The Board of Orange County Commissioners (BOCC) hosted two 2019-20 Orange County proposed budget public hearings last week, opening up the floor for residents, commissioners and County Planner Bonnie Hammersley to discuss the financial plan.
“There is considerable time built in over the next weeks for further presentations, testimony and deliberation,” Hammersley said in a hearing on Thursday.
On Thursday, Hammersley highlighted a change in the language of the proposed budget — changing the term “one time” in reference to a lump sum property tax increase of 5.8 cents to property to “up front,” since the increase will happen every year. This increase is a second option to the recommended increase, an incremental hike of 1.5 cents.
On May 14, the first public hearing had a turnout of Orange County Justice United members, with two members speaking on the group’s behalf.
“The issue of injustice we are discussing tonight is in the Orange County public school staffing,” Dewey Williams, pastor of Mount Bright Baptist Church in Hillsborough, said. “Currently, the number of black teachers in Orange County Schools is at a ten year low of 7 percent of all teachers. Twenty-three percent of the students are Hispanic, but we have very few Spanish-speaking and bilingual staff. Justice United requests that the BOCC approve all equity initiative funding for OCS that addresses hiring.”
Ashley Nissler, an Orange County Schools parent, also spoke on behalf of the social justice group, giving her support to the per pupil increase proposed in the budget.
“It is necessary that the BOE use this money to fund initiatives that they have identified to address issues of racial inequity, to find a human resources position that focuses on diversity recruitment and hiring and to fund tuition assistance for OCS staff who want to pursue teacher certification,” she said.
At the May 14 hearing, Hammersley also clarified who would be responsible for the spending of $260,000 that is proposed for racial equity training for both Orange County Schools and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.
“That will be a collaborative effort between the two school districts,” she said. “So they are working together on this and it will not be divided. Because they have determined what positions will attend that training...it will be overseen by the superintendent of both districts.”
Other groups spoke in support of increased funding provided for various organizations in the planned budget, including OE Enterprises and Orange County Habitat for Humanity.
Sherry Appel, a resident of Hillsborough, spoke out on the proposed property tax increasing, citing economic uncertainties affected by relations with Iran and China, lower deductions caused by this year’s federal tax cut and new housing in Hillsborough as reasons for the BOCC to “go slow” on the increase.
“All of these could raise the cost of living for residents in Orange County,” she said. “In the next five years up to 1,000 — if not more — new housing units will be brought on line in Hillsborough alone. I was not in support of Collins Ridge but since we’re stuck with it, it may add to the tax base and so that may slow down any required tax increases in the out years.”
An Orange County budget work session is scheduled for the BOCC on May 23.