Commissioners get first look at FY22-23 budget

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PITTSBORO — The Chatham County Board of Commissioners got their first look at the county’s proposed $164.9 million operating budget for fiscal 2022-23 on Monday night, which holds the property tax rate constant at 66.5 cents per $100 of assessed value while making adjustments for the expected future growth throughout the county.

The main focus of the scheduled commissioners meeting at the historic Chatham County courthouse was the presentation of the recommended budget for the upcoming fiscal year provided by County Manager Dan LaMontagne and the town staff. Assistant County Manager Bryan Thompson presented the recommended budget to the commissioners.

“We expect strong growth in the county,” Thompson said. “Our budget attempts to grapple with the excitement and the challenges of that expected growth.”

Thompson said growth from development projects like the VinFast automotive plant to be built at Triangle Innovation Point and continued construction in Chatham Park meant continual adjustments to the budget process. That’s why, he said, the budget staff deemed the theme for this year’s recommended budget “honoring the past while welcoming the future.”

Thompson said while economic development is coming to the county, what is unclear is the state of the overall economy.

“We tried to look at a number of economic indicators as we tried to forecast the coming year’s revenue,” he said. “There’s a lot going on in the world from inflation to interest rates, higher gas prices, a war in Europe — a lot of things can change. There’s a lot of external factors that we have no control over.”

Despite those unknowns, Chatham County remains on the right track when it comes to unemployment and labor opportunities. According to the budget proposal, Chatham has the third lowest unemployment rate in the state and it is expected to grow jobs in both the public and private sectors.

The county is expected to gain the equivalent of just over 70 new full-time positions in the coming year, with the largest increase in the eldercare and solid waste management sectors.

Property tax revenues for the coming year are projected to be $94.6 million, which represents a growth of about 6%.  Sales tax is projected at 24% growth from budget to budget, and permitting and inspections revenues is up 20%.

Budget staff also projected a 24% increase in county sales tax revenue, which they said was due to strong tax collections and projected growth.

The general fund is expected to grow by 6% as well. From that increase, Chatham County Schools is recommended to receive $105,000 for its new Central Services building and literacy program. The school system is also recommended to receive an additional $820,000 for the implementation of a new hybrid teacher pay supplement model along with a minimum of $250 increase in compensation for all teachers. In this case, hybrid means a combination of base pay amount and percentage of salary — compared to the old model based entirely on a percentage of salary.

The total CCS budget is $56.9 million, which is a 3% increase from the previous year.

“This is a people-centered budget,” Thompson said. “This budget was created to meet the existing and growing demands in the county.”

The recommended budget also suggests a 7% pay increase for all county employees. Thompson said the figure is competitive with other counties in the state.

Two public hearings on the budget are scheduled: 6 p.m. Monday, May 16, at the historic courthouse in Pittsboro, and 6 p.m. on Tuesday, May 17, at the Wren Memorial Library in Siler City. Commissioners will also hold work sessions on May 24-26 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Chatham County Agricultural & Conference Center.

Commissioners plan to finalize the budget by June 21. State law requires all budgets to be approved no later than June 30.

Correction: A previous version of this story inaccurately stated the proposed budget tax rate was 67 cents. The previous version also did not identify the $94.6 million as property tax revenues. The News + Record apologizes for this error. 

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

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