Chapel Hill moving forward with $44 million fall bond referendum


By Adam Powell

CHAPEL HILL–The Town of Chapel Hill has taken steps to include a $44 million bond referendum on the November 2024 ballot. The town is looking to finance a wide range of future projects and long-desired aims of various departments throughout the city.

At its May 15 business meeting, the town council unanimously adopted a resolution stating the town’s intention to proceed with the bond referendum on November 5, with an amount not exceeding $44 million.

In North Carolina, public approval is required for the issuance of most municipal general obligation bonds. Public approval is gained through a public vote or a referendum. Referendum questions that will be formally placed on the ballot must be put into what are called bond orders.

What is a bond order?

Bond orders must be appropriated for a particular purpose, such as affordable housing or parks and recreation. Once the specific bond order amount is established, the amount approved on the bond order is the maximum amount that can be borrowed for that particular purpose.

Chapel Hill town staff determined that the town’s available debt capacity over the next five to six years was approximately $50.5 million. Approximately $6.5 million of that available debt capacity has been allocated for installment financing for the new Rosemary Street Parking Deck, leaving the approximately $44 million that the town is asking voters to approve this fall.

“Once we take off the $6.5 million with the 2024 installment financing, the remaining capacity that we have without the need for a tax increase is $44 million,” said Chapel Hill Business Management Director Amy Oland. “We asked our departments to submit their top three capital project requests for consideration as we discussed the referendum. We evaluated these requests against Council’s strategic goals and priorities, community interests, master plans, and the urgency and shovel-readiness of the projects.”

Of the $44 million requested through the bond referendum, $15 million is allocated for affordable housing, and another $15 million is allocated for public facilities. An additional $7.5 million is set aside for streets and sidewalks, $4.5 million for parks and recreation facilities, and $2 million for open space and greenways.

What happens next?

The recently adopted resolution authorizes staff to publish the notice of intent to file an application with the Local Government Commission (LGC) and make a legislative committee filing, which is necessary to file the application with the LGC formally. Town staff must also provide formal written notice to the Orange County Board of Elections that a bond referendum will be on the fall ballot.

One public speaker at the May 15 session (Jenna Kubiak of the Orange County Affordable Housing Coalition) expressed appreciation at the council’s efforts to close the gap in local affordable housing, while also indicating that more work must be done in the coming years.

“Hundreds of Chapel Hill residents have signed petitions, written emails, and attended council meetings to let you know how important affordable housing is to them, and to the well-being and equity of our entire community,” said Kubiak, a Masters in Public Administration (MPA) student at UNC-Chapel Hill. “We are grateful to the members of this council who have fought hard to prioritize critical resources for affordable housing and the bond.”

“This bond is the best opportunity to fund the town’s approved five-year, $50 million affordable housing plan and investment strategy, which calls for a minimum bond amount of $29 million and increased annual funds to help build and achieve these goals,” continued Kubiak.

Kubiak suggested the town find alternative funding sources to continue pursuing additional options to close the affordable housing gap in Chapel Hill.

“We have heard from the council and staff that alternative resources exist to supplement the bond,” explained Kubiak. “We now call on proactive and transparent follow-up in identifying additional resources needed to fill the gap, and fully fund the town’s affordable housing plan. We recognize that process requires difficult decisions and that each [council member] carefully weighs these trade-offs.”

“We celebrate a bond moving forward in 2024, and look forward to partnering with the town to help get the bond across the finish line this fall,” concluded Kubiak.

Following the unanimous approval of the bond referendum adoption, Mayor Jessica Anderson spoke about all the many things this funding will provide Chapel Hill in the coming years.

Mayor Anderson remarks

“I do want to thank our [town] manager [Chris Blue] and staff for working so hard to bring us a bond referendum for 2024,” said Anderson. “We know it’s been a lot of work. I also want to just reiterate to the public that this bond issuance will allow Chapel Hill to move forward on important projects without raising taxes. We like that. Also, that voter approval allows us to borrow money for those projects at a lower rate, which is really important.”

According to the mayor, town staff will be working on a communications plan to educate the public about the bonds, which will roll out in the late summer or early fall.

“It is the town’s role to educate, not advocate, for the bonds,” explained Anderson. “So council will also hear more [in the coming months] on how the town will be helping to educate the community [about the referendum)].”

A public hearing will be held on Wednesday, June 5, when residents can voice their opinions on the proposed bond referendum. The ballot questions for November, along with the referendum date, would be scheduled for the agenda of the town council’s Monday, June 17 meeting.

Adam Powell is a reporter on local news and sports and an education communications professional. A 2001 graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, Powell has served as managing editor of multiple local publications, including the Mebane Enterprise, News of Orange County and The public information officer for Rockingham County Schools in Eden, N.C., Powell is the author of four books and lives in Mebane with his wife and two children.
This reporter can be reached at Info@TheLocal

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