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The Orange County commissioners passed a budget with no county tax increase for the fifth year in a row Tuesday night.
The $187.7 million spending plan devotes 50 percent of general fund revenues to education, exceeding the county’s 48 percent goal.
The budget raises per pupil funding in the county’s two school districts by $102. It also raises the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools special district tax rate by two cents to 20.84 cents per $100 in assessed property value. Orange County Schools residents do not pay a district tax.
“Nobody can question that our number one priority is education,” County Manager Frank Clifton said. “If you compare Orange County to the majority of counties in our state, you won’t find anybody that comes close.”
The budget leaves the county property tax rate at 85.8 cents per $100 in assessed value. Property owners in unincorporated Orange County will pay $2,574 in county taxes for a home with a $300,000 tax value.
In Chapel Hill, which raised its town tax rate 2 cents, and Carrboro which held its tax rate steady, the combined county, town and school district tax bill for a $300,000 house will be $4,728 and $4,967, respectively
Hillsborough also held the line on the town’s property tax rate this year. The tax bill for a $300,000 house in the county seat, which falls in the county school district, will be $4,514.
The county budget allocates $40 million to the city schools and $25 million to the county schools for operating and capital expenses. It equals $3,269 in per-pupil spending but is roughly $4 million short of the total request.
Barry Jacobs, chairman of the Orange County Board of Commissioners, said the increase in local school funding reflects the opening of Northside Elementary School in Chapel Hill this August and an effort to save teacher assistants from state budget cuts.
Although state lawmakers have not passed a budget, Jacobs said the county anticipates they will cut school funding. If not, he said, the extra allocation this year could stave off an increase in the county’s per pupil funding next year.
The budget adds eight positions in emergency medical services, which Clifton said will help reduce response times, seven people in information technology and various other positions. The county fund balance, an account used to manage cash flow and pay for unforeseen expenses during the year, is 17 percent of the general fund, well above the required 8 percent, Jacobs added.
Orange County had tax increases every year for at least 20 years before the recession in 2008, and Jacobs said the commissioners have held the tax rate while maintaining the county’s three priorities: education, social services and the environment.
“I think we still have more wiggle room,” he said Wednesday. “I’m not convinced we’ll have to have a tax increase next year.”
Staff writer Tammy Grubb contributed to this story.