A Tale of Two Taxes

The Herald this morning reported that Carrboro is requesting that the legislature grant authority for two tax increase. The funds are apparently needed to support rising costs for the bus system.

The first is a doubling of the motor vehicle license tax to $30 per vehicle. In one sense, this seems sensible to add costs to a behavior that you want to discourage to fund one you want to support. Nonetheless, this is a regressive tax. The only people the extra $15 might hurt are those truly at the margins financially. Still, I wouldn't quibble over $15.

More problematic is the second proposal which is to increase the sales tax from 2.5% to 3%. The sales tax is notoriously regressive. Carrboro's working poor will be hurt by this tax.

Both these items are on the agenda for discussion with the legislative delegation and were placed there by a unanimous vote. It's truly shocking that none of the Aldermen voted against a resolution with the sales tax provision. Hopefully it will die in discussion with the legislators if not before then.

[Note: the Herald also reports that Chapel Hill's Mayor Foy supports both tax increases.]




none of the alderman voted against a tax increase and you find that shocking? the political leadership of Chapel Hill and Carrboro have never met a tax increase they didn't like...

you free bus advocates should start getting used to a lot more of this...free bus system is going to be a cash sinkhole for a long time...

clever, mark.

So, who is suprised here? Carrboro is raising taxes, and using them for .....well, I'm sure in their infinite wisdom, they'll go to some neo-eutopian project that thrills a few and baffles the many.

Let's talk for a minute about where this money goes. Why is "corporate welfare" wrong, but free internet for the benefit of Open Eye Cafe is "progressive"? Why isn't the Farmer's Market self sustaining? It is a business. Why do Carrboro tax payers subsidize somebody's organic goat milk soap business ? I guess it's okay for government to subsidize business if its "groovy" enough. It seems to me that the free internet thing is actually a terribly regressive program, since the poorest Carrborians don't have laptops, and yet I'm sure some of this sales tax will fund this program.

I hear an awful lot about the environment from the Carrboro crowd, and yet their land use policies prevent any decent paying jobs from being created in Carrboro, so people have to get in their cars and drive to RTP or Durham to work. I guess they figure somehow, that pollution won't ever drift back and effect Carrboro air quality.

And can we talk about the highest property tax in the state being slightly incongruous with the concept of " affordable housing" ?

I'm all for free bus service, public art, and great parks and rec programs, but these guys are just bad money managers, period. Being able to balance your checkbook just means you can do math, not that you're a conservative.

Good point, Dan. NC Sales Taxes are too high already.

Bill, how about we use your tax bill to pay for Iraq and mine to pay for the bus system?

I'm with Mark. I don't have any problem paying taxes for socially beneficial programs (like the bus system) but our tax system needs to become more progressive, not less so. I was just reading earlier today about the top federal income tax bracket being lowered in 1964 from 91 percent to 77 percent. What is it today? 35? 33?

Following on Mark's point of what our tax dollars ought to support, consider this excerpt from a 2003 letter to the editor from Peggy Misch:

The annual all-day Tax Day Penny Poll held recently at the East Franklin Street post office drew 648 participants to register their preferences on how their individual federal income taxes should be spent by the U.S. government. Even before the end of the day, it became apparent that local citizens did not have the same priorities as those in Washington.

Members of the Orange County Peace Coalition gave "taxpayers" 10 pennies to distribute among seven labeled jars to "vote" for funding of services provided by the federal government. Afterward participants could compare their selections with how the 2002 federal income tax will be spent. The local choices were 30 percent for education; 20 percent for health care; 17 percent for environment; 13 percent for military; 9 percent for housing; 7 percent for transportation; and 4 percent for other (administration, Congress, foreign affairs, and judiciary).

The actual use of 2002 taxpayer money will be 32 percent for the Pentagon, 19 percent for health care, 3 percent for education, and 2 percent each for housing and environment.

Katrina Ryan wrote: "Carrboro is raising taxes, and using them for …..well, I'm sure in their infinite wisdom, they'll go to some neo-eutopian project that thrills a few and baffles the many. . . I'm all for free bus service . . ."

Dan Coleman wrote: "The funds are apparently needed to support rising costs for the bus system."

Mark, you'd be in a perfect position to explain where the tax money is going and yet you don't address the real meat of the post which is the regressive nature of the free internet service, or the farmer's market not being a revenue producer instead of a revenue drain...hmmm.

Katrina--Why do you think the free wireless service in Carrboro is regressive? Do you have any idea how much Carrboro has invested in this service? If not, its negligible.

Most communities use community access networks as an economic development instrument. High speed internet access runs around $40 a month; dial up from $10-$20. Businesses in downtown Carrboro are now getting that access for free.

Sure, not everyone has a laptop, but if the access was expanded into residential areas, you could use your desktop. Of course, there are some people in this area who don't have computers, but when the schools surveyed their students, they found over 90% had home access.

My question is why there isn't more demand to expand Carrboro's community access network.

I don't think that the farmer's market is a revenue drain.

This year we are spending $10,000 on the wireless access program. The service, in my experience, does not work at Open Eye Cafe. Note: Correction - it is $5,000 in fiscal 2004-05. -MHC

Actually, Katrina's initial post is highly sarcastic and insulting to Carrboro Aldermen. Contrary to her implication, I am fairly certain each of them is competent in basic math.

I believe Mark is correct that elected officials are hesitant to wade into this kind of forum and open themselves to abusive attacks (although we suspect that they are lurking). After all, they've done something the rest of us haven't: vetted their ideas publicly and had them endorsed by a majority of citizens (who care enough to vote). They have also made themselves available to phone and email contact from their constituents as well as to public comment at meetings.

As to specifics, keeping an eye on economic progressivity of policy does not mean you don't look out for the needs of all. We can have a bus system for those who can't afford cars (or who choose not to own or use them) and maintain roads for those with cars. Mark makes a similar point with respect to internet access at the cybrary and via wireless.

Katrina's arguments are far from “compelling.” The Farmers Market draws hundreds into Carrboro on Saturday mornings many of whom (myself included) can be seen shopping elsewhere in Carrboro afterward. So, how do you define “self sustaining” and is a narrow definition of “self” adequate to evaluating economic development programs? Clearly it is not.

Similarly, at a time when Richard Florida's “creative class” argument is old news, it is in fact important to consider what is “groovy”, especially for a town like Carrboro which cultivates and celebrates its active artistic scene.

The Mayor almost certainly meant that the Town paid to create the Town Commons, which is where the Farmer's Market and many other public functions occur.

As for the question of equitable distribution of information technology, free internet access is available at the Cybrary on the ground floor of the Century Center.

The $10,000 is not an annual figure. It is the amount we budgeted to expand the program this year.

I think it would be difficult to estimate the economic impact of being a town noted for being on the cutting edge of information technology. However, many information economy companies are located in Carrboro - a point which makes me wonder about your assertion that "[Carrboro]'s land use policies prevent any decent paying jobs from being created in Carrboro."

And in any case, economic development is not the only reason for having the wireless program. It is also intended to be a public service generally. Downtown is a geographically compact area where large numbers of people are during the day and therefore makes an efficient location for providing the service. The notion of charging for access to the wireless program has been discussed and there is still some interest in that possibility.

I am not sure why you choose to insult me and the Board of Aldermen rather than enquire into the facts. I think more elected officials would be interested in participating in OrangePolitics.org and similar endeavours if people would not abuse the forum. Greater elected official participation in this forum would be a benefit to the community, I think. But if it is going to be primarily a venue for ill-informed attacks, then the idea of e-democracy will remain just an idea.

Well, Mayor Nelson thinks the farmers market is a financial drain. He's quoted in the Jan. 21 Chapel Hill News:
“It costs us money to develop our parks, to invest in downtown, to have the Farmers Market. .” He used it as a justification for annexation.

And that $10,000 per year for wireless internet would have to generate close the 3/4 million dollars in extra taxable revenue to downtown businesses for the town to break even. Is any business really going to move to downtown Carrboro and pay those ultra inflated rent to save $40 on monthly internet service? What economic development does it actually promote ?

I've got nothing against downtown providing wireless internet. But why shouldn't a laptop/personal user not buy a yearly subscription card for $20 or $25 ? Why not charge businesses that benefit from it $250 each per year support the system ? It still subsidizes the businesses, but then doesn't cost the tax payer anything.
My point is that the Carrboro town council consistently demonstrates bad financial judgement, and the citizens pay the price.


What is the behavior you and perhaps Carrboro are trying to discourage, the ownership of automobiles or the use of gasoline? Or is it some life styles that you would like to discourage? If the purpose is to alter behavior, should ULEV vehicles be taxed differently?

Mark, not only do I agree with your points, but I wonder why you are continuing to pursue rational conversation with someone who apparently just came here to fight.

The best way we can discourage unproductive comments is to simply ignore them.


All-ya'll are doing a superb job.

If you need more money to improve town government---JUST DO IT!

It's not the taxpayers money anyway.

Mike -

I don't think Katrina was insulting you personally; she was simply raising some important questions about how taxpayers' money is being spent, and the rationale behind these decisions. I think her basic arguments are pretty compelling and well-stated. And you are definitely within your rights to correct her and respond to her where you see fit.

But to claim as an elected leader that this kind of debate is unfair or "insulting," and serves to keep town leaders from "participating" in this forum doesn't strike me as a very good argument. This is exactly what we mean by a "participative" democracy.

Cecil Bozarth

I appreciate your willingness to express your views here. I haven't seen postings from other elected officials for some time.
Part of the ‘image' problem Carrboro has, is that outsiders make all kinds of assumptions about what the aldermen really think. How would you suggest NTA residents get up to speed on the thinking behind Carrboro initiatives and policy?
I'm under the impression that Board of Aldermen meetings are not televised. If they are not televised, how can we change this? (It's hard for parents with school-aged children to make Tuesday night meetings.)

I have to agee with Cecil on this one. Just because a policy is enacted to "help people" doesn't mean that it is somehow automatically exempt from criticism or questioning.

And I think Katrina makes very valid points. Why should a town government be in the business of providing services for free when a commercial alternative is available? And where do you draw the line? Should the town provide free cable to everyone who still gets channels over-the-air? Is Carrboro going to buy a Segway for everyone who doesn't have a car? Just because it would "help" people doesn't mean it is a sound decision...

Do you really expect that a business would relocate to Carrboro just because it can save $40 a month on its Internet connection?

Finally, I don't think Mark is without blame here either. If the Town of Alderman is going to be a tax-happy body, then the members should be prepared to defend those decisions to the citizens they represent. Rather, he choose to get denfensive and make an immature crack about Iraq...

You seem to have forgotten elected officials attacking another elected official

No insult intended, Mark. I was indulging in a bit of hyperbole in order to make a point. In my opinion,and this is far from a narrowly held view, government's primary mission is to deliver services that individuals cannot reasonably provide for themselves. Roads, water and sewer, police & fire protection, schools, etc. all fall into this catagory. Internet and a Farmer's market do not. There is already an excellent venue for organic produce in town, which, by the way provides free internet, so not only is it exigent, but redundant.

And I'm not saying either the internet service or the Farmers Market should be eliminated, but they shouldn't cost the taxpayers. They shold be funded bu those that benefit from them. That's only fair.

I stand by my assertion that there are very few companies providing jobs that pay more than a subsistence wage in Carrboro. I know what retail and restaurants pay. I'd challenge you to show me numbers to the contrary.

If you look at the 2000 census, you'll see that Carrboro's population almost exactly mimics the national average in educational statistics, and yet only 28.6% of resident own their home. Nationally it's over 60%. You can't earn in Carrboro what it costs to live in Carrboro.

As Carrboro reaches out and grabs more people who think like me and less that think like Dan, the "groovy" factor in Carrboro will not be long for this world. We'll vote for lower taxes and road repairs over goatsmilk soap every election.

One point I'll agree with Katrina on is that the Aldermen's growth decisions may doom Carrboro's prevailing political culture.

If it's not too gauche to quote oneself, I wrote in my 2003 election recap that the results:

should give the alderman concern for the future. If they wish to preserve the current political culture, they would be wise to encourage new development like Pacifica that will attract the politically and environmentally progressive and limit suburban-style projects like Lake Hogan Farms.

(Herald, 11/8/2003)

Obviously the recent annexation is about as far in the wrong direction as they could go.

I'd be interested to hear Mr. Oliver's assessment of how the funding for the bus service is a "cash sinkhole," and how he would evaluate the benefits of bus service obtained versus the costs of provision. If there's a "right" and "wrong" level of bus service to provide, what is the correct level?

I can't imagine that many residents of many towns could look over their towns' budgets and agree with all of it. Indeed, my guess is that many elected officials, if asked to work on the budget individually, would allocate dollars a bit differently. So I don't expect to agree with all the spending done by Carrboro. In general, though, I think my values-and those of other Carrboro residents-are reflected in the values of our elected officials. That's the great thing about local government--it's more reflective because it's smaller. I wanted to move to Carrboro because I wanted to live in a community with my values. Isn't that why many of us are here?

I agree that the sales tax increase is regressive... but I also appreciate this tax not being put only on property owners. I like the idea of folks who visit Carrboro, but who don't live here, also contributing to the things that we all like about Carrboro. I wonder if there's another way to do this.

The Herald editors today agreed with the criticisms of the sales tax increase.

It's great that Mark Chilton has been participating in this discussion. Based on his initial comment ("NC Sales Taxes are too high already.") he seems to have rethought his vote in favor of placing the tax increase on the legislative agenda.

Perhaps there is an alderman reading this thread who actually supports the tax increase he or she voted for (they all voted in support) and who would explain that position. Anyone? A sales tax increase is desirable because... Anyone?

I'm prepared to defend anything that I voted for (or at least admit that I made a mistake if that is the case). I think it's great to question public policy in this forum; that is primarily how I use this site.

Statements like "the Carrboro town council consistently demonstrates bad financial judgement" seek to paint the seven members of the Board of Aldermen with one brush, which is misleading - though it suits some people's political agenda. Further, the essence of the comment is that I have "bad financial judgment" and I take that as an insult.

I apologize if you find the comment regarding Iraq "cheap." But the fact is that the government compels me to pay for things I don't believe in. You and I have that in common, Bill.

The towns, county, and state are all going to have to decide where they want to generate new revenues with the spending cuts being made at the federal level. Just because the president wants to cut taxes for some, doesn't mean that the programs that were funded with those revenues should go away. Does Orange Co or any local municipality get COPS money? What will the schools do when their federal funding is cut (and their expenses raised with the new high school testing requirements)? IMHO, we should all expect to simply redirect federal tax cuts locally.

Since when should the first or only solution to a government problem be to throw more dollars at it? If we have folks that can only think in terms of higher taxation, maybe they are the wrong persons for the job.

I believe its fair for taxpayers to demand that government “do more” (with the same funding). I think one question that needs to be asked and answered is: Have any of the town departments who perform “operations tasks” been able to demonstrate any new efficiency recently (including those that support public transportation)? If not, why?

If so, wouldn't this also reduce the need for at least some of the current taxation on residents? Providing that residents (or the alderman) agree, excess funds currently directed to operations that are doing more or the same work using less money could be allocated to the pieces of government infrastructure which are demonstrating an increased need for funding (i.e., buses?).

Are we in the business of growing more government or creating new local businesses? It's worth noting that local businesses are taxed and then employees pay their own taxes. Government doesn't tax itself. Residents support city properties that are off the tax roll (via taxes). Perhaps we should consider employing local businesses to perform government work? Maybe we should consider selling properties that are owned by the town that serve some function that could be replaced by a local business? That way, revenues might increase from real local commerce, not merely the creation of new local taxes.

If some of the bus routes aren't profitable or if rider-ship is low, why not drop the routes that are least used, or reduce the frequency of service on those routes?

The CHH quoted Ruby as making these comments, so I have to wonder if there are "approved" opinions:

"Blogs are written in first person. It's the most authentic. The more opinions, the better," said Sinreich.

"OrangePolitics is expressly progressive, and I really wanted it to be explicitly opinionated. One of the great things is having multiple opinions."

Clearly the aldermen think differently than Ruby. In today's Herald, Jacqui Gist is quoted as asking "How can we make sure people can get ticked off at the town and still come back and remain involved?"

There's your challenge Wayne, Bill and Katrina--put your time and effort into the town's advisory boards and make your opinions count.

Things are not always either/or decisions. A $10k investment in wifi will not break the budget although a multi-million dollar parking deck might. The former can be allocated fairly readily, the latter requires planning. The Aldermen have done a lot of planning with scads of community input around downtown development issues.

Katrina is right that one of the best investments government can make is in local job creation. For example, a local program to support residential and/or commercial energy efficiency would create jobs, almost certainly save more $$ than it cost, and help address our most pressing problem: global warming. This does not have to be direct employment although that is an option. It can be start up support for a private enterprise. Carrboro's revolving loan fund has helped created scores of jobs and should not be overlooked in discussions like this one.

Katrina--I can understand why you and your neighbors might be discouraged, but isn't that all the more reason to get actively involved? Environmentally and socially, I like what this group of aldermen have done, but I feel like financially they are pursuing technical solutions (annexation, increased sales tax) that are not sustainable and are contradictory to their publicly stated values (affordable housing, community building).

Disagreement/dissent can open doors to better communications and perhaps even a more sustainable local economy. Retreat doesn't help anyone.

You are wrong. I did not come here to fight. I am very dismayed, however, that unless I wholeheartedly agree with everything the local "progressives" do or say, I get painted as some sort of "nouveau riche" neo-con.
I do believe that before government looks for more money, it should be looking within and examining what it can do more effectively. Neither CH nor Carrboro do an adequate job of this.
I think that creating jobs is a more important mission for a local "progressive" government than subsidizing a famers market or yet another arts festival. I think a parking deck would do a lot more for downtown economic development than free Wi-Fi. I think the free bus program is great. I think it˙d be even better if it reached the most disadvantged neighborhoods that need it most.

Terrie, the board of Aldermen doesn˙t respect the will of the people any more than Ruby repects a dissenting liberal voice. An excellent recent example is the fact that the annexation plan was never presented to the northern area transition board. Sadly, my neighbors are resigning from boards, since their findings are ignored and disrespected.

I will note that for expediency˙s sake, I have referred to the board of Aldermen as a homogenous group when they are not. Special kudos to Mark for participating actively on the board and for taking the time meet with residents in the annexation area. I˙d still like to see those employment numbers though, Mark.

Katrina states:

"If you look at the 2000 census, you'll see that Carrboro's population almost exactly mimics the national average in educational statistics, and yet only 28.6% of resident own their home. Nationally it's over 60%. You can't earn in Carrboro what it costs to live in Carrboro."

I think one of the primary reasons for the low percentage is the high % of students living in apartments in Carrboro. For most students, buying a house is not appropriate given the relatively short period of time before a person moves.

Carrboro has actually had two (or maybe it was three) referenda on raising PROPERTY taxes for a bus system. In 1971, both Chapel Hill and Carrboro voted it down. In 1974, I believe both Chapel Hill and Carrboro voted, it was approved in Chapel Hill and I believe turned down in Carrboro (my memory is a little bit fuzzy) so the initial bus routes did not run into Carrboro. I think the referendum finally passed in Carrboro in 1975 or 1976. By the late 1980s, the General Assembly had removed the requirement for a referenda on property taxes for bus service.

While the revolving loan fund is a great idea, we need to address the issue of the types of the jobs being created. If you cross reference the "business catagories" with Carrboro addresses listed in the Chapel Hill Chamber of Commerce with the US department of labor industry and wage statistics, you'll find that most of the jobs are in the lowest paying sectors. ( If somebody has better methodology for determining local wages, I'd happy to consider it.) If the board was out lobbying some high-tech firms to create new energy solutions, or for example have a solar panel manufacturing plant move into town, that would be real progress. What I see from Carrboro is a lot of talk and a lot of tax, and not a whole lot of action.

I come back to my point of town merger. The intial estimates indicate that the town budget could be cut by over 20% if Chapel Hill and Carrboro merged without cutting a single program. Yet not one elected official brings this up, ever. Why?

Terrie, I suspect my neighbors will remain involved, but not on town boards. Mayor Nelson told us we were "annoying" and "ruining Carrboro" in his visit to our neighborhood. With attitudes like that, we're left with looking for new leadership, not trying to talk to the current powers that be.


The student population is only tangentially relevant to the total # of renters. Chapel Hill has 62% home ownership. Baton Rouge has 57%, College StationTx has 46.6%. Ann Arbor Michigan has 42.4% Athens Ga has 42.7%.

I think Katrina is raising some very valid questions that can result in substantive, good quality discussions in this group, even if we disagree. I've read some edgy and lively previous commentary on this website, and I don't think Katrina has set any new standards :}

A discussion about the cost effectiveness of any town expenditure whether large or small seems a logical place to start in the conversations about how to best meet the needs of a diverse community.

'Mayor Nelson told us we were “annoying” and “ruining Carrboro” in his visit to our neighborhood.'
That sounds so bad! On the other hand, were you being annoying and was he referring to your lawsuit when he said you were ruining Carrboro?
I could imagine Nelson's comments were appropriate.

Nope...there was no mention of a law suit at the time. It was before the annexation vote, and we invited all of the aldermen out to the neighborhood to see some of our concerns first hand.

To their credit, Alds. Herrera and Chilton spent a full four hours on a Saturday last December.

Mayor Nelson came out on January 22. He said that he thought it was very sad we were going to ruin Carrboro, and yet 3 days later he voted for annexation.

I'll end there before I get too much more off topic.


Carrboro has long been UNC's rental community. It had that rep when I came here in 1982 (as a graduate student)--and it has it still. I KNOW there are a lot more apartment complexes in Carrboro than in Chapel Hill. Perhaps zoning was less stringent in Carrboro than in CH in the past? Perhaps it was merely a function of open land...

Just for clarification, about how many people are you talking about when you say ‘we're left with looking for new leadership, not trying to talk to the current powers that be.'
I don't want readers to mistake the numbers ‘we' represents.


I don't want to get to far off topic, but a group of citizens are organizing to recruit and support alternate candidtes for Carrboro BOA in the fall. Brian knows more about it than I do.

I don't have a lot of time and these threads move so fast that by the time I've thought out something I want to say they have moved on. But perhaps this posting inspired by Dan's quote of himself on 2-13 is still appropriate.


It is ok to quote yourself, if it adds something to the discussion and if you still believe it. I think if you knew the people who live in the NTA you'd find, as a group, they are more diverse and progressive than you think. Are you saying Carrboro has to become less diverse and find a way to include more people who have indicated their willingness to accept party discipline by preferring to live in Gilles Blunden's overly planned communities? Does Carrboro need to reduce the number of town citizens willing to think for themselves and sometimes come to conclusions that do not meet some "progressive" standard?
I have lived in this area for almost 25 years. During that time I have found Carrboro an attractive place. I have never lived in Carrboro but apparently will a year from now. Around 20 years ago Carrboro was a vibrant community that was organic and unplanned and a center for diverse and creative activity. If anyone has been here that long, remember the Station, the cooperative art gallery(s), the old Art Center. Over the past some years, it seems like the government of Carrboro has made a large effort to regain that vibrancy and spent a lot of money doing it. While they clearly care and are committed to this effort, it seems to me because it is government directed, it lacks a certain organic-ness and diversity that existed previously. Remembering the diversity and creativity of the Sunday afternoon jazz performances (and other activities) at the Station, I wonder if the current Cats Cradle or Century Center produces anything like it. The activities there and at the Art Center brought creative people from many miles away. But then again some of them had to drive to get there and is that to be discouraged? Bringing me to a key issue of this thread. How important are free busses and how can they be supported?
My answer is: I am not sure but it will help me think about the issue if someone will answer two questions. First, does UNC contribute its fair share to supporting the bus system? The free system clearly does a lot for UNC. Second, I have heard it said that only 40% of the people that live in the Chapel Hill and Carrboro area go out of the immediate area to their occupations. Is that true and how is that number arrived at? Does that mean that 60% of area residents either work in their homes or could take the bus to work? Who is included? Does it include students? Does it include people who stay at home? I know an awful lot of people who work in the Triangle or at Duke.


Good questions. I don't have all the answers but I can answer about the buses. Chapel Hill Transit is funded by Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and UNC. I'd be interested in knowing how much each contributes and how those allocations were derived if anyone knows.

Like you've I've been here a long time and remember the Station and the old Arts Center very fondly. It's hard to visualize the Spotted Dog as the old Bullwinkle's!

How are you and your neighbors feeling about reports from the planning retreat in which the aldermen talked about changing the newly annexed areas to mixed use zoning? Clearly they agree with Katrina about the need for more commercial opportunities, but I never anticipated such growth happening so far outside of downtown.

Information about bus system's financing is readily available in the town's budget. You'll find it on the Web at http://www.townofchapelhill.org/pdfs/budget/2004-05/13%20Transportation.pdf.

Long story short: in FY05, operating the bus system is costing $11.4 million. Subsidies from UNC, the state DOT and the federal government are covering 64 percent of that expense. Chapel Hill and Carrboro taxpayers are covering 32 percent of the bill. The balance comes from the vehicle license tax and Tar Heel Express (basketball and football shuttle) fares.

The transition to fare-free service was financed largely by UNC. A student referendum sealed the deal by approving a significant increase in student fees to provide $500,000 or so in annual revenue for the purpose, on top of what the university had already pledged to the effort.

I haven't heard about the change to mixed use zoning, but it makes sense to me. I would welcome it.

Ray, thanks for the explanation on the history of the bus system. I think students get a bad rap in town sometimes, and I appreciate you mentioning that students willingly passed a referendum to pay directly for the bus. That also means that those of us who are students and property owners in Carrboro or Chapel Hill are paying for it in a few different ways (in addition to what everyone contributes via taxes to DOT, feds, etc). So those of us using it are paying more, in many cases.

As your grandfather may have said: I'm glad you've asked these questions.

Sorry if I oversimplified a bit. No, I am not suggesting that residents of either central Carrboro or peripheral Carrboro are subject to any sort of group-think. Only that their interests tend to be different. In recent years, the aldermen have concentrated on the urban core: increased density, higher buildings, downtown visioning and the like. Some residents of the periphery are interested in that, many are not. Some nearer downtown disgree with that approach. Thus, the opponents of Pacifica may have much in common with the opponents of Winmore and the opponents of the annexation, all of whom oppose policy of the board. When Carrboro annexes people who tell them they'd rather shop at Timberlyne than on Main Street then they are contributing to a change in the electorate that may affect future election results.

Giles Blunden's communities are not “overly planned”; they are differently planned. Conventional subdivisions are planned individualistically. Cohousing is planned cooperatively. Conventionally, a developer designs a project to meet an identified market at a desirable profit. Buyer input is only relevant at the margins. In some subdivisions, homeowners may have their homes custom designed and built. In cohousing, many, but not all, of these decisions are made cooperatively. But in all cases, the result is highly planned. Otherwise your roof might cave in.

Very little of what happens in downtown Carrboro is “government directed”. The town provides a few spaces – Century Center, Town Commons – and private interests provide others – Cradle, Carr Mill lawn. The town sponsors a few events but most are private. Even the town events, like the music or poetry festivals, only succeed because citizens in those communities volunteer to organize them.

Let's be clear about discouraging autos: our society is engineered so that we depend on them; their use increases social alienation, obesity, and a variety of illnesses related to air pollution; they kill or injure hundreds of thousands; they are stress-inducing; their use is contributing to global warming which promises to cause vast destruction and radically alter our way of life. So, we would do well to drive less and to use less gas and government ought to help us do so. Nonetheless, as you point out, under current development patterns and economics, neither Carrboro nor Chapel Hill's commercial districts are likely to thrive without some traffic that drives there.

You can find commuting statistics at the county web site under the economic development commission's state of the economy report.

Given the funding model for the fare free bus system (double taxation on student homeowners), it seems like those of us who live in the county and commute via the park and ride lots should be charged. Last night Council discussed the use of Smart Cards for parking. Maybe they should extend that idea to provide Smart Cards that enable fare free ridership to those who live in town or pay student fees and charge the rest of us. With the upcoming development in Chatham County, it's not too much of a long shot to presume that external ridership will increase over the next couple of years.

If the focus of this discussion has indeed moved back to whether or not it is important to fund the fare-free bus service, asking whether or not bus routes are "profitable" is the wrong question. This will yield as much insight as asking if the police or fire department are profitable.

The right question to be asking about all our transportation investments is: "what are we getting in terms of VALUE for the money we spend?"

The value we are seeking is access (by people, not necessarily vehilces) to destinations.

So how is Chapel Hill/Carrboro faring in the ACCESS department?

Ridership is up tremendously since Jan 2002 when fare-free was introduced, and ridership has grown during the summer as well as during the school year. This means that while UNC is the primary beneficiary of the policy, its contribution to the system is also increasing access for citizens in town who may have nothing to do with UNC.

Looking at profiles at the National Transit Database (www.ntdprogram.com) you can compare 2001 and 2003 data for Chapel Hill Transit to see that the cost per passenger trip is falling, and the number of passengers carried per hour of service is rising.

The fare-free policy has made the system more efficient not only because of moving the point of payment off the bus, but because it's easy- no more digging for exact change, etc.

In short, the amount of ACCESS/VALUE Chapel Hill Transit is producing per unit of COST is going up, while the unit of COST used to produce a unit of VALUE is falling. If only every government program worked this way.

As for the taxes, yes, a sales tax is regressive. Another option that some municipalities have looked into around the country include registration fees based not only on the tax value of vehicles (which is more progressive than simple per-vehicle fees) but also those based on vehicle weight.

All cars VERY slowly wear roads out as they roll down them. Of course, a 8600+ pound Hummer does a lot more damage to the road than my 2639-pound sedan.

This tax structure also addresses people's choices accordingly. The wealthy Hummer H2 buyer and the wealthy Jaguar buyer each contribute a higher fee based on their vehicle's high value (progressivity) but the weight/damage portion of the tax treats them differently because the H2 causes far greater damage to community resources than the Jaguar in terms of road maintenance.



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