Article in last Sunday N&O on business in Orange County

 There was an interesting article on Orange County and the business atmosphere that I thought someone would have posted on or commented on by now.


What I found most interesting was what wasn't in the article.  The impression that the article gave (and one that I think has been pretty common here in Chapel Hill and Orange County) is that the solution to minimizing taxes is to increase your commercial tax base.  And while I believe that is certainly an important component to keeping taxes down it doesn't seem to have done the job in Durham and Durham County.  Durham just increased their taxes by 2+ % and Durham County by 5+ %.  In addition, Durham is asking its voters to approve a $20 million bond in November just to maintain their streets, not to build new ones.  So, in spite of all those businesses and stores that Durham has, their taxes continue to go up.  Of course, Durham's overall taxes are lower because their property valuations are lower (in part because of their commercial tax base) but for a citizen looking at an overall increase in their taxes of maybe 3-4% (I'm not sure how the city/county taxes are split in Durham) this coming year it will still be a hard pill to swallow.  I wish that Jesse had investigated that issue because it seems to fly in the face of the idea that a bigger commercial tax base will keep taxes down.  Does the commercial tax base also bring additional costs which aren't covered when your sales tax revenues go down?  There may be a simple answer to this apparent paradox but the article never even brought the issue up.

I don't know what taxes are in Durham are but I assume they're lower than CH/C.  I know that Chatham County is.  So they can raise their tax rates and still not be as high as Orange.One thing I found interesting in the article is the bit about, where can you buy socks in CH, or maybe it was in OC.  Whichever.  I remember reading someone once addressing that questions, perhaps here, and debunking it by saying, you can buy socks here and here and here in CH/OC But I don't remember what any of those places are and as I recall I hadn't even heard of them at the time I was reading about them at the time.  Neither I, nor most people, are going to do a lot of work in order to find a store that sells the things we need if we simultaneously have other stores making us not work for that information.  The way it's supposed to work is, the businesses compete in order to get the peoples' business, not the people compete to get to see who gets to buy the things the business is selling.  I do my grocery shopping in CH/C.  But other than that I write down non-food stuff that I need and then every 2-3 montsh when the list gets long I do a run to the Wal-Mart / Best Buy / Lowe's / Barnes & Noble strip between CH and Durham. For most of the stuff on that list I not only don't think of getting it in OC, I wouldn't know where to get it in OC if I did think of it.  I guess Rose's would have some of that stuff but now that Harris-Teeter has birthday cards, I don't even think about going inside University Mall unless it's a really important birthday and I want to get a clever card, in which case I go to Cameron's in U-Mall. So other than groceries, I (a) don't often shop in CH/C (restaurants excluded) and (b) the things I buy are convenient and cheap.  Considerng that, why should I bother to work to figure out whch places in CH/C sell such things when in the end they'll probably be less convenient and more expensive anyway?  And if you say, just because they're local businesses, then we're going to have a whole otther discussion.   I have other tales about attempting to frequent some other local businesses that further illustrate some points but this is getting long so I'll leave it for another time.  And I'm about to head out for a week or so, so I won't be responding soon one way or the other.

owned by the Popes.  The only reason I give $ to them is when I need cheap UNC stuff -- they are hard to beat for that.

"why should I bother to work to figure out whch places in CH/C sell
things when in the end they'll probably be less convenient and more
expensive anyway? "Because shopping locally will help keep your
taxes down. Doing all your shopping in Durham is just another form of 'voting against your own best interest.'

1) Is it really wise to consider each county an economic island competing against neighboring counties? My daily life takes me to Durham, Pittsboro, Raleigh, Saxapahaw, etc. I don't mind paying some sales tax there. I go to the Regulator Bookshop in Durham & the General Store in Saxapahaw and  consider it shopping locally.2) Where is a case study which shows that, if we just scrap our  "ideals for practicality" and work to get a Target, a Bed Bath & Beyond, a Wal-Mart (wait - we have one that's as easy to get to as Southpoint for many), a Ruby Tuesdays, and all those ubiquitous monocultural corporate businesses, our taxes will go down. Lots of talk, but it all seems like speculation without proof.4) About $2600 goes to the U.S. military budget for every man, woman, and child. For Orange County, that's $343 million annually. Our annual county budget is about $178 million. When an unmanned drone (operated by a young man in New Mexico) appears out of nowhere and kills a bunch of Afghan families, when young American boys shoot children from a helicopter while joking, when the record for soldier suicides continues to rise - that's being done in our name. Is this who we are? Or do we want that tax money to meet community needs - lower our taxes while providing for the health and welfare of all of us? We know where the money is.

Mark, give #4 a rest, its getting old.I think all of you are missing the point the Commissioners want to grow the pie bigger before they spread the burden.

Poppalax, I agree that spending billions to (attempt to) decide which warlords will rule Afghanistan is getting old.But how does #4 above miss the point?

why I could not support Barack Obama in 2008 included his steadfast support of the "war" in Afghanistan.If you voted for him, well, then you voted to 'stay the course' there.    

You're a lower taxes guy - how do you like getting drained for pointless wars?A 10% cut in military spending refunded to local governments would solve all our local financial problems. Or we can just let the corporate-government-military complex just abuse us like an alcoholic, abusive parent that we are afraid to confront.

"A 10% cut in military spending refunded to local governments would solve
all our local financial problems"Huh?  It's still the same amount of money stolen from me and spent on things I don't agree with.  Why would I support this idea? 

You would support it because all the crazy stuff that the county would like to fund - education, health care, social services, etc. - could be done without your taxes going up.  

Back to the article, the lack of commercial tax base in OC.  For 8 years, every 45 minutes I listened to a C of C person lament the lackof non-residential tax base in Chapel Hill --  to wit, we only have 20 pct non-residential tax base here in CH, while the statewide average is 29 pct.  Every time I heard it I thought of Mary Todd Lincoln.  Well Mrs. Lincoln, aside from that, how did you like the play?  That reference may be obtuse, so here is its explanation:  About 40 years ago, the ultimate company town in NC was Kannapolis, the home of Cannon Mills.  Any economic metric of Kannapolis that did not include Cannon Mills would be meaningless.  Why then do the C of C people insist on presenting a Chapel Hill metric that excludes UNC and UNC Health Care?  Joel Harper was the executive director of the C of C during much of the 1990s.  I met one of his colleagues at a meeting, who ran the Albemarle (Stanly county) area C of C, and who had gone to school with Joel and maintained a professional relationship.  I told her the same story and she replied that that figure in Chapel Hill is totally meaningless due to the existence of UNC and UNCH.  I have heard from many elected officials within NC that they would kill to have an clean employer that pays a 1.8 billion-dollar, more or less recession proof, payroll within walking distance of downtown  in a town of 55K people, even if it doesn't pay property taxes. There's so much more.  About ten years ago, the C of C attempted to convince the town council to adopt a goal of increasing the non-residential tax base from 20 pct to 25 pct.  But they did not present the math.  What would be requiredis to build 2.2 new downtowns or 9 new University Malls while building zeronew residential.  Faced with that they withdrew their request. We are what we are, a world-class center for education and health care.The crisis that I fear would be a significant budget cut to the National Institutesof Health.  About eight times the annual town budget flows into researchers and their staffs within CH from the NIH. NIH.  That might put is in a real recession. 

"The crisis that I fear would be a significant budget cut to the National Institutes of Health."Already happening: in some areas the "pay line" has dropped to less than 4% (i.e., you have to be ranked in the top 4% of applicants) AND the rules in some areas have changed so that you no longer get to re-submit a proposal - which means one shot (instead of 3) and you're out.  Stand by for more "For Sale" signs. Otherwise, I continue to marvel at the image of Chapel Hill that gets reflected back to us by businesses and developers.  Clearly, they imagine we're all high-end consumers with a never-ending source of increasing disposable income.  What else explains what's gone on with University Plaza and University Mall - which seems to be very elegantly emptying of clientele?  This is a mis-reading of Chapel Hill-dom that's only aggravated by the relentless complaining about real estate taxes.  If people leave, it's less about taxes and more about the "gentrification" imposed on us by developers who really don't know Chapel Hill.  Thus, merely cutting taxes won't fix much at all, but instead it could erode the quality of life that we DO appreciate - not the availability of glamorous ballgowns and designer jewelry but things like a decent library, good schools, and reliable police and fire services.  


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