Durham County Manager Wendell Davis’ proposed 2016-17 budget includes a 1-cent property tax increase to boost funding for schools and expand mental health and other services at the jail.
Davis presented his $588.46 million spending plan Monday night. His budget is a 4.23 percent increase compared to the current fiscal year.
The draft proposal raises the county’s revenue-neutral tax rate by a penny following the recent property tax reappraisal in which countywide property values increased about 14 percent overall. The revenue-neutral rate is the tax rate that would generate the same amount of revenue as before revaluation.
Davis’ recommended rate of 74.37 cents per $100 valuation would cost an owner of a house valued at $200,000 about $1,487, or about $20 more a year in new property taxes.
City Manager Tom Bonfield proposed a property tax rate of 56.07 per $100 valuation, which is 1.66 cents over the city’s revenue-neutral rate.
Under the county and city proposal, residents would pay a combined tax ate of about $1.30 per $100 valuation, or $2,608.80 in property tax for a home valued at $200,000.
Durham County’s nearly 14,000 solid waste customers would also be asked to pay an annual fee of $168.95, an increase of $29.95. The funding will offset costs increases related to processing recycled materials, Davis said.
Durham Public Schools continues to be the county’s largest expenditure, representing about 31 percent of the budget. Davis recommended supporting the school system’s requested $4.39 million increase to its current funding, $123.6 million. The increase will support enrollment growth for 739 students ($2.75 million), a $1.1 million salary supplement for certain workers awarded in the middle of the current fiscal year, and $500,000 for continued support of a teaching mentoring program.
In general, enrollment in traditional public schools is expected to decrease by about 446 students to 33,454. Charter schools are expected to gain 1,185 students for a total of 6,609. The $2.75 million for enrollment would be allocated to Durham Public Schools, but funds would follow students that choose to attend a charter school.
Davis pointed out that Durham County’s allocation of $3,160 in local funding per student is among the highest in the state.
Durham ranks third, he said, behind Dare and Orange counties.
The budget also sets aside $229,626 for four new school health nurses. Currently, about 13 nurses serve 47 schools.
The budget also:
▪ Supports the creation of a court-diversion program for people with mental health challenges and the expansion of related services at the jail. About $178,445 was set aside to cover three new positions: two peer support specialists, which work to ensure released inmates are connected to housing and treatment, and a mental health clinician. The funding also allows two more hours per week for the jail psychiatrist.
▪ Provides funding for an assistant public defender for first appearances for inmates to assist in identifying lower bonds.
▪ Expands the county’s pretrial services by providing an increase of $27,413 to allow a staffer to spend nights and weekends in the booking area of the jail to assist magistrates in making decisions on individuals with low-level charges, medical or mental health issues. Also a position will be shifted to pretrial serves from community-based corrections.
▪ Funds three new Sheriff’s Office deputies and related equipment for inmate transportation, designates $25,000 to replace HVAC vents to prevent suicides at the county jail and sets aside $1.5 million for replacement vehicles.
▪ Funds five new paramedic positions to help meet the demands of an increasing population across the county.
▪ Increases Durham Technical Community College’s budget by 5.6 percent or $367,425 to pay for inflationary operating expenses, along with increased utility and personnel costs.
A public hearing on the budget will be held at 7 p.m. May 31 in the county commissioners’ chambers at 200 E. Main St. Commissioners are expected to vote on the budget June 27.