Future Vision for Chapel Hill

 First to be clear I am supporting Mark Kleinschmidt for mayor.  Below is a link to a letter I wrote to the Chapel Hill News supporting Mark is you wish to read it.


 In my last blog I challenged the assertion made by councilman Czajowski that rising taxes were impacting the demographics of Chapel Hill in a manner which was reducing diversity in town.  I also thought, given that property taxes are being raised by several candidates in the race, that it would be good to review them.  Please check me if I am in error, but I believe the current tax rate for someone living in Chapel Hill (as I do) is:

  • Orange County             85.8
  • Chapel Hill City             49.4
  • Special District CHCCS  18.8
  • Total                            154.0

Then I tried to look for the best data I could find to compare our tax rate to other cities in NC.  The link below provides property tax data for many cities in NC.  It shows the tax burden for many cities in NC.  In it you will find that the yearly tax burden for houses valued in the $200 to $400 K range are within +/- $200 of our tax burden in Burlingon, Charlotte, Durham, New Bern, Sandford, Winston Salem and below some city such as Rocky Mount. 


I would submit that this data suggests that Chapel Hill's tax rate is well within the norm for NC.  Furthermore, it is my firm opinion that we receive and enjoy a good return on our tax payments.  

With regard to other factors which impact cost of living, the town provides free buses which ease the cost of transportation for many people, works to try to maintain affordable housing in town with the tools available, supports key private charitable organziations like the Orange Community Land trust.

As I mentioned in my letter to the editor, I love living and raising my family in a town where bond issues to invest in the library passes by 70% of the vote, where hundreds of people will come to the county commissioner meetings to support their schools, where those same people will walk Franklin street each year to raise money with the Public School foundation, where walkability and connectivity are considered when evaluating development proposals. 

Certainly there is always room for improvement in any town or government, but the anti-incumbent message does not reasonate with me.  When I read through the websites and other public statements of the conservative candidates, I can't get over the impression that their vision of a future Chapel Hill is one that moves us away from values and priorities which have helped to make our home, our community such a special place as we fade into the generic sprawl that defines much of rest of the triangle.  That's not the future I want. 




Again, you assert:

In my last blog I challenged the assertion made by councilman Czajowski that rising taxes were impacting the demographics of Chapel Hill in a manner which was reducing diversity in town.

What he said was:

It is very clear that the property tax burden has become unsustainable. Many of the very people who have contributed to making Chapel Hill a special place are now being forced to consider leaving our town, counter to our cherished goal of preserving diversity at all levels.

I hope that you consider the difference between his quote and your assertion.

Certainly there are other reasonable interpretations of Mr. Czajowski's statement than the one I draw.  What I am attempting to highlight here is that the taxes in Chapel Hill do not appear to be out of line with other cities in NC.  This data suggests to me that our town government over the past years has done a reasonable job of providing city services at reasonable cost.   When you read Mr. Czajowski's statement that "It is very clear that the property tax burden has become unsustainable." the reader would draw the inference that Chapel Hill's taxes were out of line with other cities in NC.  This does not seem to be the case.If Chapel Hill's taxes were out of line with other cities this would suggest that there were signficant inefficiencies in city government which would allow for tax reduction without signficant loss of services.  Given that our taxes are not out of line, it suggest to me that we can only have tax reduction along with reduction of services.  This is not something I favor.You could attempt to argue that all city governments are inefficient in their spending, a reasonably common conservative talking point during election cycles.  I find this view to be a bit cynical.

I read the statements over a few times and cannot find an appreciable difference in their meanings.

I agree with Mark M. Matt says:

Many of the very people who have contributed to making Chapel Hill a special place are now being forced to consider leaving our town, counter to our cherished goal of preserving diversity at all levels

If people are being forced to leave Chapel Hill, counter to a goal of preserving diversity, Matt must be arguing that the people leaving are reducing diversity,and this works out mathematically only if it is the "diverse" people who are leaving.  Jeff has documented that diversity (based on race) is not in fact being reduced.Now, what may be happening is that poor diverse people are leaving and more affluent diverse persons are replacing them in different parts of town. Some people are reading Matt's comments as dealing with racial diversity, but it in fact may be economic diversity.

the word consider dramatically affect the meaning?  To me it does.

Jeff--in your letter you wrote: "Mark takes the time to gather input from all and has a history of driving solutions which benefit the entire community."You've now posted twice on why you don't like Matt C but your reasons for supporting Mark K are not addressed at all--other than that he isn't Matt.I would find it most helpful if you would focus more on why Mark deserves your support by giving specific examples. 

Terri,I posted the link to the letter to make sure that I was upfront about my support for Mark (thought I would think it was obvious).  The intent was to promote discussion about comparative tax rates in NC.I have gotten the chance to know Mark over the years and have been impressed that whatever the issue, Carolina North, development issues in Eastgate, transportation issues, panhandling concerns, etc. that Mark demonstrates a detailed knowledge of the issues and the perspectives of each side.  This, to me demonstrates, an appropriate level of due diligence on his part which I appreciate.  My support for him stems from the fact that he tends to come to the same conclusion that I have.  This tends to be how we all select our preferred candidates.With regard to not supporting Matt C.  I don't share, what appears to be his primary theme, that our town governance has been poor that that we need to fundamentally change our policies.  Additionally, I tend to be wary of any politician who leads with an anti-tax statement.  In Mr. Czajowski's case we only have one data point, he thinks our current rate of taxation is too high.  So I am perhaps extrapolating unfairly, but I wonder if the tax rate was say 20% lower, if he would still be running an anti-tax campaign.  Lastly, as I have pointed out in my two blog entries.  Others may, and have disagreed, but my conclusion is that the data to not support the positions stated on Mr. Czajowski's website.  I don't find the same issues with Mark's statements or policy positions.  Different people care about different things, and this is an issue which is important to me.

Discounting all taxes other than municipal, here are some historical data. What I can't answer is how services are distributed between county and municipalities other than in Orange County. For example, Orange County pays for most of our human services. I don't know whether that's the case for all counties or not.  In 2002-03, the median tax rate for NC municipalities only was  $0.45 and for Chapel Hill it was $0.553 (Carrboro was $0.6852). In 2005-05, the median tax rate for NC municipalities only was  $0.45 and for Chapel Hill it was $0.5750 (Carrboro was $0.7148). In 2007-08, the median tax rate for NC municipalities only was  $0.45 and for Chapel Hill it was $0.5250 (Carrboro was $0.6537). In 2008-09, the (preliminary) median tax rate for NC municipalities only was  $0.43 and for Chapel Hill it was $0.4940 (Carrboro was $0.5894). Using this data, the local tax rate is higher than the norm, but both Chapel Hill and Carrboro have been successful in reducing their municipal portion of the overall tax burden. However, as someone else noted, because property values here in Orange County are higher than the norm, the overall tax burden is going to be higher even if the tax rate drop.  Reference: http://www.dornc.com/publications/propertyrates.html Finally, I can find no statement that Matt C has made that would justify calling him anti-tax. There's a huge difference between being anti-tax and being pro-fiscal discipline. To me, managing local finances is as much a part of sustainability as is environmental protection. We know that property taxes can be reduced if we expand our business base (businesses pay for more than they use in municipal services; residences use more services than they pay for). Bringing balance between property taxes and other revenues sources is what Matt is campaigning on. Progress toward that goal is mandatory if we want to ensure that our remaining low income residents and those on fixed incomes can stay in their homes.

I've been very disappointed in following the various candidate forums that we haven't heard many solutions.  I blame that, at least in part, to the formats that allow candidates 30-60 seconds, hardly enough for more than a few quick soundbites.  But while candidates talk about cutting taxes or restricting tax increases, I haven't heard any specific examples of what "fluff" they will cut out of the budget.  Someone running for office should certainly have taken the time to look over the current budget and to pour over the minutes of budget meetings to be able to give us some concrete examples of all that fluff.  I've also heard candidates talk about building affordable single-family homes, rather than condos, but I haven't heard them talk about where they'll find the land to do so (Chapel Hill is probably 95% built-out) nor where they'll find the money to buy the land even if they can find it.I would really love to see a candidate 'debate' where candidates could challenge statements (misstatements) made by their opponents and where we might actually hear about some concrete solutions to our problems.  Telling us we have problems is not news but telling us how they intend to solve them, with actual details, certainly would be.

This town is clearly committed to the rural buffer boundary.  I think you also have to acknowledge that UNC is growing and will continue to grow. Therefore, we as a town have 2 options:  1) we can support growth within our boundary.  This means (by definition) more density -- through infill in non-developed spaces or redevelopment.   or 2) we can stay as we are and push growth out beyond our control.  This means South Durham, Northern Chatham, and beyond.Now some candidates for mayor and council have proposed that growth within our borders makes sense and we should make sure we have policies which support this happening.  Does that mean that CH will change from what it was 32 years ago when I moved here?  Yes.  Does that mean our "values" will change?  No.  In fact, it is very supportive of our environmental values to have in-town growth instead of making folks drive from Durham/Raleigh/Chatham.    Your vision seems to be the same as my wife's -- against both density and sprawl.  I'd really like to see a policy  which would make that work!  Sticking your head in the sand (as I think many current council members do) about the reality of growth and thinking that blocking development in CH somehow is a positive thing in the bigger picture is myopic. 

I am personaly pro-density, which I think is consistent with long-standing town policy of establishing the growth boundary and with factoring in walkability and public transport in developing plans.

I have a question perhaps someone could help with. How do property values in CH compare with the other cities whose tax rates you cite? I ask because  although we were told by politicians and administrators that property taxes would not go up, what that meant was the town's and county's revenue would not go up. Taxes paid on particular pieces of property did go up more than the comparable increase in valuations to adjust for decreases in vehicle licenses and other recession revenue reductions. After getting the first valuation reduced for our house, the tax assessor still said our house was worth more than the bank (a few months later) said it was worth.  While you may correctly argue that the tax RATE is comparable, what about the property values? I am wondering if we are not quite framing the question correctly because strangely, I think both sides have a point here. Ideas?

the same size house and lot (or condo) is going to be assessed substantially more in Chapel Hill than in Durham. In a corollary, a $250,000 valuation house in Durham is not the same as a $250,000 valuation house in Chapel Hill, but the valuation is the same. So it's apples and oranges unless you get the correct comparison.

What seems to be missing is not what the tax bill looks like compared to other places, but what our citizens on fixed incomes actually face.  The issue is that the rate of increase in their taxes and other living costs is exceeding their COLAs and other possible increases in income.  Look at property valuation for just one example.  Have any of you been on Longview St. lately?  What do you think that beautiful new construction will do to those other homeowners?

I would agree with Fred and also add the statment that the grorwth overall has been astronimical over the last 10-15 years. When you factor in revaluations and regular budget growth, I can see where property taxes are becoming a factor in county and city demographics. This is a real problem and not sustainable, witness the huge amounts of people that turned to discuss there taxes with the commissioners after revaluation notices came in. Unfortunately the commisioners did not listen and went along with the ridiculous revaluations and imposing a rate that was not revenue neutral and creating a propery tax increase for most of county land owners. I as have many see a point when I will be living on a fixed income and can see that gentrification from my house is a possibility if these rate keep growing as they have. The county must find ways to distibute revenue demands to other sources such as higher impact fees, transfer tax on real estate, sales tax and anything else that sounds reasonable and not rely on the property tax for most of it's revenue.I'll be anxious to see how the Grennbridge development affects Northside property valuations.

Apparently Mark Kleinschmidt agrees with Matt C about the need to reduce municipal taxes. A quote from the OrangeChat blog: "We have an issue with taxes in this town," he said. "We have some of the highest municipal taxes in the region." 


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