By James Kiefer
In a decision heavy evening, Chapel Hill Town Council members took some initial steps Wednesday toward improving road safety and made a potential stride toward expanding affordable housing opportunities. With a vote on next fiscal year’s budget still looming, the council also parsed a more fleshed out draft of next fiscal year’s budget that calls for new hiring and pay increases.
Navigating next year’s budget
Following residential petitions, Town Manager Maurice Jones offered up his recommended budget in an information session. He said the town is well positioned from increased tax revenue as well as funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), of which the Town is slated to receive $10 million.
Jones ballparked the 2022-2023 budget at just under $128 million, which he noted was an 8.9% increase from the previous fiscal year. The only proposed tax change would be raising the current property tax rate to 51.9 cents, a half-cent increase.
Other standouts from Jones include a staggered pay raise for Town staff. He explained the budget allocates a 4% increase for staff who have fewer than five years of employment with the Town and a 5% raise for those at above the five-year mark. Also folded into the budget are funds to hire for several positions such as a grants administrator, a new hire for the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, a compensation analyst and a planning technician.
The budget remains subject to several hearings and work sessions throughout May, some of which include opportunities for feedback from the public. The council anticipates a vote on the budget June 8.
Tentative affordable housing
Council also allocated funds to a potential affordable housing project in Chapel Hill. It slated $1.35 million toward The Indigo, a 51-unit rental complex that aims to serve residents whose income falls between 30% and 60% of the area median income (i.e., households with income between ~$30,000-$60,000 for a family of four), according to affordable housing development officer Emily Holt.
The money comes from a $10 million bond Chapel Hill voters approved in 2018. That referendum proposed to spend the money in three ways: acquisition of property, home repairs and construction of affordable housing. Around $5.25 million has already been allocated to other affordable housing endeavors.
Holt explained that the funding allocation only works if The Indigo receives a tax credit award from the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency; the money returns to the bond fund if the tax credit is not obtained.
Council member Karen Stegman inquired how long the units in the proposed complex would be required to remain affordable. Holt responded that, in order to receive the tax credit, the units would need to remain affordable for 30 years.
A unanimous vote handed down by council members now classifies “dooring” as a misdemeanor within Chapel Hill. Complete Street Specialist Jordan Powell explained doing so will simplify incident reporting with law enforcement and the issuance of citations and will clarify insurance claims. He also defined dooring as “opening a door of a motor vehicle onto another road user.”
The move follows a string of traffic incidents that raised concern among elected officials and citizens. In February, cyclist Nicholas Watson died after striking the open door of a car parked along West Franklin Street. Chapel Hill Police ultimately decided not to pursue charges.
Powell reminded council members that passing a dooring resolution is in lock step with the Vision Zero Resolution it passed in 2021. Vision Zero is a traffic safety initiative that sets the goal of eliminating traffic-related deaths and injuries by 2031. The resolution also calls for similar goals such as setting safer speed limits and intelligent road design.
“Speeding on residential streets is a very common concern of neighbors living across the town,” he remarked. “This adds another tool to our tool kit as far as addressing a very frequent concern from neighbors,” Powell said.
Also included in the council’s vote are changes to speed limits on two streets. Powell explained all town-maintained roads except stretches on Piney Mountain Road and Legion Road have 25 miles-per-hour speed limits. He explained lowering those speed limits could help improve safety along those paths and give the Town a more unified traffic plan.
Additionally, four schools have been added to the school zone code for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools; the zone now includes all schools within Chapel Hill corporate limits. The decision impacts Rashkis Elementary School, Glenwood Elementary School, Northside Elementary School and Mary Scroggs Elementary School.
Councilperson Paris Miller-Foushee asked about implementing similar planning concepts around places like community centers or other areas used by children. She said reducing speed limits and providing crosswalks would definitely be appreciated.
Other business handled during the meeting included:
- The council granted the town manager the ability to implement neighborhood “slow zones;”
- The council approved a conditional zoning request for 307 N. Roberson St.;
- The council opened a legislative hearing for a conditional zoning for 107 Johnson St.:
- Council members received an update on the Orange County Transit Plan.