A week before they adopt a spending plan for the upcoming year, county commissioners found extra money to boost teacher salaries and expand some public safety initiatives while shaving the expected property tax increase by 33 percent.
"We were able to identify a number of ways to save money and reduce our expenditures," county commissioners Chairwoman Ellen Reckhow said Monday.
"As a result we were able to accommodate the school needs to a large degree ... at the same time we are dedicating over a quarter of a cent on the tax rate to new safety initiatives."
The major adjustment to the proposed budget came by shifting $2 million into the county's general fund from the community health trust fund, which consists of revenues from Duke University's lease of Durham Regional Hospital.
The fund had a balance of $27.9 million as of Dec. 31, 2004.
After commissioners vote on the budget June 27, property owners are likely to see their taxes increase by 1.93 cents, instead of the 2.9 cents proposed by County Manager Mike Ruffin. The new rate translates into a cost of $28.95 for the owner of a $150,000 house.
Commissioners came under pressure to find more money for schools after Ruffin recommended a $4.4 million budget increase, versus the district's request for $15 million more. At a county work session, school Superintendent Ann Denlinger asked for $2 million on top of Ruffin's recommended to increase supplement teacher pay.
Adjustments in expenditures and revenue were done to cut the proposed tax increase and at the same time spend more on schools and public safety. Some of the adjustments included revenue from solid waste, animal control collection increases and a correction of an error in the recommended budget.
Ruffin said the Durham Public Schools system had projected an increase of 555 students next year, but the county used the Department of Public Instruction forecast of an increase of 247 students.
Using the reduced number of students, it means DPS would be having an extra $731,500 in the recommended budget, $500,000 of which would be used to raise the salaries of classified employees, such as bus drivers.
The county would then add $919,774, which was made available after the adjustments, to increase the teacher supplements.
The budget also added some new safety initiatives to the budget to the tune of $573,586, which will pay for pretrial services, fingerprinting, funding for a new assistant district attorney, a youth treatment program and recording equipment to be used in courts.
County Attorney Chuck Kitchen told commissioners that the courts were finding it difficult to fill the positions of court reporters, leading to the delay of trials by about a month and that he hopes the presence of video equipment would speed the process.
Staff writer Lovemore Masakadza can be reached at 956-2401 or firstname.lastname@example.org.