Durham tax rate holds

County manager proposes lower spending, no layoffs

Staff writerMay 27, 2009 

  • The Durham County Board of Commissioners will hold a public hearing on the budget at 7 p.m. June 8 at the Durham County Government Administrative Complex, second floor, Commissioners' Meeting Room, 200 E. Main St.

— Durham County Manager Mike Ruffin introduced his 2009-10 budget Monday, proposing to trim 6.2 percent from the current year's spending but calling for no tax increase or employee layoffs.

Barring any "catastrophic events" in the legislature, that is, Ruffin told reporters before his formal presentation to the county commissioners.

"What we hear from Raleigh is, they have a mighty big hole to fill," he said. "That does not bode well for counties."

If the proposed property-tax rate holds at its current 70.81 cents per $100 valuation, the owner of a house assessed at $250,000 would pay $1,770.25 in county taxes next year.

Ruffin's recommended budget provides no raises for county employees, cancels longevity pay for one year and eliminates the equivalent of 33.32 full-time positions, all currently vacant , on the county payroll.

It preserves employee benefits, including contributions to 401(k) plans. It also adds seven positions, using state money, in mental health and 41/2 positions, using county money, at the public library while reopening the under-renovation Southwest library and opening a new South regional library.

Revenue projections show a $2.28 million increase in property-tax receipts, due largely to the 2007 revaluation, but an overall decrease of $22.4 million due to drops in sales-tax receipts, deed fees and other revenue sources. The drop could worsen if the state cuts funding in categories such as the $560,000 Durham County gets each year for housing misdemeanants in the county jail.

"Given the current state of our budget, that's a hole to fill we haven't figured out how," Ruffin said.

Most of Ruffin's comments pertained to schools, which he called "the elephant in the room."

Ruffin is recommending a 2.8percent cut in the Durham Public Schools appropriation, based largely on enrollment that fell below projections. Even with the cut, Durham County's per-pupil spending, $2,854, remains the highest of North Carolina's 10 largest counties. Wake County spends $2,129 per pupil.

He also recommends a 2.8 cut for Durham Technical Community College. Other county departments are being cut an average of 6.6 percent.

The county commissioners will hold a public hearing on the budget June 8. Budget approval is scheduled for June 22, but could be delayed if state actions require major changes, Ruffin said.

Those changes could involve cuts in services, employee layoffs and/or a tax-rate increase, he said. The latter, he said, would unfairly burden the 9.3percent of county residents age 60 and older, and the 15.1percent estimated to be living below the poverty line.

jim.wise@newsobserver.com or 919-932-2008

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