Durham County Manager Wendell Davis’s proposed a $564.12-million budget for 2015-16 is 2.46 percent higher than the current year’s total, but with no increase in the property-tax rate.
Davis presented what he described as a “maintenance budget” to the county commissioners Tuesday night. A public hearing on his proposal is scheduled for June 8.
His recommendations include $120.68 million for Durham Public Schools – a 1.53 percent increase over the current fiscal year – as well as funding increases for Durham Technical Community College, pre-kindergarten education, the public library system and the Museum of Life and Science.
Also recommended is a net increase of 19.65 full-time equivalent employee positions. Among those are eight for emergency medical services, seven in the sheriff’s office and a full-time staff member to coordinate the My Brother’s Keeper program with other interested stakeholders.
The increases come while holding the property-tax rate at the current 79.31 cents per $100 valuation, or $1586.20 for a $200,000 house and lot. The proposal is dependent on a projected 2.09 percent rise in property-tax revenue, due to growth in the county’s tax base, and a 15.09 percent rise in sales-tax income.
Davis said the sales-tax estimate was “conservative,” as the state legislature is considering changing its formula for distributing sales-tax revenue to send more to rural counties and less to urban areas such as Durham.
“Until something is passed in the legislature, I won’t sleep very well,” he said before making his presentation to the commissioners. “There’s just so much uncertainty.”
He also pointed out the “volatility” of sales-tax revenue: State figures indicate “folks are out spending money,” but that could change.
In his presentation, Davis spoke at some length about the county’s support for Durham Public Schools. His increased appropriation holds per-student funding at its current level, $3,069 including state and federal funds, with 590 new students expected to enter the Durham system next year.
But, he said, Durham County’s per-student rate is the highest among six metropolitan counties in North Carolina, with the next highest, New Hanover, spending $2,552.
Durham has been significantly above Guilford, Wake, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Forsyth and New Hanover for more than a decade, but Durham students’ proficiency on third- and fifth-grade tests is the lowest of the six.
“We have to ask ourselves some difficult questions,” Davis told the commissioners. He called for a “get together” with the school system this fall “to talk about how we can do better work.”