NOTE: This post will be updated throughout Monday evening as the county manager presents his budget.
Durham County Manager Mike Ruffin released his proposed budget to the Board of County Commissioners late Monday. In it, he proposed a tax rate increase of 4.29 cents, which would help the Durham Public Schools restore 111 teaching jobs—about 47 percent of the teachers they notified last week they would no longer have jobs.
In their request to the county, members of the Durham school board had asked the county for $13 million more than what county leaders initially said they would fund. With Ruffin's proposed budget, the schools would get $6.14 million, a little less than half their request for additional funds.
Teachers, parents and other community members have held protests in Durham and throughout the state to decry state budget cuts to education.
"Just Friday, I watched form my perch on the second floor of this building hundreds of citizens in front of the courthouse asking that we help them save 237 teaching positions that state reductions have forced on our school system,” Ruffin said in a prepared budget speech Monday night. Read the speech >>
Many school districts are trying to make up the funding gaps through local money. Parents and teachers in Durham have said in recent weeks they would support a tax increase if it meant keeping teachers, thereby keeping class sizes manageable. As Ruffin noted in his speech, he is the only county manager among the state's six most populous counties to recommend a budget increase in local funding for public schools. Wake and Guilford counties recommended no increase or decrease, while Mecklenburg schools are facing a more than 6 percent reduction, Ruffin said.
Community organizers in Durham are also lobbying the state to make up the funding gaps pushed on to counties. They have set up a meeting for Friday with some of Durham's local state legislators from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. in the auditorium at Hillside High School, Commissioner Ellen Reckhow said.
Ruffin said he pooled the $6.14 million by taking $1 million from the schools' capital outlay, or school construction and improvements funds, and tacking on 1.79 cents to the tax rate. The other 2.5 cents in the proposed tax-rate increase would go to feeding debt the county has accrued for various borrowing.
Ruffin's proposed budget, which totals $339.3 million for the general fund that covers most operations, represents a less than 1 percent increase over last year. County commissioners may make changes throughout the coming weeks in work sessions. They'll hold a public hearing June 14, and adopt a budget June 28.
Ruffin's proposed increase to the tax rate would increase homeowners' property taxes by 6 percent, he said. If Ruffin's proposed tax rate increase is adopted, a resident with a $100,000 home would pay an additional $42.90, a resident with a $150,000 home would pay another $64.35 in property taxes and a resident with a $200,000 job would pay another $85.80 in property taxes.
Ruffing also proposed the following:
- The elimination of the equivalent to 63.56 full-time jobs. Thirteen of those jobs were occupied, and the employees have been notified.
- No raises, benefits increases or longevity bonuses for county employees, for the second year in a row.
- The termination of county funding for a joint city-county warrant control program, which had been funded this past year with $790,000 in federal stimulus money from the city and county. Ruffin said he hopes in the coming weeks, before the budget is adopted, city and county elected leaders could find funding elsewhere to continue the program.
- The closure of Durham's public libraries from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Wednesdays.
- Funding cuts of 3 percent for both the N.C. Museum of Life + Science and Durham Technical Community College.
- An average budget reduction of 1.63 percent across county departments.
- A 4.07 percent reduction in funding for non-profit organizations, which will be distributed among 33 of the non-profit groups who applied for funding.
- Fee increases for some public services, including those in the Sheriff's Office, Erosion Control, Fire Marshal, Public Health, Triangle Wastewater Treatment Plant and Solid Waste Management.
- Termination of the county's present contract with the Durham Affordable Housing Coalition, allowing those same funds to be used instead for existing services in mental health and permanent supportive housing for the homeless population as the Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness Committee refocuses its efforts next year, as recommended in a recent AICPA audit of the program.