Durham County manager proposes property-tax increase

Durham County property owners would pay slightly higher county taxes under County Manager Wendell Davis’ recommended budget.

His $657.5 million spending plan presented Monday night calls for a 3.3% increase in the tax rate from 68.92 to 71.22 cents per $100 of assessed property valuation.

The owner of a $300,000 home would pay $2,136.60 in county taxes, a $69 increase. Property owners in the city of Durham also pay a separate city property tax.

Commissioners plan five work sessions to tweak the proposed budget between May 21 and June 11. A public hearing will be held Monday, June 10, and the vote on the budget likely will happen two weeks later on June 24. The budget has to be adopted by June 30.

“This budget will keep Durham County on course for a brighter future,” Davis said.

“We’re continuing to move forward implementing our long-term goals addressed in our strategic plan,” he said. “The funding decisions reflect the internal and external pressures for Durham County. They’ll continue our developing results-based organization that is a point of pride and makes us a community of choice.”

Durham Public Schools

The county spends about 32 percent of its general fund, the largest part of the total budget, on education.

Durham Public Schools requested a nearly $8 million increase, but Davis is offering just $7 million more. The additional money would pay for the local portion of teacher salaries and benefits and other expansion requests.

The proposed plan sets per-pupil funding at $3,641, an increase of $199.

The county manager’s proposed budget also includes $1.6 million to continue the expansion of pre-K support, bringing the total amount spent on the program to $5.25 million.

Overall, DPS would get $145.7 million under the proposal, or a 5.1% increase over the fiscal year 2018-19 approved budget.

Employee compensation and benefits

The county expects to add 22 new employee positions under the proposed budget, for a total of 2,087 employees. Half of the new hires would work in the main county library when it reopens.

The budget calls for raises of 2% for employees meeting performance standards and 3% for those exceeding the standards. The proposal could cost about $3.5 million to implement.

The county also plans to realign and reclassify about 1,350 employees. The proposed spending plan sets aside $3.1 million to adjust pay for those employees.

The county is leaving Aetna and moving to Cigna for its employee health care coverage. Davis said employees will have new options. The move to Cigna will cost the county an additional $3.1 million but less overall than if it stayed with Aetna.

Other spending

The county could replace 40 public safety vehicles under the plan. The Sheriff’s Office would get 35 new vehicles, while five new ambulances could be added. Davis said the new vehicles would replace older ones in the fleet.

The plan also calls for $704,000 to be spent on about 40 nonprofit agencies in the county. Many of them are entering their third year of funding and their performance would be analyzed during the upcoming fiscal year before receiving future funding, Davis said.

The plan also calls for $1.7 million for IT operating cost increases. Davis said the county needs to modernize some of its computer systems.

The total Durham County budget increase is $13 million, or 2% over the fiscal year 2018‐19 approved budget.

Read the full proposed county budget for 2019-20 by visiting www.dconc.gov and searching for “budget.”

New clerk appointed

In other business Monday, the commissioners named Monica Toomer as clerk to the board, succeeding former Clerk to the Board Terri Hugie. Toomer has served as interim clerk since December.

Toomer has an associate’s degree from Mount Olive College, a bachelor of science in Business Management/Business Administration from Mount Olive University and a master of business administration in Public Administration from Strayer University.

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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.