Orange County

Orange County commissioners support budget with a tax cut for some

Some Chapel Hill and Carrboro property owners could get a nominal tax break this year, but don’t get comfortable – a tax increase of up to 5 cents is expected next year.

The Orange County Board of Commissioners will cast its final budget vote Tuesday, June 20, in the Whitted Building, 300 W. Tryon St. in Hillsborough. The meeting begins at 7 p.m.

The board tentatively approved a $219.6 million budget Thursday night that sets the county’s property tax rate at a “revenue neutral” 83.77 cents per $100 in value. A revenue neutral tax rate – required after this year’s revaluation – brings in the same amount of money to the county as last year.

The county tax bill for the owner of a $300,000 home would be $2,513.10.

The commissioners also lowered the proposed 20.18-cent Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools district tax after briefly discussing what to do with leftover money.

The new tax would be $20.08 cents per $100 in value, generating a $602.40 district tax bill for the owner of a Chapel Hill or Carrboro house valued at $300,000. Property owners whose values stayed the same or fell this year would save $1 per $100,000 in property value.

Residents who live in the Orange County Schools district do not pay the special tax.

The commissioners acknowledged the tax cut won’t change the public view of local taxes, but Commissioner Earl McKee noted it will be good for a few minutes.

“I’ll take something that feels good even if it lasts for just a few minutes,” Commissioners Chairman Mark Dorosin said.

“I think it’s imperative that we work to reduce the funding disparities between Orange County schools and Chapel Hill schools,” Dorosin said. “This is an opportunity to reduce that disparity by cutting back one.”

“It’s almost exciting,” Commissioner Mark Marcoplos quipped before voting against the cut. The lower rate is “more symbolic than substantive,” he said later.

“Or you could say, only one commissioner stood up for the school system, and didn’t let funds be cut from the school system,” he said.

The entire board will be in a different place next year, as its members look at increasing property tax rates to help pay for last year’s voter-approved $120 million school construction bond. The tax increase is not unexpected.

“I don’t think there’s anyone sitting here in this room that doesn’t pretty well know that next year, we’re going to be raising taxes to meet some of the expenses we’re going to incur on these bonds,” Commissioner Earl McKee said during a discussion of schools budgets.

Other budget highlights:

▪ All county property owners will pay $128 next year for solid waste and recycling services – a $21 increase

▪ The commissioners gave $2.1 million in one-time discretionary funding to the schools – nearly $1.3 million for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools and $838,000 for the Orange County Schools. The money was provided by lowering the county’s reserves – money set aside for unexpected costs.

That money is in addition to the districts’ local operating budgets of $48.5 million in Chapel Hill-Carrboro and $32.2 million in the county. The amount spent per student rose by $123, to $3,991. County Manager Bonnie Hammersley noted that’s higher than the average increase of $91.10 over the past 10 years.

▪ County employees would get a 2 percent raise July 1 and a “living wage” of at least $13.75 an hour, up from $13.15. County employees also would get a one-time performance bonus of between $500 and $1,000. Those who give birth, adopt or gain guardianship of a child could take six weeks of paid parental leave.

▪ Fire district tax rates were adjusted.

▪ The budget allots $10,000 for a Bike Safety Campaign and creates a $15,000 challenge match to encourage donations to the planned Orange County Veterans Memorial at the Southern Human Services Center on Homestead Road.

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb

Construction ahead

Next year’s proposed $219.6 million budget also includes several capital, or construction, projects:

Southern Orange Campus Expansion

2017-18 cost: $4 million

Details: First phase includes a realigned driveway and stormwater improvements. A second $5.2 million phase in 2019-20 includes an expanded commissioners meeting room, dental clinic, and larger health and human service areas.

Funding: $5.5 million in debt financing and $3.6 million in Medicaid maximization funding 

Information Technology Fiber Connectivity

2017-18 cost: $1.2 million

Details: Project will create fiber network within the town of Hillsborough to replace existing Time Warner services (at a monthly cost of $17,000). The fiber network could be expanded over the next 10 years to connect Cedar Grove to Carrboro and Efland to the Eno Development District along U.S. 70. The final cost is estimated at $3.3 million.

Funding: Mostly debt financing, with the possibility of cost-sharing with Hillsborough and other partners 

Blackwood Farm Park

2017-18 cost: $100,000

Details: County could buy mowing equipment next year, or also consider animal grazing for the 152-acre park on N.C. 86 at New Hope Chuch Road. Roughly $1.8 million in 2018-19 could fund construction, including picnic areas, a community garden, agricultural demonstration areas and exhibits, an amphitheater, trails and play fields. Another $2.6 million in work is anticipated over the next decade to build a permanent Parks Operations Base.

Funding: Work over the next two years could be paid for with $90,000 from the general fund, $10,000 in grants and fees, and $1.9 million in debt financing

Pending projects

▪ Millhouse Road Park: The county could delay funding for the 79-acre park with soccer facilities just north of Chapel Hill. The timeline could be moved up, depending on the ability of Chapel Hill and other partners to help pay for the work.

▪ Environment and Agriculture Center: The $3.4 million project is on hold until the county can decide whether to renovate the existing center on Revere Road in Hillsborough or move it north of Hillsborough. A report is due this fall. Commissioner Earl McKee suggested having more community discussions.

▪ Orange County Southern Branch Library: The county is talking with Carrboro about a town-owned site at 203 S. Greensboro St. Roughly $6.4 million in debt financing is slated for design and construction between 2018 and 2020.