Speakers seek money for schools, orchestra at Durham County budget hearing

CorrespondentJune 11, 2013 

  • What’s Next The commissioners are scheduled to adopt the county budget June 24. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. at the Durham County Government Administrative Complex, 2nd floor, Commissioners’ Meeting Room, 200 E. Main St.
  • In other business The Durham county commissioners voted 5-0 Monday evening to add $200,000 in incentives to a package to get GE Aviation to expand its assembly plant on South Miami Boulevard. The Durham City Council approved a $400,000 incentive earlier this month. The project entails a $29 million capital investment through 2017 that would create 50 new jobs paying an average salary of $60,000 a year. The incentive is to be paid over five years with documentation of the jobs created. Durham plant manager Mike Wagner said GE Aviation is encouraging the Durham Public Schools to develop a program to train potential workers at the plant.

The Durham County commissioners heard from supporters of the Durham Public Schools and the Durham Symphony Orchestra at a public hearing on the fiscal year 2013-14 budget proposal.

There were 27 speakers Monday night. Eight of them asked for more money for the schools.

Each speaker got two minutes. Speakers usually get three minutes at public hearings, but board Chairman Fred Foster Jr. reduced the time by a minute because of the large number of speakers.

County Manager Mike Ruffin has recommended keeping school funding flat, despite a request from the school board for an additional $4.8 million to help compensate for state and federal cuts.

Holly Jordan, a Hillside High School teacher who said she wanted to be at the Moral Monday protest at the state legislature, said she was declaring it Moral Monday in Durham as well.

Jordan worries teacher’s assistant positions will be cut if the commissioners do not come up with more local funding.

“Not funding teacher’s assistant positions hurts everyone,” Jordan said, “not just for a year, but for decades to come.”

Nicholas Grace, another Hillside teacher, said teachers have to be creative to come up with teaching materials but no amount of stretching makes up for the lack of human presence in the classroom.

“You are our last defense,” Grace said. “We are relying on you to fully fund the school board’s request.”

Hillside teacher Alex Christman told the commissioners that they should look at school funding as an investment to give young couples moving to Durham a reason to stay once they have school-age children. Property values would go up as more young people buy houses here, he said, so the school funding would serve as an investment in property values.

The commissioners also heard from several representatives of the Durham Symphony Orchestra.

Brad Chambers said people moving to Durham are looking for quality of life and cultural amenities.

“We want to be a part of that fabric, and we are asking for some support,” Chambers said.

Other citizens spoke in favor of funding for causes including Durham Community Media, the People’s Channel, the Ronald McDonald House of Durham, Southpoint Academy, Child Care Services Association, Clean Energy Durham, the Walltown Children’s Theatre and Bridge II Sports.

Taxing concerns

On the other hand, Anita Keith-Foust spoke against raising property taxes, saying that with so many people still hurting from the recent recession, the extra money owed to the county could mean the difference between keeping or losing their homes.

Kimberly Hernandez said she was in favor of a tiered property tax, whereby those with more expensive properties would pay a larger percentage than those with a more modest house.

Ruffin’s 2013-14 budget proposal includes a 4 percent property tax increase. His budget raises the county property tax rate three cents to 77.44 cents per $100 valuation, which would mean a $45 increase for a house valued at $150,000, for example.

Ruffin has said he also plans a 2 cent property tax rate increase for fiscal year 2014-15.

Commissioner Michael Page said it was humbling to have such a large turnout from the public.

“Please understand that this board has had, does have some really difficult decisions to make,” he told the crowd.

Commissioner Wendy Jacobs said it made her proud to see the passion that people have for their community.

“When our federal government is cutting back with sequestration, when our state government in ignoring our needs, it is up to local government,” she said.

The commissioners are scheduled to adopt the budget on June 24.

Ruffin has proposed a $525.8 million total budget. The general fund balance, where most county services are funded, is $359.7 million, an increase of 3.2 percent from the 2012-13 budget.

Goad: 919-536-8549

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