CHAPEL HILL- The Chapel Hill Town Council signed off on next year’s budget on Monday night, voting to raise the property tax rate for the first time in four years.

The approved $94 million dollar spending plan balances the budget by raising the property tax rate by two cents, to 51.4 cents per $100 of value.

Though the vote was unanimous, it didn’t pass without criticism.

“We will drive a few of those neediest among us out of Chapel Hill when we pass this budget. That’s just for sure,” said council member Matt Czajkowski. “Every time we raise taxes, for whatever good purpose, we make it harder and harder for people of modest means, or even above modest means, to live here.”

Nonetheless, Czajkowski praised the town manager for bringing forward a well-balanced budget.

Half of the property tax rate increase will go to fund the transit system. The other half will go to the town’s General Fund, to be used to pay for increased library hours and the cost of hauling trash to a transfer station in Durham.

This is the first time since 2008 that the council has voted to raise the property tax rate, and, as council member Ed Harrison pointed out, the first time in nine years that the transit fund rate has increased.

“The system costs 60 percent more to fund that it did nine years ago, with 40 percent more riders,” said Harrison.

The $54 million dollar General Fund budget includes an additional $244,000 in library funding to keep the library open 64 hours a week. The newly expanded facility had been cut down to 54 hours when it reopened this spring due to the building’s higher operating expenses.

The budget also includes a two percent pay raise for town employees and covers a four percent increase in health care costs.

Looking ahead to next year, Town Manager Roger Stancil says the council will need to consider long-term solutions for the town’s solid waste disposal, as well as the financial stability of the transit system. He advised that it might be time to start planning a bond referendum to take to voters.

“You also have some pretty significant improvements in parks and recreation and greenways facilities that are worn out and need to be replaced,” said Stancil. “So we need to start talking about what are the ways we would replace those facilities and how would we plan for a future bond referendum.”

Though the council set the town’s tax rate last night, next year’s county’s tax rate is still up in the air. Commissioners have indicated they don’t plan to increase the countywide property tax, but they may opt to raise the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools district tax as well as the Chapel Hill Fire District tax.

The county will adopt its budget on June 18.