Chapel Hill News

May 23, 2014

County budget hearing quiet, focused on schools

There were fewer people at this year’s county budget public hearing than last, but those who spoke said the needs are still urgent, especially for the schools.

There were fewer people at this year’s first county budget public hearing, but those who spoke said the needs are still urgent, especially for the schools.

A second public hearing will be held Thursday at the Southern Human Services Center in Chapel Hill. The commissioners could approve the budget June 17.

Next year’s proposed county budget allots 49.3 percent of the money, or $92.3 million, to Chapel Hill-Carrboro and Orange County school systems. Additional money for school nurses and resource officers would put the funding level above 50 percent, officials said.

It would take another $4.2 million to fully fund the schools’ requests, however, or a property tax rate increase of 2.6 cents per $100 of assessed property value.

The increase would add $177 to the county tax bill for the owner of a home valued at $300,000.

The commissioners also could increase the 20.84-cent city schools district tax levied on Carrboro and Chapel Hill property owners to meet city school needs, which it did last year.

A 2.7-cent district tax rate increase would cover city schools’ needs that are not met in the county’s proposed budget. That increase would add $81 to the tax bill for a $300,000 home.

Chapel Hill resident Jeff Danner said the schools’ aren’t trying expand services but to hold onto the teachers, assistants and classes they already offer. While some residents and officials may see low funding levels as the “new normal,” raising taxes is one way to meet the needs, he said.

Another is using more of the county’s savings, staff said.

“What concerns me is we’re now valuing tax (rates) at a level beyond everything else,” Danner said. “When I see six years in a row (without a tax increase), this is the year to do something different. Let’s just fund the schools.”

The school board has looked for cuts to meet the county’s recommended funding, Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board member James Barrett said.

“All of them will have a negative impact on teachers, on assistants and on our students,” he said. “This is not a position that we want to be in, it’s not the position that we want to put you in, but you are our last hope here.”

Commissioner Earl McKee asked county staff to report back with the number of teachers who have been let go because of budget cuts, and how many more might be at risk of losing their jobs without funding.

The commissioners covered the cost of local teacher’s assistants last year in the face of previous state cuts.

The schools are again asking for more money because of state and federal budget cuts, officials said.

Gov. Pat McCrory’s proposed budget for next year does include teacher pay raises, but schools supporters have said they are inadequate.

Barrett also asked the commissioners to provide $750,000 now toward some of the $160 million in proposed school upgrades and renovations. If the work starts this year, it could delay the need to build a new elementary school, he said.

The county already has money planned in its long-range construction budget to pay for Elementary School No. 12. Commissioner Mark Dorosin has suggested a laundry list of upgrades and renovations might be done in a way that allows the schools to serve students.

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