Seeking leaders with chutzpah

I read the Town Council candidates' responses to the League of Women Voters' questionnaire in the Chapel Hill News this morning. (A valuable service, but shouldn't the CHN actually publish reporting on the front page?)  I noticed that the candidates were unanimous in their support for putting increased density (if it happens) in transit corridors, but not a single one of them named an appropriate area or an example of how this should be done.  

It's easy to be reactionary and rail against tall buildings and vague notions of density or against East 54 in particular. Where are the courageous candidates that can hammer out policies, make the hard decisions, and stand up to the inevitable complaints about change? Evolution of this community's landscape is not optional. We must put on our thinking caps and establish some direction for doing this in the best way for our collective future.

By the way, the other LWV question published today was a good demontration of which candidates have a true grasp of Town issues. In response to a question about library funding, some voiced general support for the idea, but those in the know responded directly to the pertinent issue of how much Orange County and Carrboro should commit to offset the many patrons who don't pay taxes in Chapel Hill.



Many people have pointed to the revitalization of downtown Durham as something Chapel Hill should emulate.  And, of course, much of that revitalization is centered around the American Tobacco complex.  But I wonder how many people remember that the Durham Council had a voter referendum for a bond issue that would build the parking deck to help 'kickstart' that project and that the voters voted the bond down.  The City Council subsequently went against the voters' decision and allocated $25 million for the parking deck and the County kicked in another $18 million.  I'm not sure that decision by the Durham Council was chutpah or just plain bravery but, in hindsight, I believe most people applaud that decision as the right one.  I believe that our future Chapel Hill Town Council (s) are going to have to make similar, difficult (and perhaps unpopular) decisions to secure our future going forward.  I hope they're up to it.

Personally, I wouldn't call the ATD (and the DPAC) a revitalization. Anyone who's walked around downtown Durham, especially at night, knows this. There are too many empty buildings and too few people. Both the ATD and the DPAC are, literally, on the wrong side of the tracks (meaning they're not well connected to the rest of downtown)(and they cater to a particular level of income).But, yes, sometimes good foresight has to be forced through. I only ask that there be a decent level of oversight -- or at least consideration of the populace -- during implementation (to avoid such past mistakes as the Durham Freeway).

In 1999, we came down here. The area that you are calling not revitalized consisted of - two abandoned buildings taking up a whole city block, a vacant lot, the ballpark, Diamond View One. There were no restaurants, the closest municipal building was the Jail.So, while you are correct that parts of Durham more closely resembles a City after an H-Bomb destroys all people, leaving only buildings. It is fair to say that there is a lot of work to be done in Durham, but it is unfair to say that the DPAC, American Tabacco, Brightleaf, etc. revitalized an area that was a disaster. You could not be more wrong about how the area around the American Tabacco Campus has changed. I would agree that going from deserted warehouses and vacant lots was not a revitilazation. It was more akin to a Metamorphosis.I am not sure how much you know about that area, but from the perspective of someone who had a family member working at Diamond View, you couldn't be more wrong.  

I am glad someone brought up the Library. We voted bonds to fund it, but our resources seem to be going somewhere else. I realize that people from Carrboro and Orange use our free library - just like they use our bus service - when they are in town. So, if there is a will to keep funding free bus service, even though people take the 420 down to Chapel Hill and then (gasp!) use our transit system for free, I think there should be a will to do something with the library. We talk about combining schools every so often, but why aren't the Orange, Chapel Hill and Carrboro libraries managed by a regional board? Then this problem goes away and we can begin to get the same resources to all parts of the county.

The short answer is that over 50 yeas ago CH decided to go on its own and leave the County system and fully fund its own library.  Only a few cities in NC do this, as ours libraries, like schools, are typically in a County system.Carrboro does not have a Library; Orange County has two branch locations in Carrboro.  And yes, the Orange County library belongs to a regional system in order to maximize resources.

Chapel Hill seems to want it all. Would love to see how much money goes in to the your bus system from the University and University employees parking fees that live in the county and outside the county (because they can't afford to live in the southern part of heaven). Chapel Hill continually takes property tax generating land out of County tax revenue generation (ie Cane Creek, Town municipal center, school buildings bond funded partially by county taxes) for Chapel Hill's benefit and county residents have to make up the difference in property tax loss with no beneift of using those resources.As Fred points out it seems Cahpel Hill chose to go on it's own and now you all are complaining. I'm satisfied with the County library you can have yours. 

is that we can't afford to continue to provide this to all residents of OC anymore.  We charge people in Durham and Chatham Counties but haven't charged OC residents because the County gives us $250,000 to help out.  They have not increased this amount in many years, even though the burden has drastically increased.And note, we who pay OC taxes are funding the OC Library, even if the majority don't use it.  The fiscal equity battle you seem to want to start is silly, mainly because the state law is already against you.  We need leaders who will forge solutions we can all live with, rather than declaring a war that we know no one can be the real winner.

Not trying to create a fiscal battle. Just saying sometimes the county subsisizes Chapel Hill and sometimes Chapel Hill subisidizes the county. Once you realize that we are subsidizing each other maybe it's not worthwhile pushing the library thing and building conflict between county residents and town residents.

You are right amoose, but so is Fred.  The current County funding for the CHPL is unfair to Chapel Hill taxpayers and I don't mean a little bit unfair.  I STRONGLY urge the County Commissioners to move toward a more fair system of financing the various libraries.

I understand the OC point on Fiscal Equity.  However, I also completely agree with Fred that the Library is underfunded by OC.  The Library issue was one reason I oppose combining the school systems. Without the money being dedicated for schools, it would be syphoned off to build Soccer Fields on the Chatham County Line or something like that. It wasn't until last year that the Orange High Track got approved for upgrade - meanwhile Cedar Ridge looks like a Private School - so I don't take anyone who talks about merging schools as an fiscal equity issue seriously. If Orange can't bring parity between Efland-Cheeks and Grady Brown, then they surely couldn't equitably fund more schools. Chapel Hill does a fantastic job by contrast. Fairness is something else in taxes. Arguably people who live in the more rural areas get fewer services than those of us in urban areas.Finally, Virginia. Virginia in 1972 did separate incorporated towns and cities from their Counties for racist reasons. It has been an unmitigated disaster. The Cities are starved for resources. The Counties can't agree on regional transit and they lost the Richmond Braves due to a siting issue - the counties didn't want the Ballpark located in Shockoe Bottom. Basically, they thought they could hold out and maybe get one in their county. Oh and my old county, Chesterfield, now charges RESIDENTS to use the library. The irony is that it is one of the wealthiest counties south of NOVA. So, we have a laboratory one state above us and completely separate is even worse and more disproportiant than our situation.

If schools were to be merged the county would be required to come up to current county school tax rate + Chapel Hill additional district tax. When you lump both school budget demand together it would mean a huge total school tax increase for county residents and a probably a total decrease for Chapel Hill school district residents. As much as a school merger makes sense for the school system it will never happen because of the budgeting constraints.

Just curious what is the parity issue between Eflund Cheeks and Grady Brown. Granted has been a while but have spent a fair amount of time in both those schools and found them to be farily equivalanet in terms of buildings, upkeep, supplies and teacher quality and dedication.Is hard to make a point in time comparison of a new school (Cedar Ridge) with a pretty old one(Orange High). We can't bulid the new ones to be like the old ones. If I remember correctly Cedar Ridge outdoor athletic grounds were horrendous the first couple of years of it's existence. I bet at that time Orange High athletic facilities were much better than Cedar Ridge. Glad to see Orange High is up for it's track improvements.  

amoose, interesting post. I'm not sure I understand though, are you saying that University employee parking fees somehow go to the town?  Are you talking about something other than on-campus permit parking?

 How do you feel about the fact that the University -- the entity with the highest property value -- is exempt from property taxes?  


As far as your first question, it's easily answered: Chapel Hill and UNC contribute equal amounts to the transit system.  Carrboro contributes a significant, but lesser amount.

Now a question for you:

 Does the county pay CH property tax for their property inside the town limits?

I believe the major portion of the Chapel Hill transit budget comes from UNC (36%) 20% come from Chapel Hill contributions and 6% from Carrboro. If my memory serves me correctly the justifications for much of the huge increases in UNC permit parking fees over the past years was to help fund the free transit system. I can't find any documents on how much of the UNC permit parking fees go to Chapel Hill transit.I think it is terrible that UNC takes property out of tax roles. It only increases the taxes to the property left over to make up the difference. UNC is in the process of taking a huge contribution to Orange County taxes out of revenue generation with the hospital they are planning in Hillsborough. All Orange County residents Chapel Hill included has to make up the difference. We do get benefit from the hospital tho by getting to use it. Orange County residents do not get any benefit from Cane Creek reservoir or town municipal center.Would be curious to see what county property is inside the town limits and who benefits from what's on that property.

UNC-CH covers 58%, CH covers 35% and Carrboro covers 7% of the operating budget.  UNC students and staff comprise about 85-90% of the users so it would be easy to say that UNC isn't paying its fair share.  But one has to consider the intangibles such as reduced traffic congestion in town, cleaner air, fewer issues regarding parking in the downtown area and the availability to CH residents of a great transit system that would be hard to create without the University's participation.  I think it has been a win-win situation for all.

George--since there are a few UNC employees who can afford to live in Chapel Hill, I don't think the delineation between what the university pays and what the town pays is quite as clear cut as you are making it out to be. I was also under the impression that there are  commuting routes, like the CCX, and the U and RU that the university pays for exclusively. Is that true?

You are right, Terri.  There is a complex cost allocation system that is based on an annual (?) study of where people get on and off the bus.  Some trips get allocated to UNC, others to one town or another.  I could not explain the details of that process with any more accuracy, but the point is that there is a rational system.  And just as you say, some routes like the U bus and the RU bus serve only the UNC campus (ie never really leave campus) and are therefore (virtually?) entirely allocated to UNC.  I think some of the Park & Ride routes may work out similarly.The upshot of it is more or less as described by George C above, but there is a great deal more complexity to how the numbers are derived.

as Mark has said.  The Town also contributes by being able to apply for the state and federal grants which currently fund about 1/3 of the total operating expenses.  As I said earlier, I believe that it has been, and will continue to be, a win-win situation for the parties involved and we should all be very proud of how CHT has evolved over the last decade.

Sorry if duplicate.I'm confused this site: says UNC 36%, CH 20%, Carrboro 6% of total

The figures I gave were based on the percentage (62%) of the operating expenses NOT covered by state and federal grants and charges for services (e.g, Tarheel Express); i.e., what amount do the three partners actually have to come up with to operate the system.  Based on the link amoose provided, the breakdown is UNC (58%), CH (32%) and Carrboro (10%).

I would think since a huge share of juniors , seniors and grad students do not live on campus and a large share rent in CH and Carrboro that the students to contribute quite a bit beyond UNC's contribution via landlord property tax payments. 

What I don’t understand is --- When we got annexed by Carrboro, why didn’t our County taxes go down because now Carrboro is providing some of the services we used to get from the County?  I am mostly being facetious because I don’t think my taxes are for specific services.  They are to support governments and allow them to do what governments do.  Now from reading OP, I know there are some of you out there who believe that taxes are for specific services.  Can you answer my question?  

All county residents pay the same amount of general county taxes. whether in a city or not. When you are annexed, if you are in a rural fire district that tax should vanish off your bill.  Example of double taxation -- general county taxes paid by all residents pay for sherriff's patrols, which function only in unincorporated areas, while city residents also pay for city police.

I have a $6,000 tax bill and when I moved in, I lived in one of the cheaper Single Family Detached Units in Chapel Hill. The largest part is the county's. I believe I am funding the County Library too, thank you very much. Also my City taxes actually pay for people to ride the bus free.I am not saying you're completely off-base with your criticism, but I don't think the County could do a thing without the HighValue properties in Carrboro and Chapel Hill. Take a look at your Northern neighbor - Person County for what resources you would have without us.We live in the county too. If this were Virginia, you might have a point, but it's not. So, please realize that the majority of my tax bill is for ORANGE, not Chapel Hill and it does pay for stuff up there too.  

Would love to see some analysis on services county residents get vs county taxes paid  and how the rates would change if county went it alone and Chapel Hil/Carrboro (ie chapel Hill school district boundary went it alone) including separating the school systems and bond money to pay for school buildings.Hey Join the club my land value went up 49% and the whole bill went up 29%. If the growth keeps up I can see the possibility I will be gentrified from my house when I go to a fixed income. That's something to look forward to. The whole system stinks and the tax base need to be spread over different sources rather than rely on mostly residential alone. County residents have seen just as much astronomical growth as Chapel Hill in their assessments. My point is that I am seeing complaints here about county not paying fair share for libarary service in Chapel Hill when in some cases the county is subsidizing Chapel Hill for the county properties that have been confiscated off the county tax roles and don't contribute to county tax revenues and are for only Chapel Hill, Carrboro benefit. County taxes have to be increased more to cover the loss.I hope you use the county library it's quite nice.  

I didn't intend the pun, but what the heck. We've all paid for the Sportsplex twice. As for the issues for landowners, it's interesting to hear a county perspective, because the same thing that is happening where you are is happening to folks in the "in-fill" neighborhoods. Lifelong residents are basically being assessed out of their houses.What makes this problem so alarming is that we all know that the land values aren't based on anything other than air. These assessments are fixed, but as anyone who has tried to sell a house lately can tell you, they aren't representative of the current market. Personally, I would rather pay a local income tax (thus people who make less pay less) and freeze assessments on people over 65 and revalue the land when the ownership is transferred or if it is sold. There is a lot of talk on this board about rural buffers, but the reality is that the assessments of large plots of land force them to be sold off to developers, because you can't pay the taxes if you are a farmer or someone on a fixed income.Mr. Moose, you are dead on. I worked in Hillsborough and I spoke to a lot of people in the more rural areas and I think we all are happy to pay our fair share, but we want to get what we pay for. I can understand why folks in the County feel like they are left out, but you make a wiser point that this assessment was anything but revenue neutral.

I think you've made some great points. Income tax would help spread the revenue generation. Freezing over 65 would help seniors on fixed income. Revaluation is a joke and just keeps maginfying the problem. I think looking at the transfer tax and impact fees are 2 areas to readdress. After all 50% of budget is schools and what creates new school demand but new people moving in creating demand for additional serivices which are not fully paid by their new taxes which in turn means the rest of us have to make up the difference. Since residential property tax is the primary source of revenue our property taxes are in this uncontrollable upward spiral.

We argue over table scraps on the local level while corporate politicians squander huge sums of money on U.S. imperialism and corproate welfare programs. That money should be spent back at the local level and we wouldn't need to continually have this debate.

"I noticed that the candidates were unanimous in their support for putting increased density (if it happens) in transit corridors, but not a single one of them named an appropriate area or an example of how this should be done."That's because if they did give specifics they wouldn't get elected. The electorate (or a vocal minority thereof) is on an anti-density rampage, which is magnified by an off-election year in which only those really pissed off vote.  "Evolution of this community's landscape is not optional. We must put on our thinking caps and establish some direction for doing this in the best way for our collective future."Listening to the talk about the current council's actions my impression is that everyone thinks Chapel Hill can survive by turning back the clock to the way things were 25 years ago, or at the very least building another parking lot. You're right, of course, but most voters can't think 25 or 50 years ahead about what the community will need or will look like.   I certainly wish we had a chance to go back 50 years and change the zoning and growth plan to handle our current needs. 

We are having an issue with the idea of moving the IFC Homeless Shelter a property in close proximity to Homestead Park and two day cares. According to a letter from the Town Attorney - candidates are not allowed to discuss specifics about this plan, because even though it was announced by the IFC, The University and the Town there is not even a formal application. His interpretation appears to be that if they talk about the issue, they could violate the rights of the applicant. Knowing how litigious people are, I have no reason to disagree with him - sadly.So even though we want specific answers, not only can they apparently not give them, they might even get sued later if they do. I believe Kurt Vonnegut just rolled over in his grave, because he laughed so hard he cried.  

I don't know anyone that thinks we can freeze Chapel Hill the way it is.  However, I personally am not enthralled with the vision of 12 story office buildings up and down MLK.  If a candidate endorsed this vision I don't think he or she would be elected - with good reason.  I think the Town has gotten in trouble by following abstract planning principles without considering how transit will work, how people will cross streets and how a human scale will be maintained.  The planning principle says putting the building right next to the street is good because it feels more like a city.  How many people are going to want to stoll along a 6 lane highway?  In planning density, disign, transit and people must be considered.  We need to put the transit in place before we approve dense developments.  We actually have a choice about how we want to grow and I for one want a Town I still want to live in.Julie

Julie says:

In planning density, disign, transit and people must be considered.  We need to put the transit in place before we approve dense developments. 

I can assure you that on the other end of the Triangle that the conservative mantra is "transit won't work because there isn't enough density, we have to wait for transit until there is enough density".  Federal transit administrators want to see actual riders before approving federal funds, not just promises of future density.The end result of all three positions -- no transit.  But hey, let people commute into those UNC jobs from 20+ miles away!

Entities like JLF have presented numerous studies to the GA (which I'm sure you've seen) that show an increasing share of the costs of public transit being subsidized by taxpayers, and using low ridership numbers as "proof" that people don't really want or need public transit. Of course, this conclusion goes against countless polls and surveys that show the vast majority of folks do want more public transit, but you won't find that in any of their white papers.But there's much more to their opposition to public transit than just revenue dollars. They don't want high-density urban growth, because their idea of Nirvana is scattered and unconnected neighborhoods whose highest aspirations to public service is volunteering for the Garden Club. The more powerful a town/city/metropolis gets, the more determined they are to plan and regulate growth. Since public transit is a key element of smart (urban) growth, it becomes a primary target for opposition by the small government/free market folks.Sorry. I kind of went off there. :/

Just jumping in here to note that this week's issue of The Carrboro Citizen includes our voter guide.We're also posting it and other election information on our new(ish) politics blog. I'll be blogging there from now until the dust settles after the election. Also, the guide has one damnable typo in the header for the Chapel Hill Town Council race (the jump says 'school board') so, we'll be re-running that race info next week. (sighs, looks out the window)Thanks

I'm listed as Gellar-Good rather than Goad.When hyphenating names after getting married earlier this year we discussed last names getting mangled & how hyphenating it will only worsen our chances.  The most common culprits being Geller with an e, and Good.  But I’ve been god, goode, & gode before, so I guess good is not so bad.

George, I would add to your post is that it is really not clear what the UNC contribution ought to be.  How many employers offer their employees free transportation to work?  Even the IRS recognizes that getting to work is an employee's responsibility and offers no tax deduction for it.

Jim, your question is quite and valid and has a historic origin.  Gerry Cohen, who knows more about this than I,  can correct me if I make any mistakes, but here goes:Way back when, the NC General Assembly assigned tasks to the towns and  counties.  Generally, they said that Health, Education, and Welfare were county functions, while most other tasks, such as buildling and repairing roads, and policing, were town functions.  This made sense both then and today, because  then, few people lived in cities and towns (they are synonyms), while everyone lived in a county, and HEW were needed by everyone, urban and rural alike.  Even today, a large fraction of NC people live in a county but no town.  Hence, schools, yes both our school systems, are county functions.  Ditto for human services, and the health department.  This is also why most human-service non-profits are named for the county, not the town; e.g., Orange County Red Cross, not the Chapel Hill Red Cross.  In general, the county government provides more direct people-oriented services, while the towns provide more mechanical services.Sometimes there is an overlap, whereby both a town and its county provide the same service.  Gerry gave one, the county sheriff and the towns' police departments.  Another is the Chapel Hill Public Library.  Libraries are county functions, but the people of CH decided that Orange County was not providing a high-enough quality library for citizens of CH, so they voted for bonds to build our own library, which is open to all comers. Overlapping functions can be very controversial, for when a town provides a county function, it double taxes its people to pay twice for the same services. The bottom-line answer to your question is that, in general, when you were annexed, you did not lose county services.  Of course, everyone is entitled to his/her opinion about which services are under- or over-funded, and that's why we have elections and referenda.


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