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Town Council Looks For Creative Solutions To Chapel Hill’s Challenges

Chapel Hill leaders are looking for innovative solutions to address some of the major challenges facing the town.

At last weekend’s planning retreat, the Town Council tried a different tactic to brainstorm new ways to tackle transit funding, town infrastructure and the need for affordable housing.

“I think one of the key takeaways from this retreat is that nothing was off the table,” says George Cianciolo, one of the council members who helped plan the event.

The all-day meeting was modeled after the free-ranging discussions that typified the Chapel Hill 2020 process. Council members met in small groups to trade ideas, a departure from the formal presentations that are the hallmark of local government.

Cianciolo says when it comes to the need for more affordable housing, town leaders are looking to balance social goals with market forces.

The plan to partner with the nonprofit DHIC to build affordable rentals on town-owned land is one example of how public-private partnerships can help the town leverage its assets.

“We’re looking at more public-private partnerships,” says Cianciolo. “We’ve been looking at some of our other assets and we talked about potentially that we could buy some land for another public-private partnership. Another [idea] was perhaps trading some of our assets to a developer who would be willing to do affordable housing.”

Chapel Hill Transit is facing a funding crunch even as demand for service continues to rise. One possible solution might be to charge riders for new routes or hours while keeping the core service fare-free.

“What would happen if we were to have fare cards that were used after, say, seven or eight o’clock at night?” asked Cianciolo. “Would that allow us to provide some service to some of the areas that are not served now?”

The need to replace the police station, repave roads and improve infrastructure also loomed large as a challenge for town leaders. Items like a new teen center rank high as priorities.

“Everyone agreed that a teen center downtown would not only be nice to have, but it would be important to have, because that’s a vulnerable population,” says Cianciolo. “And so that’s something that would be high on a list.”

The planning retreat was intended as a way to get a wide range of options on the table for future discussion. Ultimately, Cianciolo says to accomplish the many goals of the 2020 plan, Chapel Hill will need some novel ideas.

“You have a lot of things you’d like to do, and how many we can get to is partly going to be dependent on how creative we can get.”

No formal decisions were made at the retreat, but some of the concepts could be explored further during the upcoming budget negotiations this spring.

http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/town-council-looks-creative-solutions-chapel-hills-challenges/

Carrboro Town Leaders Ready for First Meeting of 2015

The Board of Alderman is setting up for a very busy 2015 with their first meeting of the new year, on Tuesday night. There are several large agenda items for leaders of the Town of Carrboro.

Mayor Lydia Lavelle says she is expecting to see new developments concerning the Martin Luther King Jr. Park Master Plan.

“I do think citizens that are interested in the Martin Luther King Jr. Park will be interested in seeing what kinds of proposals are being made,” she says. “A couple of concept designs are going to be coming forward to us, after some community gatherings where we received a lot of input.”

The board will also be presented with information regarding the state of the transit system and suggestions to increase sustainability going forward.

“Every year [the transit system] is a huge project to grapple our hands around,” she says. “It’s one of the hallmarks of our community, but it is one that continues to increase in costs.”

The presentation is expected to be very similar to the arrangement brought before the Chapel Hill Town Council, last week.

The transit system is a large budget item, according to Mayor Lavelle, but she says there are several other key areas in building a new budget this year.

She says certain town costs are guaranteed to increase.

“We always have rising health care costs,” she says. “It’s always a given that, whatever our line item is for our employees and health care, that’s always going to go up a little.”

Lavelle says it will be important to see how much revenue the town is able to bring in during tax collection.

“In general, property taxes have stayed the same or gotten better,” she says. “With the hotel and different things, our commercial tax base should look pretty good.”

The mayor adds town leaders typically offer a conservative sales tax estimate, which could lead to additional revenue on top of projections.

The Board of Alderman meeting will be held at the Carrboro Town Hall beginning at 7:30 Tuesday evening and is open to the public.

 

http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/carrboro-town-leaders-ready-first-meeting-2015/

With Cuts Possibly Looming, UNC Centers State Their Cases

Representatives from various UNC-Chapel Hill centers and institutes made presentations to the UNC Board of Governors Thursday in order to retain their state funding in the face of budget cuts – or just to remain alive.

Amidst a crowded room at the Spangler Center Thursday morning, the Board listened to speakers like Christi Hurt of the UNC Women’s Center, who spoke about having only one staffer who works directly with sexual assault victims.

“We truly do need a whole lot more,” she told Board Chair John Fennebresque (who asked, “Don’t you need a hundred?”). “The rest of the Women’s Center staff is trained to provide support, and we also do the work of the prevention efforts throughout the whole center…so the program itself isn’t isolated in one person, but she’s (the only one who is) distinctly trained to provide one-on-one advocacy support.”

The weeklong meetings arose after the state legislature paved the way for $15 million in cuts in last year’s budget.

Another group facing elimination is the Sonya Haynes Center for Black Culture. Director Joseph Jordan reminded the board that the center was created in 1988 from $9 million raised exclusively in private funds.

“It was created at the urging of concerned students, faculty, community and alumni as a center for the arts and cultures of African-Americans and as a site for campus and community service programming,” Jordan said. “In the 26 years since its creation, it has grown to become a major and unique resource for the university and the regional communities.”

UNC Chancellor Carol Folt reiterated that 51 percent of state funding has already been cut since 2009, which has prompted the university to become more aggressive in fundraising.

She said centers like the ones being discussed Thursday were crucial to those fundraising efforts.

“We’re getting ready to go to a multi-billion-dollar campaign – and one of the best ways you do that (is) to raise money for a center, not an office,” she told the Board. “The Stone Center is a vehicle for raising funds – and we are just in the process in developing that whole strategy, and they will be getting support, as will the Women’s Center…

“(These) are big draws for people that like to give to a named place.”

Groups under review may be terminated, lose state funding or could continue operating as it is. Thirty-four groups are under review at 11 UNC system universities.

Numerous students were also in attendance at Thursday’s meeting, carrying signs and wearing black tape over their mouths to protest the threat of funding cuts.

http://chapelboro.com/news/unc/cuts-possibly-looming-unc-centers-state-cases/

CHCCS Still Working On Budget

Additional reporting by Elizabeth Friend

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools board members gather Thursday night to vote on the upcoming year’s budget.

The district’s website projected posting the budget proposal late last week, but due to the delay by the North Carolina Legislature on its budget decisions, the district pushed the release date to Monday. However, the proposal, which has one hour of the nearly four-hour meeting set aside for it, wasn’t posted to the district’s website until Tuesday morning.

Many concerns swirled around the General Assembly’s budget as teaching assistants were in danger of losing their jobs. Last year, in response to state budget cuts, CHCCS hired new teaching assistants on one-year contracts that the district paid for using reserve funds. School officials said the district ran out of the reserve funds to cover the shortfall, and they waited to see what, if anything, the state would do to help pay for teaching assistants.

With the passage of the $21.1 billion state budget, teaching assistants should be safe. However, some teachers aren’t happy with the final numbers.

Though some called the new budget “historic” for putting $282 million towards education, some educators themselves have criticized the new teacher pay plan.

That’s because longevity pay, the bonus once awarded to teachers with more than ten years of experience is no longer guaranteed. Instead, the new plan caps teacher salaries at $50,000 for those with more than 25 years in the classroom and rolls longevity pay into the base salaries.

This has some long-term teachers estimating their raises at closer to 2-4 percent, while starting teachers will receive a seven-percent boost. Those with half a decade of experience could see as much as an 18-percent increase.

http://chapelboro.com/news/pre-k-12-education/chccs-still-working-budget/

UNC System President Praises GA’s Work On Budget

Additional reporting by Elizabeth Friend

Tom Ross

Tom Ross

UNC System President Tom Ross praised the North Carolina General Assembly for it’s attention to higher education with the signing of the 2014-15 budget, signed into law Thursday morning by Governor Pat McCrory. The reception wasn’t as rosy on the Pre-K-through-12 level.

President Ross released a statement shortly after the passage, reading, in part: “There is a lot to appreciate in this budget, including the first new investment by the General Assembly for parts of our strategic directions initiative and the support of the New Teacher Support Program.”

“We continue to focus on our responsibility to produce a well-equipped talent force for our businesses and our communities,” President Ross said. “Highly talented faculty and staff are critical to these efforts. As other states continue to reinvest in higher education, our ability to recruit and retain the best faculty and staff will only get more challenging. We look forward to working with the Governor and the General Assembly next session to address the issues that will hinder our State’s future competitiveness.”

The New Teacher Support Program’s goal is to cater to each young educators individual needs in order to make sure they are on the path to success.

Despite an average of seven-percent increase to teachers’ salaries in primary education, there are still concerns among educators.

Longevity pay, the bonus once awarded to teachers with more than ten years of experience is no longer guaranteed. Instead, the new plan caps teacher salaries at $50,000 for those with more than 25 years in the classroom and rolls longevity pay into the base salaries.

This has some long-term teachers estimating their raises at closer to 2-4 percent, while starting teachers will receive a seven-percent boost and those with half a decade of experience could see as much as an 18 percent increase.

Rep. Graig Meyer (D, Orange-Durham)

Rep. Graig Meyer (D, Orange-Durham)

Representative Graig Meyer of Orange and Durham counties told WCHL Wednesday, after the announcement of Budget Director Art Pope’s resignation, that he’s also concerned about future budget decisions because there is now an $800,000 to $1 billion deficit that will have to be accounted for during 2015-16 budget talks.

http://chapelboro.com/news/state-government/unc-system-president-praises-gas-work-budget/

Gov. McCrory Signs Common Core Changes Into Law

RALEIGH – Common Core curriculum standards for North Carolina schools will be rewritten under a bill signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory.

Gov. McCrory signed the bill Tuesday along with four others. He said the Common Core bill does not officially repeal the federal standards but will review and improve them.

North Carolina is now one of five states that have changed or removed the Common Core standards from schools and are creating new state-specific ones.

The law directs the State Board of Education to rewrite the Common Core standards for the North Carolina’s K-12 schools. A new 11-member standards advisory commission will be formed to make curriculum recommendations to the board. Common Core, which schools began testing two years ago, would remain in place until the new standards are completed.

http://chapelboro.com/news/pre-k-12-education/gov-mccrory-signs-common-core-changes-law/

McCrory Threatens Senate Budget Veto

RALEIGH – Gov. Pat McCrory says he’d veto any North Carolina budget plan on his desk that raises teacher pay dramatically like the Senate wants because it would mean huge cuts elsewhere to pay for it.

McCrory told The Associated Press in an interview Thursday he’s not going to risk key government services and allow Medicaid reductions to accept the Senate’s average 11 percent pay offer. The original Senate proposal cut funding for thousands of teacher assistants to pay for it.

Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) issued the following statement Thursday:

“I’m disappointed by the governor’s threat to veto the largest teacher pay raise in state history and surprised by his demand for a budget without cuts to teacher assistants and Medicaid – given that his own budget included almost $20 million in cuts to teacher assistants along with significant, though ultimately achievable, cuts to Medicaid.

“The governor has been unable to sustain any of his previous vetoes in the Senate. It would be more helpful for him to work with members of both chambers of the legislature, since his unwillingness to listen to those who have an honest disagreement with him on spending priorities in favor of staging media stunts and budget gimmicks is a major reason the budget has not been finalized.”

The governor is siding with the latest House offer to raises teacher pay on average by 6 percent, up from 5 percent. He says 6 percent is about as far as he can go and feel comfortable.

The two chambers are negotiating budget adjustment for the year that started July 1.

http://chapelboro.com/news/state-government/mccrory-threatens-senate-budget-veto/

On School Funding, BOCC Faces Tough Choices

Tonight at 7:00, the Orange County Board of Commissioners holds a work session (at the Southern Human Services Center) to continue discussing next year’s fiscal budget – including, perhaps most notably, the question of funding for Orange County’s two school districts.

The current proposal (with no property tax increase) includes a $2.9 million combined increase in spending for Orange County Schools and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools – but the two districts face a combined shortfall of around $7 million. Local officials are also watching the budget debate in Raleigh, where legislators are considering at least one proposal that would eliminate funding for teaching assistants in grades 2 and 3 (among other things).

Many local residents have called on county commissioners to raise the county’s property tax rate to fully fund the school districts’ budget requests, but county officials have been reluctant to raise a rate that’s already relatively high (fifth-highest of North Carolina’s 100 counties).

Click here for budget and tax-rate information, from an earlier board meeting agenda.

With all of that (and more) in mind, WCHL’s Aaron Keck sat down on Tuesday with County Commissioner Penny Rich, who’s also a parent in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro district.

Listen to their conversation.

 

http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/school-funding-bocc-faces-tough-choices/

Hillsborough Mayor Talks Town Budget, Town Future

At its meeting on Monday, June 9, the Hillsborough Board of Commissioners is scheduled to vote on the proposed budget for fiscal year 2015.

The proposed budget includes no property tax or water rate increase, but does include an 8.8 percent increase in sewer rates to help pay for the $19.8 million upgrade to the town’s wastewater treatment plant. Other highlights of the proposal include $600,000 budgeted for design work on the Phase II expansion of the West Fork Reservoir and $176,520 for debt payment on Phases II and III of Riverwalk.

Hillsborough mayor Tom Stevens joined Aaron Keck on the WCHL Afternoon News this week to talk about the budget and long-term plans for the town of Hillsborough.

The board’s meeting will begin at 7:00 on Monday evening, in the Town Barn at 101 E. Orange Street.

http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/hillsborough-mayor-talks-town-budget-town-future/

General Assembly Weekend Check-In

Three major, and controversial, decisions have been made in the North Carolina General Assembly this past weekend: the Senate’s new spending plan, teacher pay raises, and the fracking bill.

The Senate has decided upon a new $21.1 billion spending plan for 2014-15 this weekend. Democrats were displeased with how quickly the decision was made, as it allowed for minimal negotiation. They seemed to be in consensus that the Senate was only interested in hearing their own approval, rather than the perspectives of the general public.

As part of this new budget plan, legislators also desire to encourage teachers to give up their tenure in exchange for an 11% raise in pay. Teachers, in response, are disagreeing with the motion as they desire more protection from unfriendly politics that surround schools presently. These raises are also planned to be gathered from cuts that would come from public school spending.

Other states are allegedly not attempting this swap of pay raise for tenure. Democrats agree that this action is not for the benefit of the teacher’s, but more of a cover-up for legislators’ inability to manage money wisely.

The fracking bill, completely supported by the House Republicans, is now on its way to be signed by Gov. Pat McCrory, who is more than ready to help get it passed. While Democrats were clearly unhappy with the bill, they failed to halt the process. Instead, they were able to add a few minor alterations to the bill as compromise before being sent to Gov. McCrory.

Many North Carolinians fear what the fracking might mean for chemicals that could get into well water, as well as how the Senate now seems to have the ability to override local governments in relation to how the fracking will be carried out.

As of now, there seems to be a great deal of controversy with each major decision processed by the General Assembly of North Carolina this past weekend. The uncertainty regarding the decided amount of the budget has some questioning how things are going to get better now. The risky move of raising teachers’ salaries whilst eliminating assistants and tenure is causing a rift of displeasure from educators of North Carolina, and unfavorable fracking plans that may affect local businesses in a way that they are unwilling to comply with the Senate’s decision.

http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/general-assembly-check/