More money for schools, speakers tell Durham County commissioners at budget hearing

Durham County could see a 3.3 percent rise in property taxes

Durham County Manager Wendell Davis presented a $657.5 million spending plan to county commissioners Monday at their regular meeting. His budget gives the Durham Public Schools less than it requested.
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Durham County Manager Wendell Davis presented a $657.5 million spending plan to county commissioners Monday at their regular meeting. His budget gives the Durham Public Schools less than it requested.

Most people who spoke at a public hearing on the proposed Durham County budget Monday night asked for more money for education — about $1 million more.

The $657.5 million county spending plan offered a month ago by County Manager Wendell Davis has $145.7 million for Durham Public Schools, or a 5.1% increase over the fiscal year 2018-19 approved budget.

But DPS requested an $8.25 million increase, while Davis recommended just over $7 million more. The additional money would pay for the local portion of teacher salaries and benefits and other expansion requests.

Michelle Burton, president-elect of the Durham Association of Educators, called on the county commissioners to fund the full request.

“This proposed budget really shows your commitment to public education here in Durham County,” she said.

“All that was asked for opinion was split on more money aligns with the county’s long-term planning,” Burton said. “We ask you to increase [the] salary supplement for certified employees. It is a way to attract the best teachers to Durham County. We’re competing with Wake County and Orange County. We ask for livable wages for classified employees, too.”

Mike Ellis asked commissioners to consider higher raises for other DPS employees.

“I don’t think anybody here realizes what we do to keep the schools running,” he said.

Ellis, who is from Timberlake, said he maintains the plumbing for 53 DPS building.

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

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

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Other budget items

Some of the nearly 30 people who spoke had other ideas.

A few wanted the commissioners to provide better raises to county employees.

Others wanted the county to provide more support for residents facing eviction.

But opinions on more money for the Sheriff’s Office were split.

Chairwoman Wendy Jacobs said Davis received about $40 million more in funding requests from county departments than he included in the current budget. The county’s revenues for the new fiscal year have grown by only about $9 million, she said.

“We’ve heard a lot of requests for things that aren’t currently funded in the budget,” Jacobs said. “We have to look at and see if we can try to put more things in it because the needs are so great.”

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

What’s next

Commissioners plan to adopt the budget on June 24 at their next meeting

The plan Davis presented calls for a 3.3% increase in the tax rate from 68.92 to 71.22 cents per $100 of assessed property valuation.

If it is adopted, 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.

“We know that raising taxes is not very equitable, because for people who are on fixed income — seniors, low-income residents — that has a negative impact,” Jacobs said. “Whatever we do has to be balanced.”

Other business

The commissioners approved an economic incentive package worth about $120,500 for Parexel International Corp., which is opening a second U.S. headquarters in Durham County. The Boston-based company, which also is receiving $4.2 million in state incentive money, is adding 264 jobs and investing $1.7 million in the facility.

They also approved the merger of Durham County Community ACCESS with City of Durham GoDurham Paratransit (ACCESS) Service. The combined service will provide on-demand transportation for elderly, disabled and others who take trips to non-emergency medical, work, training and essential needs destinations.

The merger, which takes effect in the fall, should result in cost savings and more efficient operations, county transportation officials said.

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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.