The other tax drain?

Deborah Fulghieri is an ETJ (Extra-Territorial Jurisdiction) member of the Planning Board. Here’s what she has to say on the recent sale of Eastowne Office Park, owned by Blue Cross Blue Shield, to UNC Health Care:

It was a surprise to learn that Chapel Hill’s economic development officer does not live, vote or pay property taxes in Chapel Hill. His assertion that he could not afford what he wanted in Chapel Hill – his salary is $78,000 per year – sent me on a brief search on Alamance County’s website, which shows what he paid cash for a small house on six tenths of an acre, and gives a map. He could have afforded the equivalent nearby, so I think he has other reasons to live where he lives. (When the economic development officer job was advertised in 2007, it specified that a vehicle would be provided at Town expense; perhaps that offsets his commute.) But I can’t accept the economic development officer for Chapel Hill, for heaven’s sake, joining the chorus singing “Chapel Hill Is Too Expensive.” His money is not where his mouth is.

Maybe that is why he didn’t work to keep Blue Cross Blue Shield from selling Eastowne Office Park, on 48 acres of Chapel Hill’s best commercial property fronting on I-40 and 15-501, for $14,250,000 – 33 percent less than its assessed value – to UNC Health Care. By comparison, University Mall on 41 acres is assessed at $33,928,000, and Rams Plaza on 14 acres was sold last month for $13,250,000 – three times as much per acre as Eastowne. Although there are differences in the use of these properties, the Eastowne property does not appear to have been exposed to the market for sale, and might not be considered an arm’s-length transaction.

The location is right where Chapel Hillians exit when they want to shop in Durham, otherwise referred to by Chapel Hill’s mayor as the “open drain on sales taxes.” UNC Health Care vice president Karen McCall was quoted by WCHL as saying that UNC Health Care will continue paying property taxes. “We certainly respect the need for the Town to be able to take care of all the facilities and all the organizations relying on Town services.” Those property taxes in 2011 were $333,652.08, an important part of our county’s and Chapel Hill’s budget. UNC Health Care is exempted from property tax by N.C. statute (the N.C. Machinery Act, Section 105-278.1), so the property could be withdrawn from the tax rolls whenever its management might see fit. This transaction weakens Chapel Hill’s commercial tax base.

I think Chapel Hill’s economic development department dropped the ball here and will now try to push for heavy commercial development on the Town’s periphery. That’s as bad an idea as letting Eastowne be sold for a third of market value, for non-commercial use.

– Deborah Fulghieri

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  1. Nice guy

     /  January 17, 2012

    so where did you get your info and facts from?
    I have known Dwight for years we have the same mortgage co.
    hes never had a Town vehicle, no budget, no staff,

  2. Nice guy

     /  January 17, 2012

    what kinds of incitives did he have to offer blue cross?
    Deborah, you need to get your facts straight

  3. Fred Black

     /  January 17, 2012

    If there is aother varsity sport in this community, it is making sweeping attacks and allegations about people and things without the evidence to support said allegations, and quite frankly Ms. Fulghieri, you owe Dwight Bassett and his department an apology. Maybe you should send this to the local media as a letter to the editor so that your assertions can get wider exposure than to just those who can read it on their computer. I would also hope that your judgments on the Planning Board are more factually grounded than this.

  4. Terri Buckner

     /  January 17, 2012

    Fred–if you disagree with Deborah’s opinion, could you please give your reasoning?

  5. runner

     /  January 17, 2012

    I agree with Fred. This was one of the worst written articles I’ve read in a long time. To call out Bassett on this transaction is just petty bickering from another whiney gadfly.

    If you haven’t noticed, there is a multi-billion dollar gorilla in town. And, Chapel Hill would just be known as South Hillsborough without it.

  6. George C

     /  January 17, 2012

    1) I don’t think anyone should presume to say what anyone else can/cannot afford to do. Unless you’re someone’s personal financial advisor and being asked to manage their finances this is stepping way out of bounds.
    2) If/when Chapel Hill decides it can tell a property owner to whom they can sell their property will be the day I look for a new community to live in.
    3) I strongly suspect that many properties in Chapel Hill are selling (if they sell) for much less than the County appraised them for in 2008.

  7. Fred Black

     /  January 17, 2012

    OK Terri, her OPINION is that Dwight bourht property not in CH (he wanted a home plus workshop) and because he doesn’t live in CH, “Maybe that is why he didn’t work to keep Blue Cross Blue Shield from selling Eastowne Office Park.”

    When you attack a professional for lack of professionalism, you need more that what’s offered here, IN MY OPINION. This is very sad and not worthy of the Blog, again IN MY OPINION.

  8. nice guy

     /  January 17, 2012

    Or Fred just make up some crap up like Deborah did that seams to be the way to get some attention

  9. runner

     /  January 17, 2012

    If Ms. Fulghieri feels that it is appropriate to delve into the personal financial records of someone to make her very weak and unnecessary point, I’m not sure she has the capacity to represent our community. This is a very sad day.

    And, shame on you Nancy for giving her this platform.

  10. Joe

     /  January 17, 2012

    Was this blog post written from the McMansion at 204 Copper Beech Ct.? Was it written in one of the 4.5 bathrooms, or one of the 5 bedrooms?

    The personal attacks are tacky and unnecessary.

  11. Deborah Fulghieri

     /  January 17, 2012

    I read an article in the Chapel Hill News, “More business needed” (January 8, 2012) which leads with the E.D. officer for the Town telling the local newpaper he couldn’t afford what he wanted in Chapel Hill ( a lot with a woodshop), and has to drive in from Graham. I looked at the Town’s website about the job, and saw a cost detail from human resources when the Town established the position: a Town vehicle was to be provided.

    He also was paraphrased as being concerned because some residents ” ‘think it’s not an option to grow the tax base.’ He means the commercial tax base, mostly”[.] Most can agree with that, and I have read the 6/2011 report to the Town setting forth likely redevelopment and development sites, of which Eastowne was one. It’s next to two highways and near improved access from Weaver Dairy, and has few neighbors to be disturbed by redevelopment activity.

    When I read on WCHL that it had been sold by BC/BS to UNC Health Care for $14,250,000, and the quote by the UNC Health Care official that taxes would continue to be paid, I looked up the values and taxes of the property on Orange County’s website and began wondering whether this transaction had taken place without the Town’s awareness (it hadn’t). I had noticed over the past few years that BC/BS was emptying out of Eastowne and wondered if the Town had a plan for it. I also called the assessor’s office which informed me of the statutory tax exemption which can’t be disputed.

    I didn’t mention names because the job is what’s relevant. There is a public relations aspect to economic development and I wondered whyever the job-holder would publicly announce that he can’t afford to live in Chapel Hill. I felt skeptical, and clicked over to Alamance. I therefore concluded as I did. I am always happy to stand corrected.

    Runner is right, we’d just be South Hillsborough without UNC. But if Chapel Hill is to support police, fire, schools, garbage/recycling, food service inspection, building codes, et al, it needs to safeguard its tax base.

    I also wonder why, when BC/BS already pays so much to UNC Health Care as a third-party payor, it sold that property for a discount.

  12. runner

     /  January 17, 2012

    Don’t cozy up to me, Deborah. There was no reason for you to go after Mr. Bassett on a personal level. You should apologize for your comments and ask Nancy to pull your article.

  13. Don Evans

     /  January 17, 2012


    Dwight is a public employee. That means his pay check comes from public funds, i.e. my and your taxes. So he is subject to public scrutiny. No matter how you feel about him as a buddy, he is in the public spotlight and his actions are fair game.

    All this outrage at the information being provided here should be directed at the town and not at the messenger. Stick to the facts and provide documentation if you have other information. Demands for apologies and aspersions on the blog post are extremely suspect when not accompanied with facts.

    And for gosh sakes would some of you please take advantage of spell check? Bad spelling and bad grammar can severely undermine the best of arguments.

  14. runner

     /  January 17, 2012


    You can go after anyone on a professional level. But I feel that the writer of today’s article went too far. There was no reason to research and write about Mr. Bassett’s home purchasing transaction.

    For the record, I’ve never met Mr. Bassett. I wouldn’t be able to pick him out in a line-up.

  15. Fred Black

     /  January 17, 2012

    Don, I’m sorry to think you might feel that the “if-then” assertion made by Ms. Fulghieri that attacks Dwight Bassett’s professionalism is OK. Enough of this already!

  16. Deborah Fulghieri

     /  January 17, 2012

    Okay, runner, whoever you are: Nancy, want to pull my article?

    Joe, whoever you are, my neighborhood was approved by Town Council in the 1990’s as “infill.”

  17. Scott Maitland

     /  January 17, 2012

    George C’s comments are the most pertinent here.

    What could the town have done even if it wanted to do something? Moreover, what does sales price have to do with tax revenue?

  18. DOM

     /  January 17, 2012

    I understand that Ms. Fulghieri is a member of the Planning Board. Does she know something we don’t know? Is the town now looking for land to buy for development?

  19. nice guy

     /  January 17, 2012

    I see it as a personal attack

  20. DOM

     /  January 17, 2012

    At this point, I’d imagine Ms. Fulghieri would prefer that the article be pulled.

  21. Terri Buckner

     /  January 17, 2012

    Thanks to George C for the example of how to disagree with civility.

  22. Deborah Fulghieri

     /  January 17, 2012

    I don’t mean it as a personal attack. I repeat, it’s the job, not the person, and that’s why I never mention a name. It may be that the job, which is a big one, cannot oversee everything. But the last consultancy report (that I know of), in June 2011, mentioned redevelopment possibilities for Eastowne, so perhaps its sale was not on anyone’s radar then.

    I don’t know anything not on public view; the only person I’ve seen writing about the Town purchasing land is Mark Zimmerman in the Chapel Hill News, when he wrote that the Town should have purchased abandoned houses in Northside to create affordable housing.

    Sales price affects tax revenue if it changes the assessment. Rams Plaza will be assessed with strong weight given to the price at which it changed hands. Orange County reassessment is currently scheduled for January, 2013.

  23. Nancy Oates

     /  January 17, 2012

    Wow, I work away from my computer for a day, and look what happens.

    I happen to agree with Deborah’s main point that the town’s economic development officer shouldn’t be lamenting Chapel Hill as too expensive without following it with all he has done to try to grow the commercial tax base in town. Chapel Hill has priced out the middle class. A small house with enough land for a woodworking studio would cost upwards of $300,000 in Chapel Hill, and someone making $78K wouldn’t qualify for a mortgage that large. That is a fact not everyone on Town Council understands, and some members continue to vote with a let-them-eat-cake mindset.

    But even if I didn’t agree with Deborah, this blog is an acceptable venue for opinion. She did her homework and checked her facts. She should be able to post her opinion. I welcome anyone to write a post that starts a discussion. Check your facts; don’t liable anyone, and Chapel Hill Watch can be your platform.

    Dwight Bassett is a very likable guy; no one is saying he isn’t. I’d like to see him be less of a nice guy and argue forcefully for policies that truly make Chapel Hill open for business, even if it means some council members adopt a “we don’t like him anymore” attitude. Somebody has to speak up for business, and the economic development officer seems like the right guy for it.

  24. runner

     /  January 17, 2012


    How do you get any of that from Deborah’s original article?

  25. John Kramer

     /  January 22, 2012

    The real point, which of course is missed once again, is that Economic Development in Orange County is an expensive joke.

    LOL Orange County. What a shame.