Plan includes revenue increases, new positions and more

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Chatham County government’s proposed 2022-23 budget plan calls for the hiring of dozens of new staff positions, healthy tax revenue increases and plenty of growth — all while keeping the ad valorem, or property tax, rate flat.

After two public hearings on the $164.9 million budget, commissioners plan a June 21 vote on the plan, which takes effect July 1.

Here’s a closer look:

Revenue increases

Overall revenues for the county are trending well above projected figures for 2021-2022, leading to a higher revenue budget for next year. The county attributes much of this revenue growth to economic growth. Revenue from property taxes is expected to increase 6.1% over the prior year.

Revenue growth projections are most prominently seen in sales tax and excise taxes. Sales tax revenue is projected to increase by 24% over the previous year. This year, the county is projected to collect $24 million in sales tax revenues, up from $20.3 million last year.

County Budget Director Darrell Butts said the increase is from the Article 46 sales tax, implemented for the last nine months of the 2021-22 fiscal year. Article 46 sales tax is a quarter-cent local option tax on all retail items except for gas and unprepared food, like groceries. The sales tax option was voted on and approved by referendum in March 2020, then was legally authorized last Oct. 1. Article 46 was levied for the full year in the fiscal year 2022 and will continue in 2023.

“In ‘21 and ‘22, you’ll see a bit of a spike in those sales tax revenues that you won’t see in the long-term future,” Butts said. He added that the projections for increased sales tax revenue are one of the main reasons the county is able to maintain its property tax rate of 66.5 cents per $100 of valuation.

Revenues from sales taxes have been specified by the Chatham County Board of Commissioners and staff for four purposes: education, affordable housing, agriculture, and parks and recreation.

“Each of those areas have a lot of need for service here,” Butts said. “These areas, as identified by commissioners, really have a need to have a dedicated funding source to make improvements.”

The county also reports a Register of Deeds excise tax revenue increase of 50% from the current year budget. Butts attributes excise tax revenue increases to real estate transactions in the county.

“In Chatham, we are seeing an increase in the number of real estate transactions as well as seeing increased sales prices,” Butts said. “This is a direct result of the desirability of Chatham County and the current real estate market.”

New positions

The proposed budget creates a number of new county employee positions. It calls for 72.375 new full-time equivalents — meaning not all of the new positions are full time. In total, the county expects to employ 82 additional staff through these positions, with the recruitment process beginning in the first quarter of the new fiscal year.

Many of these positions already exist, but two large operational shifts mean there will be more official openings under the jurisdiction, and payroll, of Chatham County Government. One of these is making the staff of the county’s Council on Aging department — which now operates as a nonprofit — as county employees. The other change is the status of solid waste management and collection center workers from contractors to full-time county employees.

“Bringing on the Council on Aging employees and transitioning the collection center attendants from contractors to in-house staff will greatly change how we do business,” Butts said. “While we have been dealing with development pressures for some time, those pressures only continue to increase.”

Aside from these changes, 29 of the listed budgeted positions are what Butts called true new positions — meaning there’s not currently an employee in the position. Butts said the positions are grouped into three categories: to meet growing and existing demand, Council on Aging transition, and solid waste transition.

The true new positions are spread out across various departments. For example, there will be three multi-trade building inspectors, three environmental health specialists and four new 9-1-1 telecommunicators. A full list of the new positions can be found in the county’s budget message at www.chathamcountync.gov/government/county-budget/annual-county-budgets/recommended-fy-22-23-budget.

While the average Chatham resident may not see the difference in operations, Butts said, the people that do interact with the departments with new positions can expect an enhanced level of service.

The proposed budget also recommends existing county employees receive a 2% increase in contribution to health care and a 7% pay increase to improve competitiveness of government salaries.

Big spenders on education

The biggest departmental expense in the proposed budget is additional funding for Chatham County Schools. The total proposed CCS budget is $56.9 million, which calls for an additional $1.5 million from the previous year, which was requested by the school district. The additional funding includes $105,000 for the new Central Services Building and $820,000 toward teacher pay supplements.

The $105,000 is broken up into actual building construction and maintenance and operational changes. Eighty thousand dollars is going toward the building itself, while the other $25,000 is going to the improvement and continuation of Chatham Reads, a literacy program run by the Chatham Education Foundation.

In North Carolina, teachers are often paid supplements in one of two ways: a flat rate increase or an increase on a percentage of salary. The pay model for Chatham County is a hybrid of the two. The county says doing this will allow for maximum benefits. Teachers will also see a minimum supplemental increase of $250 through the new model.

Chatham County Schools currently ranks fifth in the region and seventh in the state for teacher supplement funding, behind Wake, Chapel Hill-Carrboro, Durham and Orange. Butts said this hybrid model was meant to maintain that high standing.

The Chatham County Board of Commissioners will host work sessions at 9 a.m. through Thursday this week at the Chatham Agriculture & Conference Center. The final draft of the budget is expected to be proposed to the commissioners on June 21. The state mandates all county budgets be submitted by June 30. For more information, including a full copy of the proposed county budget, visit the Chatham County website at www.chathamcountync.gov/government/county-budget/annual-county-budgets/recommended-fy-22-23-budget.

Reporter Ben Rappaport can be reached at brappaport@chathamnr.com or @b_rappaport.

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