Another Year of Improvements to Chapel Hill Transit

In my previous post, I mentioned that I would be advocating for an increase in the town’s contribution to Chapel Hill Transit. On June 17, the Board of Aldermen included this increase in the budget for the new fiscal year. Together with contributions from the Town of Chapel Hill and the university—and with our second annual allocation of funds from the Orange County Bus and Rail Investment Plan—Chapel Hill Transit will be able to purchase 6 much-needed replacement buses and address critical personnel shortages.

Funds from the transit plan will also bring a second round of improvements in bus service. In Carrboro, these improvements will include new trips on the D and J routes. Other improvements will include new trips on the A, NS, Saturday D, and Saturday FG routes. The EZ Rider service for persons with disabilities will operate 7 days a week. All new trips will begin during the week of August 17.

With the beginning of the new academic year at UNC, keep a look out also for the return of the Safe Ride service, including the Safe Ride J route, which provides late-night rides on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from downtown Chapel Hill and downtown Carrboro to neighborhoods along Smith Level Road, BPW Club Road, and Rock Haven Road.

Our joint contribution to Chapel Hill Transit with our friends in Chapel Hill and at UNC is one of the most important investments we make in our community. Learn more at chtransit.org, and let us know how the system is working for you. Happy riding!

We Made It to Budget Season 2014

It’s back: that time of year when the town develops a budget for the next year. And we’re seeking your input.

This Tuesday, May 20, the Board of Aldermen will hold a public hearing on the town manager’s recommended budget for the upcoming fiscal year. The budget we ultimately adopt will provide direction to the town manager and the staff in spending more than $21 million on personnel, operations, and capital purchases between July 1, 2014, and June 30, 2015.

You can find the manager’s recommended budget here. (Beware the large PDF file.) A few highlights include:

  • no increase in the property tax rate (for the sixth year in a row); 
  • a 2% cost-of-living increase in salaries for town employees, plus merit-based salary increases structured to bring salaries for the lowest-paid employees closer to the local housing wage (more on this item below);
  • another increase in the budget for human services grants;
  • funds for a comprehensive parking study;
  • a new solid waste truck and automated leaf loader; 
  • 5 replacement police vehicles (including systems that reduce engine idling); and
  • resurfacing of the tennis courts at Wilson park, resurfacing of the tennis and basketball courts at Anderson Park, and replacement of the basketball half-court with a full court at Baldwin Park.

As reported this week in the Chapel Hill News, the proposed merit-based salary increases are structured so that salaries for the town’s 15 lowest-paid employees—some as low as $26,500 per year—will increase more quickly than other salaries over the next few years, bringing them closer to the local housing wage. Most of the affected employees are groundskeepers, solid waste equipment operators, and other workers in the Public Works department. Bringing salaries for these employees closer to a meaningful housing wage represents an important improvement in the town’s existing living wage policy, a priority the board has expressed for the past few years.

Finally, I am advocating for a 5.45% increase (approximately $76,000) in the town’s contribution to Chapel Hill Transit. Although this change is not currently reflected in the proposed budget, it would help Chapel Hill Transit purchase 3 replacement buses and add a number of critical staff positions. Increased contributions from the three transit partners, along with the expected annual allocation of funds from the Orange County Bus and Rail Investment Plan, will bring a total of 6 replacement buses into the system, address personnel shortages, and further improve service on nights and weekends and during peak hours.

As always, your alderpersons want to hear from you. Please reach out to us individually or attend the May 20 public hearing to share your thoughts. You can reach me directly by e-mail at dseils@townofcarrboro.org, on Facebook, on Twitter, and by telephone.

 

A Visit With Senator Hagan

Interesting meeting between Senator Kay Hagan and several Orange County elected officials today. Chapel Hill Town Council member Maria Palmer made a passionate statement about Hagan’s vote against the DREAM Act. Hillsborough commissioner Jennifer Weaver spoke about the urgency of climate change and pleaded with Senator Hagan to reconsider her support of Keystone XL and other impending disasters.

I spoke on the following 3 issues:

  • Carrboro has a higher percentage of residents who commute by public transportation than any other community in North Carolina. (Side note: We also have the highest percentage of bicycle commuters in the state.) However, federal and state funding for transit projects is becoming more difficult to access. I spoke about the importance of increasing the ready availability of these funds (which used to be available through earmarks) and the need for transportation legislation with an authorization period longer than 2 years to enable more effective planning for large transit infrastructure projects.

  • I thanked Senator Hagan for supporting marriage equality and the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and for opposing Amendment 1. I asked her to consider cosponsoring Senate Bill 1790, the REPEAL HIV Discrimination Act, which was introduced by Senator Coons in December. Nearly 40,000 North Carolinians are living with HIV/AIDS. North Carolina is one of more than 30 states where the health code stigmatizes and criminalizes behaviors of people with HIV/AIDS. The REPEAL HIV Discrimination Act calls for interagency review of these discriminatory federal and state laws and regulations. (I also gave a shout-out to the NC AIDS Action Network.)

  • Finally, I asked Senator Hagan to reconsider her opposition to providing a conditional path to citizenship for undocumented immigrant youth. More than 1 in 5 Carrboro residents were born outside the United States. These are largely Latino and Asian immigrants, many of them children, many of them undocumented. The defeat of the DREAM Act in 2010, due largely to a handful of Senate Democrats breaking ranks (like Senator Hagan), was a real heartbreaker for more than 50,000 young North Carolinians for whom the legislation would have offered an opportunity to become citizens of the state and country where they grew up.

Resolution on Tenants’ Rights

Carrboro is unlike most communities in North Carolina (and throughout the United States) in its high proportion of renter-occupied housing. At our annual retreat on Sunday, the Board of Aldermen adopted the resolution below to recognize recent work by Orange County Justice United, EmPOWERment, Inc, the UNC Civil Legal Assistance Clinic, and the Orange County Human Relations Commission in developing a “Declaration of Tenants Rights and Obligations” (English- and Spanish-language versions).

A RESOLUTION ENDORSING ORANGE COUNTY JUSTICE UNITED’S EFFORTS TO INFORM TENANTS OF THEIR RIGHTS AND OBLIGATIONS

WHEREAS, according to the 2008-2012 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, approximately 65 percent of occupied housing units in Carrboro are occupied by renters; and

WHEREAS, tenants and potential tenants of rental housing may face unfair treatment, including disparate assessment of rent and fees; poor maintenance; improper eviction procedures; and discriminatory acts; and

WHEREAS, Orange County Justice United has worked previously with the Town of Carrboro, property owners and managers, and a variety of community partners to address instances of unfair treatment of tenants; and

WHEREAS, federal fair housing law and Chapter 42 of the North Carolina General Statutes define the rights and obligations of tenants and landlords; and

WHEREAS, Orange County Justice United, EmPOWERment, Inc, and the Orange County Human Relations Commission recently worked with students from the UNC Civil Legal Assistance Clinic to draft a “Declaration of Tenants Rights and Obligations”; and

WHEREAS, Orange County Justice United and EmPOWERment, Inc, held three fair housing workshops in 2013 to present information about tenants’ rights and to solicit public comment on the Declaration; and

WHEREAS, the Declaration summarizes the rights and obligations of tenants in Orange County, North Carolina, and provides a list of resources for tenants and potential tenants who are seeking additional information and assistance; and

WHEREAS, the Orange County Board of Commissioners, the Chapel Hill Town Council, and the Greater Chapel Hill Association of Realtors have endorsed the Declaration;

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED:

SECTION 1. The Board of Aldermen endorses the efforts of Orange County Justice United to inform tenants of their rights and responsibilities.

SECTION 2. The manager is directed to assist Orange County Justice United in identifying methods of disseminating the “Declaration of Tenants Rights and Obligations” to tenants, potential tenants, residential property managers, and landlords in Carrboro’s planning jurisdiction.

SECTION 3. This resolution shall become effective upon adoption.

Main Street and the Carrboro Music Festival

Viva la Venus

Viva la Venus at the 2012 Carrboro Music Festival. (Photo: Damon Seils)

Update below.

The 2013 Carrboro Music Festival is coming up at the end of September. If you’ve attended the music festival in previous years, you probably remember the tangle of cars, cyclists, and pedestrians that formed as people made their way through downtown during the peak hours of the event.

This year, what if we turn the music festival into another “open streets” event? Below is a message I sent to my fellow board members today.

Hi, everyone.

I want to make a proposal regarding the Carrboro Music Festival.

During last year’s music festival, E Main Street was clogged with cars—and full of people trying to make their way around cars. Traffic was bumper to bumper for a substantial period that afternoon.

I propose that we seek approval from NCDOT to close E Main Street to vehicular traffic between Greensboro and Rosemary Streets during this year’s music festival (on Sunday only). This closing would be in addition to the closing of E Weaver Street.

Jeff Brubaker [the town's transportation planner] reminded me that the idea would need to start with staff-level conversations. So, I would like to ask that conversations begin among staff to determine whether the closing would be feasible. The board would need to hear from staff soon to allow for a conversation with NCDOT and to allow sufficient time for planning.

Drivers attending the music festival would be able to park in the new parking deck (I assume), the other public parking lots downtown, and the park-and-ride lots. As in previous years, drivers not attending the music festival will be able to avoid downtown via Merritt Mill Road, Highway 54, Estes Drive Extension, etc.

Other areas in and near downtown would remain accessible. The Lloyd-Broad neighborhood would be accessible via Sunset Drive. Businesses on the 100 block of E Main Street would be accessible via Greensboro and Roberson Streets. Roberson Place and Maple Avenue would be accessible via Carr Street. Carr Mill plus the residences and businesses on the west side of downtown would be available via Greensboro Street, W Main Street, W Weaver Street, etc.

Closing this part of Main Street would make the music festival even more enjoyable for attendees. Also, considering how traffic flow through downtown was impaired last year, I believe this closing would not create much more inconvenience for drivers. If it’s too late for us to achieve it this year, perhaps we can consider it for next year.

Please share your thoughts.

Thanks,

Damon

Update: September 27, 2013

Town staff and volunteers will collect information during this weekend’s music festival about shuttle ridership, parking, and vehicular traffic.

You all have provided important feedback about the idea of closing E Main Street during some or all of next year’s festival. Issues include early conversations with NCDOT, early notification of business owners and managers (including finding ways for them to take advantage of the opportunities presented by having a downtown pedestrian mall), access for persons with impaired mobility, access for musicians, access for the Chapel Hill Transit shuttle, Fire-Rescue and Police protocols, and costs.

This information will important for us to have in planning next year’s event.

Comments to the North Carolina Utilities Commission

This evening, I made the following comments to the North Carolina Utilities Commission at a hearing in Hillsborough regarding proposed Duke Energy rate increases:

“With more and more funding cuts being made at state and federal levels, North Carolina’s towns, cities, counties, and school districts must provide vital services on increasingly constrained budgets. Fashionable fiscal austerity policies in Raleigh are shifting the burden to local governments, and many have found they must raise taxes to maintain services and quality of life.

“So far, my town has been relatively fortunate. We have been able to avoid property tax increases for the past few years. But, like other municipalities, we have done this in part by postponing much needed maintenance and improvement of infrastructure and equipment.

“Another rate increase by Duke Energy will mean higher costs for local governments. A major cost for a town like Carrboro, and the single largest source of the town’s municipal carbon dioxide emissions, is street lighting. In addition to a large rate hike for residential customers, Duke Energy is proposing an increase in lighting costs, even while neglecting to make it easier for municipalities to lease high-efficiency lighting infrastructure. So another rate increase will hit Duke’s residential customers doubly hard, both directly through their power bills and indirectly through their municipal taxes.

“We also should not overlook the fact that today, about two hours ago, Orange County declared a state of emergency in response to Sunday’s catastrophic flooding that displaced dozens of our neighbors. Not surprisingly, many of those most affected by the flooding are lower-wealth residents who have limited resources and social support networks to assist them through this crisis — the same people who will be burdened by bigger electric bills. Once again, it is our local governments, along with nonprofit agencies, that will bear the costs of providing services to those in need.

“We know, unequivocally, that we can expect more of these kinds of emergencies. Global climate change is here, and the odds have changed to make extreme weather events more likely.

“Duke Energy and other electric utility providers should be giving priority to energy efficiency and conservation. Instead, we have been presented with a plan that aims to achieve the opposite.

“This is not the time to put greater pressure on North Carolina’s towns and cities. Duke Energy should be asked to tighten its belt just like everyone else. Instead, Duke is seeking yet another rate increase to pay for dirty, dangerous, and costly forms of energy production that its customers don’t need.”

Another Resolution on Rogers Road

On Tuesday, June 18, the Board of Aldermen unanimously adopted a resolution to reaffirm its commitment to participating in provision of a community center and sewer improvements in the Historic Rogers Road Neighborhood.

A RESOLUTION TO PROVIDE COMMENT ON ALTERNATIVES DISCUSSED BY THE
HISTORIC ROGERS ROAD NEIGHBORHOOD TASK FORCE

WHEREAS, for more than 40 years, the people of Orange County have burdened the Rogers Road community by disposing of municipal solid waste in the nearby landfill; and

WHEREAS, the Board of Aldermen believes that Orange County, the Town of Carrboro, and the Town of Chapel Hill should work in partnership to equitably, and in proportion to their responsibility, share the costs of providing a community center and sewer improvements in the Historic Rogers Road Neighborhood, just as the partners share the privilege of owning, operating, and using the landfill; and

WHEREAS, on November 14, 2012, the Historic Rogers Road Neighborhood Task Force unanimously recommended to the Assembly of Governments “that the costs of both a New Community Center and Sewer Improvements be shared by the local governments, at the same costs sharing percentages as outlined in the 1972 Landfill Agreement, 43% for Orange County, 43% for The Town of Chapel Hill and 14% for The Town of Carrboro”; and

WHEREAS, 14% of the estimated cost of providing a community center and sewer improvements in the Historic Rogers Road Neighborhood is approximately $900,000; and

WHEREAS, on September 18, 2012, the Board of Aldermen unanimously adopted the following statement: “The Town of Carrboro has the intention of contributing not more than $900,000 for the town’s portion of the community center and cost of the sewer project. The town manager shall research funding sources. Town staff shall also investigate how the town can recoup the sewer line investment costs from developers. The board expresses its appreciation to the county for their commitment to the project and requests that the Town of Chapel Hill consider their share of the contribution”; and

WHEREAS, on June 12, 2013, the Historic Rogers Road Neighborhood Task Force discussed two alternative plans for sewer improvements in the neighborhood and requested comment on those plans from the Board of Aldermen, the Chapel Hill Town Council, and the Orange County Board of Commissioners; and

WHEREAS, alternative 1 involves construction of a sewer project to serve 78% of the parcels in the Historic Rogers Road Neighborhood (segments 5, 6, and 8 on the Historic Rogers Road Area Sewer Concept May 2012 Map) at an estimated cost of approximately $3.7 million. Under this alternative, the Town of Carrboro would contribute $900,000 toward the cost of the sewer project, and Orange County would contribute the remaining $2.8 million. The Town of Chapel Hill would not contribute to the sewer project but would reimburse Orange County for the cost of constructing the community center (estimated at $650,000); and

WHEREAS, alternative 2 involves construction of a sewer project to serve 100% of the parcels in the Historic Rogers Road Neighborhood (segments 1 through 8 on the Historic Rogers Road Area Sewer Concept May 2012 Map) at an estimated cost of approximately $5.8 million. Under this alternative, the Town of Carrboro would contribute up to $900,000 toward the cost of the community center and the sewer project, and Orange County and the Town of Chapel Hill would contribute the remaining amount. This alternative would require the Town of Chapel Hill to initiate a request for extraterritorial jurisdiction and Orange County to approve the request so that the Town of Chapel Hill can contribute funds for its share of the community center and the sewer project in proportion to its responsibility; and

WHEREAS, the attachment to this resolution shows the costs and potential cost sharing associated with each of the alternatives;

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED:

SECTION 1. The Board of Aldermen prefers alternative 2 for two reasons. First, this alternative will provide sewer improvements to the entire Historic Rogers Road Neighborhood. Second, this alternative will enable all of the partners—Orange County, the Town of Carrboro, and the Town of Chapel Hill—to equitably share the costs of the community center and sewer improvements in proportion to their responsibility.

SECTION 2. If the Orange County Board of Commissioners and the Chapel Hill Town Council do not favor pursuing alternative 2, the Board of Aldermen is willing to explore alternative 1 and remains committed to contributing not more than $900,000 for the town’s portion of the community center and sewer improvements.

SECTION 3. The clerk is directed to send a copy of this resolution to the chair of the Orange County Board of Commissioners, the mayor of the Town of Chapel Hill, and the members of the Historic Rogers Road Neighborhood Task Force.

ATTACHMENT TO THE RESOLUTION

Alternative 1

Costs

  • Sewer: $3,700,000
  • Community center: $650,000
  • Total: $4,350,000

Cost Share Among the Partners

  • Carrboro: $900,000 (20.7%)
  • Chapel Hill: $650,000 (14.9%)
  • Orange County: $2,800,000 (64.4%)

Alternative 2

Costs

  • Sewer: $5,800,000
  • Community center: $650,000
  • Total: $6,450,000

Cost Share Among the Partners

  • Carrboro: $900,000 (14.0%)
  • Chapel Hill: share to be determined ($2,775,000 [43.0%])
  • Orange County: share to be determined ($2,775,000 [43.0%])

Carrboro’s Towing Rules

With the news today that the North Carolina Court of Appeals lifted the injunction on the Town of Chapel Hill’s towing ordinance, here’s a primer on the Town of Carrboro’s rules about the towing of vehicles from private property:

  • The towing company may not charge more than $100 for the towing of your car.
  • The towing company may not charge more than $20 per day for the storage of your car.
  • The towing company may not begin charging for the storage of your car until 24 hours after towing the car.
  • The towing company must accept payment by major credit/debit card or cash.

To learn more, read page 8-32 of the Carrboro Town Code at http://townofcarrboro.org/TC/PDFs/TownCode/TownCodeCh08.pdf.

The town will be sending a letter this week to local businesses explaining the towing rules. If a towing company tells you something inconsistent with the rules above, please contact the town manager at TownManager@townofcarrboro.org.

Statement on Mega Moral Monday

Mayor Mark Chilton, Alderwoman Michelle Johnson, Alderman Damon Seils, and Alderman Sammy Slade of Carrboro; and Council Member Donna Bell of Chapel Hill

From left to right, Mayor Mark Chilton, Alderwoman Michelle Johnson, Alderman Damon Seils, and Alderman Sammy Slade of Carrboro; and Council Member Donna Bell of Chapel Hill

This morning, Mayor Chilton released the following statement about yesterday’s events at the North Carolina General Assembly:

“Yesterday, I went to the General Assembly with Carrboro Aldermen Sammy Slade, Damon Seils and Michelle Johnson as well as Chapel Hill Town Councilmember Donna Bell. We went to lawfully and respectfully seek to exercise our State Constitutional rights under Article I, section 12: ‘The people have a right to assemble together to consult for their common good, to instruct their representatives, and to apply to the General Assembly for redress of grievances.’

“We asked to meet with House Speaker Thom Tillis. We obeyed building rules by not carrying signs or clapping or singing and we were unlawfully and unconstitutionally placed under arrest.

“We sought to apply to Speaker Tillis for a redress of our grievances about curtailment of voting rights, reductions in public education, the assault on women’s right to choose, the undermining of Jordan Lake water quality, the decision not to expand Medicaid, the reduction in unemployment benefits and several other issues of critical concern to the people of North Carolina.

“If Article I, section 12 does not mean that duly elected local representatives of the people have the right to come to the General Assembly while it is in session and peacefully, quietly and calmly request a meeting with a member of the State House of Representatives, then I have to ask: What does it mean?”