Town of Chapel Hill approves $156.9 million budget, November bond orders


By Adam Powell

On the evening of June 5, Chapel Hill’s Town Council enacted an ordinance establishing its 2024-25 fiscal year budget, while also approving a collection of five bond referendum orders that will come before town voters in November.

The approval of the town’s $156.9 million budget for fiscal year 2024-25 marks a 4 percent increase over the town’s 2023-24 budget, and includes a 2 cent property tax increase for local property owners. Approximately 1 1/2 cents of the 2 cent property tax increase is earmarked for Chapel Hill’s General Fund, and another half-cent is earmarked for the town’s Transit Fund.

Among the highlights of the new budget are a 6 percent market cost of living adjustment for town employees, and the establishment of a new property tax rate of 59.2 cents per 100 dollars of assessed property value.

“Our budget reflects our values,” Chapel Hill Town Manager Chris Blue said. “The priorities and values that are reflected in this budget – people are the No. 1 priority. So the team members and the way we get things done – core services to big projects and advancing your goals. With this budget, we continue to all the folks who make this organization go. We value of course our community values and the excellent services that those folks provide – emergency response to solid waste collection to library books.”

“Our residents really do receive world class services,” Blue continued. “And with this budget, we can continue to make sure those services function well, especially as the cost of providing them continues to rise.”

“I just wanted to express my support for the rate of pay for all of the levels of employees and our staff,” added council member Elizabeth Sharp. “And I wanted to share support for making sure that we are always paying our public servants. If we want to attract and retain quality talent to do the jobs that we rely on, within that, I think we need to be very careful that we are maintaining an efficient operation. But I am very much in support of making sure that our employees are paid not only a living wage, but something that entices them to do this work for our town.”

There were a few minor tweaks to the final budget approved by council compared to the recommended budget that was presented to them in May. Specifically, there was an additional $70,094 in salary matches for planning grant, along with personnel adjustments in the amount of $7,174, leaving the final amount of General Fund changes for this budget at $62,920. 

The town also received new grants in the amount of $726,895, which will go towards the new budget, along with a new donation of $9,875 to the Chapel Hill Library’s gift fund. There was also a reduction in the amount of $109,847 associated with a new position within the town’s Affordable Housing Development Revenue (AHDR ) – a housing program coordinator.

“The new housing program coordinator position – this new position (funded through the AHDR) will manage the campus transitional housing program, employee housing program and also provide support to the numerous other exciting initiatives happening to advance your affordable housing plan,” Blue explained of the new $109,847 allocation.

Along with the new housing program coordinator position that is being created, the town is committing several million additional dollars to affordable housing efforts.

“With this budget, we will dedicate close to $3 million for affordable housing efforts, many of which are done in conjunction with our excellent community partners,” Blue explained. “And we are of course committed to doing our part to address the local affordable housing crisis.”

Funding initiatives within this budget include $500,000 each for Operations and Fleet, along with $250,000 each for Facilities and Streets, resulting in $1.5 million in extra initiatives within the General Fund. For the Transit Fund, an additional $488,000 was allocated for a funding initiative related to Operations.

“We’re committed to addressing the organizational priorities of staffing, operations, services, facilities and fleet while continuing to invest in your (the council’s) goals around affordable housing and complete community. And we are stewards of multiple funds and budgets,” Blue said.

This year’s budget cycle included a council retreat on February 2 and 3 and work sessions on March 13 and April 15, which led up to the presentation of the recommended budget to town leaders on May 1. Following a May 15 public hearing, the council was ready to move forward with next year’s fiscal year budget at the June 5 session, and voted unanimously in favor of it. The new fiscal year budget will go into effect on July 1.

Moving on to the proposed 2024 bond referendum, town leaders set a public hearing for each of the bond referendum orders – five in total – on Monday, June 17. Following that public hearing, the bond orders will be authorized for the fall ballot. Each bond order will be voted on individually in November.

Chapel Hill is asking for $44 million in bond referendum funding, broken down into the five bond orders of Affordable Housing ($15 million), Public Facilities ($15 million), Streets and Sidewalks ($7.5 million), Parks and Recreation Facilities ($4.5 million), and Open Space and Greenways ($2 million).

Following the June 17 public hearing, the town council will formally adopt the five bond orders, while also setting ballot questions and the date of the referendum, which will almost certainly be November 5, the date of the 2024 general election.

“Together we’ve been thoughtful about combining needs, considering staff capacity, and leveraging outside funds,” said mayor Jessica Anderson. (As a result of this) Our dollars go further. We also worked hard to make sure we’re aligning our decisions with our five-year budget strategy and our long term capital plan.”

Mayor Anderson, a former town council member who ran successfully last fall for the town’s top post touting Chapel Hill’s Complete Community Framework and the proposed bond, was especially pleased to see these long-sought-after municipal aims formally put into motion.  

“As you know, everything for me comes back to Complete Community and the bond package,” the mayor said. “We’re making progress across many departments towards many important and interconnected roles. And most importantly, these funds will allow us to invest up to $44 million and make progress in key areas that we all care about. Affordable housing, greenways, public safety, facilities, and sidewalks, without raising taxes, which is maybe my favorite part besides the investment. I’m really excited to bring this to the public next fall.”

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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