It is illuminating to read Chatham County (NC) Board of Commissioners' Chair George Lucier's State of the County Address, complete with color graphs. I'm new to local civic life in the county, and I learned that Chatham is in far better financial shape than other nearby counties. I couldn't find any coverage of this important address in The News and Observer, the Chatham Journal, or other local media outlets I searched on Google, so I've decided to summarize it myself for my own edification and that of readers.
For FY2009, Chatham is projecting a relatively tiny .24% budget shortfall, compared to a 4.76% budget shortfall for Orange County, a 2.3% shortfall in Wake, a 1.99% shortfall in Durham, and a 2.48% shortfall in Lee Counties. Compared to other counties in the state of similar size, Chatham's county government staffing levels are lean, spending 14% less in FY 2008 for salaries and benefits than other counties in the same population group. Chatham froze staff positions and eliminated non-essential travel, and delayed several construction projects.
Of concern to some homeowners is "sticker shock" from property revaluations.
The 2005-2009 average increase in a property revaluation is 24%, or 6% per year, not unusual for a county that's growing rapidly and becoming a more desirable place to live. The county's tax rate will be adjusted downward to lessen the impact of higher property values on taxpayers, Lucier said. In the long run, county revenues should increase significantly due to population growth. Indeed, the county is projected to grow from 61,455 in 2007 to 86,725 in 2020. Some 12,000 homes have already been approved by the county, and will be built when the economy improves.
As of Nov. 2008, housing prizes in Chatham had not declined, even though sales were down. For FY 2009, the county has a budget of $82.48 million, which is funded by property taxes (63%), sales taxes (14%), state and federal monies (11%); and other revenues (10%). More than 36% of the county budget funds the county K-12 schools. "Good schools are essential for economic development," Lucier pointed out. Chatham spends $3,907 per K-12 pupil, which is the sixth highest in the state. It offers teachers a supplement of $3,324, which is three dollars less than the state average and considerably less than the surrounding counties of Orange, Durham, Wake, and Moore, but slightly higher than neighboring Lee County.
Major county projects include a library and a Sustainable Technologies Classroom on the campus of Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro; an Industrial & Adult Education Center at
CCCC, Siler City, and a new Judicial Center, which has been delayed until 2010.
Looking to the future, the top issues for the county are (1) "Creation of jobs that pay good wages; (2) K-12 school facilities; (3) K-12 student achievement (4) Growth management; (5) Protection of environmental & natural resources; (6) Crime prevention; and (7) Public water quality and expansion."
This is the overview. In his report, Lucier also addressed the state of Chatham schools, crime and law enforcement, social services, public health, council on aging, nonprofits, economic development, agriculture and agribusiness, the Central Carolina Business Park, and other signs of progress. It's well worth perusing.
- Chatham County revaluation questions answered (Chatham Journal)
- Chatham Passes 5.8 Percent Tax Increase (News and Observer, June 16, 2008)
- Apparently, coverage of Chatham County in The News and Observer is one of the casualties of the paper's financial problems. The N&O covered Lucier's "State of the State" address in 2008: "Chatham's growth is out of balance: Lucier offers state of the county address."