Chatham County

Proposed Chatham budget up 1 percent on ‘milestone’ base

Chatham County should prepare for growth when considering next year’s budget, County Manager Renee Paschal told the board of county commissioners.

Her recommended 2017-18 spending plan totals $110.1 million, up 1 percent from last year.

The property tax rate would drop slightly, to 62.81 cents per $100 of valuation, down 0.57 cents from last year. The decrease is due to the recent property revaluation. State law requires the county to adopt a revenue-neutral tax rate following a revaluation to generate the same overall amount of revenue.

The proposed tax rate would mean the owner of a $200,000 house would pay $1,256.20 in county taxes.

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

Chatham County has reached a milestone, she told the board. This year marked the first time the tax base topped $10 billion. Revenue growth is steady, she said, and many economic indicators are approaching pre-recession levels.

“I wondered when we would ever see building permits and building permit revenue exceed 2007, but it looks like we could possibly top 2007 levels this year,” Paschal said.

With that in mind, she argued it’s time to restore staff positions cut during the economic downturn. She recommended half a dozen new hires to increase Chatham County’s capacity for GIS and tax mapping, fire inspections, building inspections and watershed protection.

“We’ve got to add them back,” she said. “Our workload in development is really amping up. Chatham Park plans very significant development in the next 15 months.”

Chatham Park, the 7,000 acre planned community near Pittsboro, is slated to add 140,000 square feet of commercial space, along with 200 multi-familty housing units, 150 single-family homes, and a private school, in the early phase of a 30 year development plan.

The budget also allocates $769,000 to provide a 3 percent pay increase for county employees.

School spending rises 5 percent in the proposed budget, to $33.1 million. That additional $1.5 million in operating funds includes money to pay for a 19 percent increase in the local supplement the district pays teachers on top of the state’s base pay rate.

Paschal said Chatham has traditionally ranked behind the Chapel Hill-Carrboro, Wake, Orange and Durham school districts in its local supplement, but a recent survey revealed the county had fallen farther, ranking behind Alamance in three of six categories.

“That really got our attention,” she said. “We want to be competitive. We have a generous supplement, and we’re among the top ten in the state, but our main competitors are the counties that surround us and we did not want to start losing teachers to Alamance County.”

The additional school funding will also add 8.5 new teaching positions to assist with reading and academic coaching, and accommodate growth in school enrollment.

Commissioner Walter Petty thanked the manager and staff for bringing forward what he called another good budget year.

“With every year you guys surprise me with what you come up with and how you are able to pull a rabbit out of the hat,” he said.

The board will host public hearings on the plan May 15 in Pittsboro and May 16 in Siler City, before adopting a final budget in June.

Elizabeth Friend:

What’s next

The board will host public hearings on the plan May 15 in Pittsboro and May 16 in Siler City, before adopting a final budget in June.