After negotiating with Durham County earlier in the week, the Orange County Board of Commissioners officially approved a new cost share agreement that would decrease their financial commitment to the Durham-Orange Light Rail project.
Orange County will now pay 16.5 percent of the local cost of the project, down from 20 percent, as Durham County picks up 81.5 percent. A nonprofit associated with GoTriangle has stated a goal of raising $100 million in cash and land gifts to help the project.
The renegotiation was done in part because the North Carolina state legislature cut its expected contribution from 25 percent of the total cost of the project to no more than 10 percent.
“Fifteen percent of the funding was taken out of the project,” commissioner Barry Jacobs said. “So as we’ve gone on I’ve just tried to look at what’s in Orange County’s best fiscal interest, and to their credit the Durham County Commissioners listened.”
Before eventually accepting the new agreement, Orange County Commissioners argued over whether the light rail project was right for the county.
Commissioners Earl McKee and Renee Price came out against the plan.
Price said that while she supports light rail, she could not support this project.
“I truly think that the current proposed light rail project for Orange County is economically unviable, environmentally unsound and socially unjust,” she said.
The argument against light rail focused on the financial risk involved for the county.
Due to the changes at the state level, the project which was originally anticipated to be fully paid off by 2035, will now issue debt out until 2062.
GoTriangle is also expecting to receive funding for 50 percent of the project from the national government, but that number is far from guaranteed given current budget uncertainty.
However commissioner Mark Marcopolos pointed to language in the agreement that he said he thought mitigated the county’s financial risk.
“If the balance of the Dedicated Local Transit Revenues attributed to a county is insufficient to meet that county’s respective share of costs, then neither Orange nor Durham shall be obligated to use revenues other than the Dedicated Local Transit Revenues to pay its respective share.”
Marcopolos said he thought the clause provides a lot of protection and in the event that the state or federal government pulled funding entirely, the project would be over anyway.
McKee tried twice to stop the agreement, but was shot down by a vote of 2-5 each time.
The commissioners also agreed to accept the transit plan, which would allow GoTrinagle to move forward in the New Starts Program, the federal program that will give them funding for the project.
Both measures passed 5-2 with McKee and Price as the dissenting voices each time.
The measures represent a big win for GoTriangle as they continue to try to bring light rail to Orange and Durham Counties.
“The world requires at some point that you take little leaps of faith,” Jacobs said. “I think if Orange County is fiscally protected, I’m willing to take the leap of faith.”