enough”

The North Carolina House has passed a budget proposal tweaking the two-year spending plan passed during the long legislative session last year.

Now, it’s the North Carolina Senate’s turn to produce a budget. From there work will begin in committee meetings to nail down the final product that will make its way to the desk of Governor Pat McCrory.

This year’s House budget passed through the chamber with more bipartisan support than we have been used to in recent years.

“Because they felt they wanted to get behind the state employees and teacher raises that were included in the budget and because they believed that the raises that the House offered are going to be more generous than what the Senate is likely to offer,” local representative Graig Meyer reasoned as to why more Democrats supported this year’s budget proposal.

Meyer, however, was one of 12 Democrats who voted against the budget. He said the proposal, even with the salary bumps, “doesn’t go far enough toward what we really need to improve the state’s economy and take care of our state employees.”

Meyer said “there was a lot more that could’ve been done” in terms of raises and investments in other areas, including mental health care, but the House chose instead to put the remaining dollars into a reserve fund. That reserve fund would be at a record $1.4 billion with the additional $300 million from this year’s surplus, according to chief House budget writer Nelson Dollar.

“My biggest concern about the budget was that the Republicans put in place an arbitrary cap on spending before even deciding what we needed to spend money on,” Meyer said referring to the agreement from early May that the budget proposals would not exceed $22.225 billion.

Meyer added the tax regimen put in place by Republicans in recent years is not providing the state with enough funds to “pay for things that we need to do for North Carolina.”

Meyer offered an amendment during the budget process to reinstate the estate tax on estates worth more than $5.4 million that would have impacted “fewer than 100 North Carolinians,” the legislator said, while bringing in $60 million in tax revenue. That amendment failed.

Meyer said, while he had issues with the budget, there were some areas he was pleased with. He said he was happy to see state employees and teachers get a raise, while adding “I wish it was more.” He also said he was happy to see a greater investment in mental health care.

The House budget proposal also called for the removal of the cap on light-rail spending, which could revive hopes for the Orange-Durham Light Rail project.

Meyer said that provision would likely come down to being used as a bargaining chip during the process to finalize a compromise between the House and Senate on a final budget.

Listen to the entire interview with Meyer below:

Teacher Pay Focus of County Budget Discussion

School funding, specifically teacher pay, was the focus of Thursday’s public hearing on next year’s Orange County budget.

The Board of Commissioners meeting was held at the Southern Human Services Center in Chapel Hill.

Teachers, staff and many students asked the Board of Commissioners to fully fund the budget for Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools. The school district has decided to increase teacher pay $4.5 million next year, regardless of the county’s final budget. The school district has said it will use money from other areas to fund the increase if necessary.

Supporters of the schools held red plates to identify themselves.

Last week, the board heard public comment in Hillsborough where many spoke on behalf of the Orange County Schools.

County Commissioner Barry Jacobs said while county allocates a budget for the school districts it is the school districts who decided how to spend it.

“So for those of you who are saying that we should do X or we should do Y, that’s what the school board decides and I think sometimes people misconstrue what our role is,” said Jacobs.

But county commissioners do base their budget on formal requests from the school districts.

Lynn Lehmann is the executive director of the public school foundation, a fundraising organization for CHCCS. She said the budget request from the school district was necessary.

“There is a teacher pay problem and you can help with that, you have the means to help if you choose,” said Lehmann. “This year’s budget recommendations from the school districts take great steps to remedy the problem and we are here to ask that you fund it as requested.”

Even if the county doesn’t completely fund the CHCCS budget, this year’s budget does open up some funds for the school district. The county is going to begin covering the cost of the school’s nurses, securities guards and other health and security contracts. This would represent a $1.2 million appropriation for CHCCS and around $250,000 for Orange County Schools.

Additionally, the county will now pay the per pupil cost for students who leave the public schools for charter schools, which the school districts previously had to cover.

Brain Pomerantz, the father of a kindergartner at McDougle Elementary School, said he didn’t want the district to have to cut corners to fund the teacher pay increase. Pomerantz said the one of the main reason people accept higher taxes in Chapel Hill is the schools.

“You need people who are moving in to move here because of the schools. You need them to be willing to pay high taxes because of the schools,” said Pomerantz. “I am willing to pay the high taxes because of the schools.”

The Board of County Commissioners will adopt a final budget on June 24.

President’s New Proposal Could Help Orange County Kids

President Obama announced Wednesday he plans for ask Congress for $12 billion over the next ten years to help feed school kids during the summer.

For low-income families, a free or reduced-price lunch is 5 meals a week for a child, but during the summer families can struggle to make up for those meals.

Michael Reinke, director of the Inter-Faith Council, said this is a problem for the almost 3,000 kids on free or reduced lunch in Orange County.

“Schools are one of the main sources of nutrition for those 3,000 children then that source of nutrition is suddenly closed,” said Reinke.

Obama’s new proposal would give families $45 per child to buy food at grocery stores, opposed to current summer programs that usually require a child to come to a central location for a meal.

“Having that EBT card, being able to find that kind of assistance means that we can get one step closer to everybody in Orange County having enough good food to eat,” said Reinke.

According to Reinke, 14 percent of our community is food insecure, meaning at least one family member gives up a meal to make sure other family members have enough food.

“I know that when I’m hungry it makes it a lot harder to concentrate on my job, it makes it a lot harder for me to do a good job,” said Reinke. “If we can get everyone in our community to get enough good food to eat it means we can start being a more productive community. It means that people are one step closer to becoming self-sufficient.”

The poverty rate in Orange County is 17.8 percent, slightly higher than the state average, but these issues can seem out of sight in our community.

“We do a good job hiding poverty in our community and it means that often times people are unaware of the degree and the depth of the problems that people are facing,” said Reinke.

If passed, the summer food program would begin in 2017.