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The Daily Tar Heel

At a public hearing on the budget on May 12, residents expressed concern that the budget provided only $1 million in additional funding to Orange County Schools, compared to the $1.7 million increase that was requested.

Two public hearings and four Board of Commissioners work sessions are scheduled to finalize the budget by June 21. The next public hearing will take place May 19.

Commissioner Penny Rich said while the board of commissioners will take residents’ concerns into account, Orange County has consistently provided its schools with high funding relative to other counties.

“Orange County is and has been number one or two in the state for local funding of schools for over 20 years,” Rich said in an email.

According to the 2016 Local School Finance Study by the Public School Forum of North Carolina, in the 2013-2014 school year, Orange County spent $4,355 per student, the highest of any county in the state and nearly $3,000 more per student than the state average of $1,500.

Efforts to promote wage fairness in the recommended budget include a total wage increase of three pet rcenfor county employees over the course of the fiscal year. The budget also allocates more than $300,000 to maintain Orange County’s status as a certified living wage employer.

For the 2016-2017 fiscal year, Orange County Living Wage has calculated an increase of $0.39 per hour in the living wage rate for Orange County to a total of $13.15 per hour.

The Board of County Commissioners also identified salary compression, or the mismatch of employee salaries to their qualifications, as a major issue. The budget allocates $500,000 to begin a multi-year process of reducing salary compression.

The recommended budget recognizes lack of access to transit as a main barrier to county services and recommends the creation of a county transit department that would report to the county manager’s office.

In addition, the budget allocates $68,000 to create new fare boxes on Orange County Public Transit buses. The boxes will accept bus passes and prepaid cards to improve upon the current system where riders pay with cash.

Another policy priority established by the commissioners is affordable housing. The recommended budget increases funding for affordable housing programs by $236,600, including urgent home repair, rehabilitation and home ownership programs, bringing the total allocation of funding toward affordable housing to $1.2 million.

In the realm of education, the recommended budget eliminates the fair funding program, which split funding equally among school districts, in favor of health and safety service contracts that will provide school resource officers to middle and high schools and a public health nurse to every school facility.

This change requires an addition of $1.4 million in funding on top of the $1.9 million already allocated for the fair funding program.

Other aspects of the new budget include enhancements to OC Alerts, the current public emergency notification system for Orange County.

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