Chapel Hill developer Roger Perry says the Town should be welcoming commercial development with open arms, and if it does, the tax burden on it citizens will begin to subside.
“If you’re going to remain competitive, and if you’re going to keep a tax base that can sustain the community, you must build higher densities, and you must build a bigger concentration of commercial property than we have been building,” Perry says.
Perry says the land has to be developed efficiently because Chapel Hill, along with Carrboro and Orange County, decided about 30 years ago to draw an urban growth boundary to define just how far out it would develop.
The largest portion of Chapel Hill land held by one entity is taken up by UNC, which is tax exempt. Perry says the Town has to be smart about how it uses the remainder of the property.
“In Chapel Hill, we only have 15 percent, plus-or-minus, of our tax base (coming) from commercial property,” Perry says. “Most rules of thumb suggest that equilibrium in that regard is to have at least a third of your tax base come from commercial property tax. In Durham, for example, that number is 40 percent; it’s approximately the same in Wake County.”
The Ephesus-Fordham redevelopment plan was designed to spur economic growth. Perry says those who are against the project are focusing on the wrong problem and don’t have all the facts.
“The issues in flood control in that whole district are a huge problem, but they’re a huge problem today,” Perry says. “The Town’s plan is that, with this redevelopment and the increased tax base that it will provide, it will provide the resources necessary to remedy that problem and fix that problem.”
Perry made these comments in a WCHL News Special with Jim Heavner.
Chapel Hill’s tax rates—city, county, and school taxes–support the city schools, free local busses, and social services, at the highest rate in North Carolina. Local government development policies have made Chapel Hill’s taxes on residences the highest percentage in the state, and commercial taxes the lowest. Orange County exports more retail spending to other counties than any county in the region. In a WCHL news special, Jim Heavner interviews Roger Perry, who has recently been more outspoken on those issues.
Perry, a Chapel Hillian, is the President of East West Partners Management Company, and since 1983 East West Partners has developed more residential real estate than any company in North Carolina. That includes Meadowmont, Downing Creek and East 54 here in Chapel Hill. He’s now trying to develop Obey Creek, so he’s a big player. Perry, a UNC graduate has also served as chair of the UNC Board of Trustees, and that is also a topic of the special interview.
***Listen to Part One***
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/
The North Carolina General Assembly is meeting in “short session” this year – but there’s been no shortness of controversy.
At the center of debate last week was the budget proposal released by State Senate Republicans, which includes more than $400 million for a significant hike in teacher salaries – but that raise comes (among other things) at the expense of massive cuts to teacher assistants in grades 2 and 3.
Already facing a multi-million-dollar shortfall, officials at Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools say the Senate’s proposal would likely force the district to make even more cuts than they were initially planning – unless they can persuade County Commissioners to dig even deeper into the pool of local money. (Fully funding the budget requests of both the county’s districts would almost certainly necessitate a tax increase, though, which County Commissioners and county staff have been reluctant to impose.)
Meanwhile – though it hasn’t received as much media attention – local municipalities across the state are also contending with the repeal of a business privilege tax, which the AP reports could cost municipalities a total of $62 million statewide. Governor Pat McCrory signed the repeal on Thursday.
With those and other issues in mind, WCHL’s Aaron Keck invited Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board member James Barrett to the studio on Thursday, for a pair of conversations about the local impact of recent actions at the NCGA.
Affordability, taxes, housing, solid waste, economic development, and the future of Carolina North and Rogers Road: all longstanding hot-button issues in Orange County, and all requiring strong partnerships between the local municipalities as well as UNC.
Orange County leaders say the time is now to make those partnerships stronger.
“One of our major issues is to renew the strength and vitality of our partnerships with the municipalities,” says Barry Jacobs, chair of the Orange County Board of Commissioners. “I think we’ve lost touch to some degree.”
At the center of the conversation is the eternal question of affordability: how to manage the cost of living while preserving a desirable community, in a space with little room to grow.
UNC Chancellor Carol Folt says that’s often an issue in college towns – and it’s certainly the case in Chapel Hill.
“University towns are very, very highly sought after,” she says. “I try every day to recruit faculty and staff and students…of course they’re concerned about price of living, (but) mostly we hear that people want to live here. So I think we are still on the positive side of this equation: this is a very high-choice place.”
But with that desirability comes a number of challenges – including, perhaps most notably, the cost of housing. Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt says those costs are worth it: “I sometimes look around (my house) and think, wow, for this price I could be in a much bigger place in Durham,” he says, “but I’d rather be in Chapel Hill.”
And while higher property values still mean Chapel Hillians are paying more dollars in taxes, Kleinschmidt notes that Chapel Hill’s property tax rate is actually lower than many of our neighboring communities.
Still, the cost of housing is a strain, one that makes it difficult – if not impossible – for many people to live in Chapel Hill. And not only Chapel Hill: Hillsborough Mayor Tom Stevens says the affordability question is affecting his community as well.
“We’re seeing rising costs (too),” he says. “It’s a little bit less expensive to live here, so we’re finding families move out (of Chapel Hill-Carrboro) and folks wanting to be in Hillsborough – (but) as prices go up, we’re finding a lot of our families are moving to Mebane.”
The housing crunch has driven local leaders to explore creative policies for developing more affordable housing in all of Orange County’s municipalities.
But as Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle points out, housing is not the only factor driving the cost of living.
“We’ve studied extensively the interplay between transportation costs and affordable housing,” she says. “A typical income earner spends anywhere from 20 to 30 percent of their income on transportation – owning a car, taxes, insurance, and so forth.”
That, she says, gives local leaders a strong incentive to develop housing downtown – so residents don’t need vehicles to get to and from work. Kleinschmidt adds that he’s equally proud of Chapel Hill’s fare-free bus system, which also keeps the cost of living down.
Taxes too are a primary concern – and local leaders are quick to point out that they’ve managed to maintain services while avoiding tax increases, even through the long recession. (Lavelle says she expects Carrboro to maintain that streak this year too.) But Barry Jacobs says that, at the end of the day, it’s just as important to preserve the services that make Orange County a desirable place to live.
And the most important of those services, he says, is education.
“We’re proud of public education (and) we’re going to fund it to the best of our ability,” he says. “Going through the recession, and then having a state legislature that’s attacking public education, we have actually raised the per-pupil funding…and in the last 20 years we’ve built 14 schools in this county. And three of them were high schools. Those are expensive suckers…
“And that’s part of what makes this an attractive community. That’s what draws people here. It’s a double-edged sword, to use a cliché.”
But Jacobs adds that the need for education spending must be weighed against the concern for affordability – particularly the fact that many Orange County residents are seniors on fixed incomes.
And so the question returns to partnerships: town, county, and UNC officials working together to promote efficiencies, reduce costs, and improve the standard of living. Local leaders agree that’s already happening (if slowly) on the issue of Rogers Road remediation, and Chapel Hill Mayor Kleinschmidt says he’s confident it will also happen on the issue of solid waste: “I think we’re going to come together with a solution,” he says, “(and in) four, five, six years, we’re going to have a site for a transfer station that we’re all going to use.” (Kleinschmidt says there are several attractive candidates for that site in the northern part of Chapel Hill, including one off Millhouse Road.)
It’s also happening on the question of economic development, where UNC is actively partnering with the towns and county on projects ranging from the LAUNCH entrepreneurial incubator to the redevelopment of 123 West Franklin, the former University Square – though Chancellor Folt says little is happening right now when it comes to Carolina North. (“We’re really not having any active plans there right now,” she says. “It’s really not at the top of the list.”)
In the end, though, while local leaders seem to agree that municipal partnerships have been stronger, there’s also a shared commitment to strengthening them in the months and years to come.
“How we should go forward is together,” says Jacobs.
Folt, Jacobs, Kleinschmidt, Lavelle, and Stevens made those comments during the “Town and Gown” panel of WCHL’s 2014 Community Forum; they were joined on the panel by outgoing UNC student body president Christy Lambden.http://chapelboro.com/news/2014-community-forum/costs-partnerships-people-want-live/
Are you thinking about buying a home? Wondering how you can afford it?
Chatham Habitat for Humanity and EmPOWERment are co-hosting a two-part Home Buyer’s Education Workshop in Pittsboro, on Thursday, March 6 and Thursday, March 13 from 5:30-8:30 p.m. You’ll learn tips for shopping for homes and mortgages, how to financially prepare, and how to maintain your home after you’ve bought it.
The workshop takes place at 467 West Street in Pittsboro. It’s free and open to the public; dinner, door prizes and child care will be provided. To RSVP, contact Amanda Stancil at EmPOWERment by calling 967-8779, or Anna Schmalz Rodriguez at Chatham Habitat by calling 542-0794.
Congratulations to Casey Rimland, a medical and doctoral student in the UNC School of Medicine who was recently named as a Gates Cambridge Scholar.
Created with a donation from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Gates Cambridge Scholarship provides students with a three-year full scholarship to study at Cambridge University in England. Between 80 and 100 Gates Scholarships are awarded annually; Rimland is the second honoree from UNC.
Casey Rimland is originally from Charlotte and graduated from UNC-Charlotte in 2011. She’s also a thyroid cancer survivor, having been diagnosed in her first year of medical school.
To compensate for all the snow days, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School Board has updated the district’s class schedule for the rest of the school year.
There were three remaining days on the district’s calendar that were set aside as delayed-opening days, but all three have now been changed to regular school days. Those three days are March 13, April 10 and May 8 – all originally delayed opening, but now functioning as regular, full school days. Students should report to school at the regular time.
Congratulations to the AVID students from Smith Middle School, winners of this year’s sixth annual Black History Knowledge Bowl!
The event is sponsored every year by the Mu Omicron Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. It’s a competition between students at Culbreth, McDougle and Smith Middle Schools who participate in the AVID program (Advancement Via Individual Determination). This year’s Knowledge Bowl took place at Culbreth Middle School on February 22; Smith took first and Culbreth took second.
Results are in for the Town of Chapel Hill’s Community Survey, and the numbers indicate that—for the most part—residents are extremely happy with the town’s services.
More than 90 percent of residents who responded say they’re satisfied with the town’s fire department, library, and trash collection services; more than 80 percent say they’re satisfied with Chapel Hill’s park maintenance and police department. Those numbers are “well above regional and national benchmarks,” according to a release from the Town.
On the down side, residents said they were most concerned with traffic congestion and “how well the Town is preparing for the future,” and also said the Town could do a better job providing affordable housing and “access to quality shopping.”
You can check out the full results at TownOfChapelHill.org/survey.
It’s tax season—and if you need tax forms, the Orange County Public Library is offering select forms for free. Those forms include the 1040, 1040A, 1040EZ, Schedule A, Schedule B and Schedule SE.
In addition, the Orange County Department on Aging is offering its Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program—VITA for short—which provides free income tax preparation for qualifying individuals with low- to middle-incomes, regardless of age or county of residence.
For more information or to find out if you qualify, visit OrangeCountyNC.gov/aging/VITA.asp.
UNC has received a grant of more than $40 million from the National Institutes of Health, to fund a global clinical trials unit working to treat and prevent the spread of HIV.
The grant will fund five clinical research sites through the year 2021. Three of those sites are located in North Carolina; the other two are located in Africa, in Malawi and Zambia.
UNC received $430 million in external funding for HIV research between 2008 and 2012. The university is ranked as one of the top 10 programs in America for HIV/AIDS research.
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – The North Carolina Senate has delayed a final vote on a tax overhaul plan to discuss changes with House members and Gov. Pat McCrory.
Senate Leader Phil Bergerof Eden said Tuesday a scheduled final vote was being put off for talks with McCrory and the House, which already passed its own proposal. The Senate’s plan tentatively passed last week. Berger said the proposal will be scheduled for action Wednesday.
The Senate plan cuts taxes by billions through a gradual repeal of corporate taxes and lower income tax rates. Proponents say it will boost the economy.
Critics have said it is not true tax reform because it doesn’t make major changes to the sales tax code. Others say it will severely hurt state and local public services.http://chapelboro.com/news/state-government/nc-senate-delays-final-vote-on-tax-overhaul/
CHATHAM COUNTY – Chapel Hill has its first Wal-Mart up and running, although it’s not actually located in Orange County or even Chapel Hill proper, and won’t provide taxes to the municipality.
The Walmart located just south of Orange County’s Border into Chatham County officially opened it’s doors on Friday.
Chris Smith, who is serving as manager at the new Wal-Mart, says the community’s response has so far been positive.
“It’s a mutual feeling, and everyone’s just happy,” he says.
In March of 2012, Chatham County Manager Charlie Horne announced that a Walmart would come to Chatham County on 15-501, just outside Orange County boundaries. The new project would encompass 150,000 square feet and would include a grocery and pharmacy center.
While many local officials have expressed concerns that the project would keep tax dollars away from Orange County, others have said based on previous local shopping patterns, it might actually help the Orange County economy to thrive.
With the eventual return of UNC students to the area, Smith says he has started to look into ways to adjust for the coming rush.
“We have contacted some of the best Walmarts that have done it, with regards to being near some of the very established universities,” he says.
The new Wal-Mart started its search for employees back in mid-March. Interested applicants can click here.http://chapelboro.com/news/development/chatham-county-walmart-open-for-business/
These are the cookies Steere delivered. Photo (and caption) via Golden Age Bakery’s Facebook page.
CHAPEL HILL – The NAACP’s “Moral Monday” demonstration drew hundreds to Raleigh again this week to speak out against the bills being passed by the state’s General Assembly–but many other North Carolinians are getting active in other ways, including one small business owner in Chapel Hill who chose a unique way to get her message across.
Sylvia Steere (a friend of the author) is the owner of Golden Age Bakery, a gluten-free bakery she operates out of her Chapel Hill home. Ordinarily she’s trying to sell her cookies, but on Monday she gave them away — 170 of them, in fact — hand-delivering one each to every single legislative office in the State House and Senate.
Her mission? To urge the General Assembly not to pass House Bill 998, the House’s tax-reform plan that will expand the scope of sales taxes while cutting the tax rate on large corporations.
“It will reduce corporate taxes, over the next few years, to completely eliminate them by 2017 — and that’s going to put a lot of the burden on the people that actually consume,” Steere says. “That would be approximately 95 percent of North Carolin(ians) spending more in sales taxes.
“It’s a tax cut for the rich and a tax increase for the poor, and ultimately I don’t consider that good for business, from a small-business standpoint.”
Supporters of the bill say it’s designed to ease the tax burden on businesses — including small businesses — by basing taxes more on consumption. But Steere says a consumption-based tax system wouldn’t be good for her business either.
“If I were a large corporation, I might consider it beneficial,” she says, “but I’m a consumer, and my customers are consumers. And I’d like to not raise prices on ourselves to lower corporate taxes. I feel like it’s the large corporations that could probably afford to spend a little bit more.”
House Bill 998 is not the only tax plan out there: the State Senate is debating several different tax reform proposals, and Governor Pat McCrory has offered his own as well. Each of those plans also include reductions in the corporate tax, though not all of them expand the sales tax as the House bill does.
The General Assembly and Governor McCrory’s office are expected to reach agreement on a final tax plan by the end of the month. While the final plan may not please Steere, she says she’s glad to have spoken out — and she’s hopeful her novel approach might have gotten legislators’ attention.
“It felt very good, actually — just to get out there, see some faces, smile, (and) hand them off,” she says. “They were — in my opinion — very beautifully packaged little thank-you cards, with my note saying why I don’t think they should pass this bill, and a little cookie showing who I am and what my business is doing.”
Steere sells her products online and in local stores, including Southern Season and Foster’s Market.http://chapelboro.com/news/state-government/local-baker-brings-cookies-and-a-message-to-raleigh/
CHAPEL HILL- Orange County Manager Frank Clifton presented his recommended 2013-2014 budget on Tuesday, and if the board of commissioners approves the plan as written, it would be the fifth year in a row without a property tax rate increase.
Clifton said despite a slow rate of growth, the county is on solid financial footing.
“As dire as some people may want to predict the county’s budget process is this year, we are probably in far better shape than a lot of other counties in this state,” Clifton told the board.
While the $185.9 million dollar spending plan fully funds all current services and provides for school enrollment growth, it does not meet the budget requests submitted by either the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools system or the Orange County Schools system, requests that totaled $8 million in additional funding.
“Balancing today’s demands while sustaining the financial capacity to address the challenges of tomorrow requires difficult decisions,” said Clifton. “Fully funding every request, no matter how well intended the support or demand for those requests, is not a practical reality.”
The recommended $87.8 million education budget falls $6 million short of what the school systems asked for, but Chief Financial Officer Clarence Grier said the board does have options if commissioners wish to increase school funding.
“You could propose or approve a property tax increase to address any funding issues not addressed in the recommended budget, or increase the Chapel Hill-Carrboro special district tax in order to address their funding needs,” said Grier. “Also, both school districts have fund balance in excess of the required minimums that could be utilized to fund their needs.”
The board would need to raise the property tax rate 5.5 cents to generate the full $8 million. Raising the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools special district tax by 5.5 cents would generate an additional $5.6 million for the school system.
The budget proposal includes funding for new EMS and IT personnel and raises the level of county funding to the Chapel Hill Public Library to $483,000 a year.
Grier said the county will likely spend about $3 million on landfill closure costs next year. The budget plan would double the annual household solid waste fees to $20 for urban residents and $40 for rural residents, raise the recycling fee by $10 and institute a new $10 mattress disposal fee.
Commissioners will hold the first of two public hearings on the budget on Thursday. That gets underway at 7 o’clock at the Department of Social Services in Hillsborough.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/no-property-tax-increase-in-county-budget-but-that-could-change/
Officials in Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and Orange County are gearing up for another round of difficult budget talks—and although the economy may be on the rebound, County Manager Frank Clifton says local governments still have no more money to work with than they did five years ago.
“We’re at 2008 levels–and actually the county’s budget in 2008 (was) greater than it is today,” Clifton says. “That’s the reality: the tax base for the county is not much different today than it was in 2008.”
Still, Orange County officials say they’re hopeful they can get through another two-year budget cycle without raising property taxes.
“You have to balance (priorities) out,” says Orange County Commissioner Alice Gordon, “but I think going into the budget process, we’re going to try not to raise the general property tax rate.”
And while town governments too are anticipating some difficult budget decisions, officials in Carrboro say they’re also confident they can avoid raising taxes on residents this year.
“Just kind of speaking in generalities, our goal this year is to present a no-tax-increase budget,” says Carrboro Assistant Town Manager Matt Efird. “And the preliminary budget thus far does not include a tax increase.”
But it’s a different story in Chapel Hill, where officials are dealing with a variety of unique budget challenges—and as a result, Town Manager Roger Stancil says a tax increase may be unavoidable this year.
“I apparently used up all the rabbits in my hat sooner than Frank and Matt did,” he says. “But there is a brand new library open, and we have been saying for several years that operating that library at the same level that the community’s used to–that was equivalent to a penny on the tax rate. The community decided to close the landfill and we take our garbage somewhere else–we said from the very beginning, that was (another) penny on the tax rate (in) increased cost, for the Town of Chapel Hill to do that.”
Compounding that, Stancil says, is the possibility of an additional penny tax increase from Chapel Hill Transit as well.
While different local governments are expecting to make different decisions on the question of raising taxes, officials across the board agree that the coming budget talks are going to be difficult. Especially now that municipal governments have already streamlined their operations in previous budget cycles, Chapel Hill Town Council member Laurin Easthom says there’s no such thing as an easy cut.
“The services that we have in Chapel Hill exist because somebody wanted them,” she says. “And they’re useful services. So it makes it really tough on us to decide to chip away or cut–because we know it will affect a certain group, or everyone.”
And Carrboro Alderman Lydia Lavelle says she’s particularly concerned for municipal employees, who’ve gone without pay raises for years.
“We’ve done a good job of stipends or other things the last couple years,” she says, “but as far as cost-of-living (increases)…we’ve been struggling a little bit with the implementation of a living wage.”
Municipal governments will begin their budget discussions later this spring.
Clifton, Easthom, Efird, Gordon, Lavelle, and Stancil made those comments on Thursday during WCHL’s annual Community Forum.