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Chatham County residents could see first property tax increase in three years

Traffic moves along Hillsboro Street in Pittsboro, N.C. on January 23, 2014. The small Chatham County town with the historic courthouse as it's centerpiece will see big changes with advent the Chatham Park development that encompasses more than 7,000 acres east of town.
Traffic moves along Hillsboro Street in Pittsboro, N.C. on January 23, 2014. The small Chatham County town with the historic courthouse as it's centerpiece will see big changes with advent the Chatham Park development that encompasses more than 7,000 acres east of town. rwillett@newsobserver.com

The county’s first tax increase in three years will help Chatham County build a new elementary school and other buildings and pay teachers more, says County Manager Dan LaMontagne.

He presented his $125 million proposed budget for the 2019-20 fiscal year to the county commissioners Monday that is $11 million more than the county is spending now.

The property tax rate would increase 6.67% or by 4.19 cents to 67 cents per $100 valuation. The owner of a $250,000 house would pay $1,675 in county property tax, an increase of about $105.

“Absolutely no one wanted to end up recommending a property tax increase, our first in three years,” LaMontagne said. “We held the continuation budget as flat as possible and only approved the most critical departmental expansion requests. We also have three major capital projects recently added to the Capital Improvement Plan that require new funding.”

Education funding would increase by 13% to $44.8 million, including $825,000 to boost supplemental pay for teachers and licensed personnel from a flat-rate to a percentage of their salary.

LaMontagne proposes spending $1.4 million to open Chatham Grove Elementary next year.

The spending plan maintains the capital outlay for schools at the same level, or $2.3 million.

Spending for Central Carolina Community College would also increase, with $245,450 for the Health Sciences Building opening in August and $200,000 to full fund the Chatham Promise, which provides two years of free tuition and fees for all eligible Chatham residents who graduate from high school between 2019 and 2022.

The county will replace its 30-year-old public safety radio system used by emergency responders, a high priority, LaMontagne said.

The Emergency Operations Center, which also houses 911 communications, will be expanded in the budget. LaMontagne said the county’s population growth has outstripped the size of the current facility.

Chatham County Schools is also getting a new Central Services Building, which will allow consolidation of all administrative staff in one facility.

The budget includes a 3 percent increase for employee health insurance and increases in retirement system contributions required by the state to stabilize contribution rates.

LaMontagne said locally collected sales taxes are trending above the state average and are expected to stay strong.

He recommends five new staff positions, all of which come with offsetting revenue:

A new Cooperative Extension agriculture agent, half funded by NC Agriculture & Technical University to create programs for under-served and lower income populations, including young people. Net cost: $26,863

Two new child welfare workers in Social Services to reduce the caseloads to levels set by state and federal standards. Net cost for both: $69,736

An emergency assistance services social worker to address caseloads. Net cost: $22,704

A water utilities service worker due to increased demand as the system grows. Net cost: $78,743

What’s next

The commissioners will hold two public hearings on the proposed budget:

May 20, 6 p.m.: Historic Chatham Courthouse, Pittsboro

May 21, 6 p.m.: Siler City Courtroom, Town Hall

Copies of the proposed budget are available on the county website. The county budget must be adopted by June 30.

Joe Johnson is a reporter covering breaking stories for The News & Observer. He most recently covered towns in western Wake County and Chatham County. Before that, he covered high school sports for The Herald-Sun.

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