Orange County residents will pay higher taxes in 2019-20, partly to allow the county to more aggressively fight climate change.
The tax increase and the rest of a $237.1 million budget was approved by the Board of Orange County Commissioners (BOCC) with a 6-1 vote on June 18.
“The budget achieves the Board of Commissioners’ primary goals by investing in public education, affordable housing and our employees, who deliver critical services to our residents every day,” BOCC Chair Penny Rich said in an Orange County press release.
The final budget was approved after a public hearing and will go into effect on July 1. Councilman Earl McKee was the only commissioner to vote against the budget.
Property taxes will increase next year by two percent, or 1.75 cents, setting the countywide rate at 86.79 cents per $100 in property value.
The revenue from the increase will be split between debt service, county operations and a new fund to fight climate change, proposed by Commissioner Mark Marcoplos in May.
A quarter-cent property tax increase will raise $469,272 for the climate change fund. The climate change increase was approved with a 4-3 vote, and Commissioner Sally Greene added an amendment to the increase that will allow commissioners to prioritize both climate change action projects and also equity issues.
This is the third property tax increase in 11 years in Orange County. The Town of Hillsborough’s budget, which will also go into effect on July 1, does not include an increase in property taxes, meaning that Hillsborough/Orange county residents will only pay higher property taxes to the county.
Orange County Schools (OCS) and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools (CHCCS) will receive a total of $113,480,859. This sum includes $17.8 million in school debt service, $3 million in deferred maintenance funding and $3.6 million for the hiring of school resource officers in every middle and high school and school nurses in every elementary, middle and high school.
The total funding for both school systems increased by 4% from last year’s budget.
The BOCC also added $250,000 to the county contribution to public school funding, taking per pupil spending to just over $4,352, an increase of around $187 per pupil from fiscal year 2018-19.
OCS requested around $1.2 million from the county for new initiatives includes equity training for staff, and received around $528,000 for these new initiatives in the final budget.
The budget also provides for the addition of five new deputies for Orange County Sheriff’s Office as well as the creation of a Criminal Justice Resource Department to aid residents with drivers licenses and other legal restoration matters. The Restoration Legal Counsel position will expand and enhance the efforts already underway by the District Attorney and judicial stakeholders to assist eligible individuals that have driver’s license suspensions based on an inability to pay traffic court debt.
Also included in the budget is a 2% pay raise across the board for county employees and new minimum salary levels for non-temporary and temporary employees that are consistent with the Orange County Living Wage Formula.
Three of the county’s 11 fire districts will receive slight increases – a half-penny increase in Damascus and Southern Triangle and a full penny for White Cross.
In addition to the budget, the board adopted a $48,050,096 Capital Improvement Plan for 2019-20, which includes $20 million from the 2016 School Bond as well as funding county capital projects.