Durham News

Durham County OKs $564.6M budget on split vote

County commissioners approved a $564.6 million budget for 2015-16 by a 3-2 vote.

At Monday night’s meeting, Commissioners Fred Foster and Brenda Howerton, and Chairman Michael Page voted to approve, but commissioners Wendy Jacobs and Ellen Reckhow voted no, dissatisfied with its provision for Durham Public Schools salaries.

“We cannot expect our school district to be top flight with non-competitive wages,” Reckhow said.

DPS’ appropriation, nearly $123.6 million, is up $3.35 million from the current fiscal year. The school board, though, had asked for a $7.8 million increase to cover pay increases and costs of an expected 590 new students next year.

The increase includes $1.8 million for added enrollment and $1.4 million to supplement experienced teachers’ pay, but not the requested money to raise pay for “classified” employees such as office staff, and to pay teachers who take on extra-classroom duties.

However, Page said DPS’ funding could be reconsidered after the General Assembly sets school funding in the state’s 2015-16 budget. Page particularly committed himself to “a reasonable and decent increase for classified employees."

Overall, the approved budget is 2.55 percent larger than 2014-15’s, but holds the property-tax rate at the current 79.31 cents per $100 valuation: $1,586.20 for a $200,000 house and lot.

State law requires local governments to adopt balanced budgets before the fiscal year begins July 1. But even with the commissioners’ Monday vote some uncertainties remain.

Besides undecided school funding, legislators have yet to decide on changing the distribution formula for sales tax, which could reduce the revenue projected in Durham County’s budget..

“We were disappointed that (the commissioners) did not fund salary increases for classified employees or increases in extra duty pay,” DPS Superintendent Bert L’Homme wrote in a memo to his staff Tuesday. He noted, though, that Page said the schools could come back for more after the state budget is final.

“We will,” L’Homme wrote.

Wise: 919-641-5895