Back of the line — again

What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving? For being able turn on your faucet and drink a glass of clean water that doesn’t taste funky and leave you worried about what sorts of toxins or carcinogens it contains? For never having to budget for pumping out the septic tank and remediation efforts when it fails?

If so, you don’t live in the Rogers Road neighborhood.

Those who live along Rogers Road have been waiting 40 years for the chance to be thankful for what those who live within town limits take for granted. For 40 years, Chapel Hill has promised to make it up to Rogers Road homeowners for siting the Orange County landfill right next door to them. For 41 years, they’ve put up with the odors and the contaminated wells, believing that the town will be true to its word.

Those of us who pay Chapel Hill taxes should be ashamed of ourselves for, year after year, letting our moral obligation slide. We talk a good game – last June, a task force came up with some recommendations and Town Council narrowed its funding options – but after last Thursday’s Council of Governments meeting, the decision-making deteriorated into squabbling and accusations between Chapel Hill and Carrboro. Hillsborough town officials left before the discussion began.

The task force recommended two options, both of which would cost $5.8 million and serve 86 homes; one plan would do the work all at once, and the other would do it in two phases. Both would require extending the town’s extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ) to include Rogers Road so that the town could legally use taxpayer money to contribute its share. A 1972 landfill agreement laid out that Chapel Hill and Carrboro each pay 43% of the costs and the county pay the remaining 14%.

A third option would be to create a separate water and sewer district that would serve other Carrboro and north Chapel Hill areas, which would cost $17.6 million, paid for by each town and the county covering the costs within its respective jurisdiction.

In October, the town held a public hearing about extending the ETJ, which would clear the way for the town to pay its portion of the sewer system. The matter comes back before council on Jan. 14, 2014.

Even if the ETJ is extended and both towns and the county agree on a plan and who pays for what, we as a town have made no provisions for where we’re going to come up with the money. Ironically, Town Council tonight will vote on whether to donate more than $2 million worth of town land to a developer who aims to build affordable apartments, and whether to draw nearly $1 million from the general fund (the town’s savings account) to spruce up Town Hall, in part to make it more convenient for developers.

Not that either of those latter two projects isn’t worthy. But that the town moved with such alacrity on them while Rogers Road residents were once again pushed to the back of the line reveals our glaringly misplaced priorities.
– Nancy Oates

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  1. David Hunt

     /  November 25, 2013

    The Orange County Commissioners hosted the Assembly of Governments meeting at the Southern Human Services Center in Chapel Hill on Thursday, November 21, 2013. The BOCC was present and participated in the entire meeting.
    After the first two agenda items were covered, the Town of Hillsborough Commissioners and Mayor left as the remaining items did not involve the Town.

    David Hunt, Orange County Deputy Clerk

  2. Nancy

     /  November 25, 2013

    Thank you for that important information. I’ve gone back into my original post and corrected my mistake.

  3. Joe

     /  November 25, 2013

    And let’s not forget that as soon as Rogers Road gets sewer, that the people living there will be priced right out. I’m not saying it’s good or bad, but I’m comfortable predicting that that area will be quickly gentrified with the addition of sewer and the closing of the dump.

  4. Bonnie Hauser

     /  November 25, 2013

    Joe – there are many factors that will continue to pressure the valuation of the community – but that said – “bring it on”

    It would be fantastic if officials found a way (and htere are many) for the long time residents of the community to participate in it’s economic growth.

  5. Terri Buckner

     /  November 25, 2013

    The Chapel Hill side of Rogers Road does have OWASA water connections. The County Board of Health made that happen several years ago. That’s what so amazing about this “deal” to me. The County has been the only one of the local governments to really offer any positive assistance to the neighborhood, and yet the residents are willing to give that advocacy and their ability to vote for those who control their future to go back under Chapel Hill control.

    It seems very odd to me that groups like the ACLU and others that are so active in opposing the restrictions placed on voting in state and federal elections so willing to allow this neighborhood to become part of the Chapel Hill ETJ, which is the same as giving up their local voting rights.

  6. Nancy

     /  November 25, 2013

    Joe, it is a two-sided coin. We’ve seen that in the efforts to return Northside homes to affordable housing. We need the affordable housing, but is it fair to deprive Northside homeowners of the economic benefits of reaping the “highest and best use” profits of their property? Adding sewer may make Rogers Road property more valuable, and some homeowners may flip their homes. Can you fault them for it?

  7. Matt Czajkowski

     /  November 25, 2013

    So here’s my take. A majority of the council will approve moving forward with giving land worth more than $2 million to affordable housing. A majority will also approve the additional costs of the upfit to Town Hall. Then when we get to budget time they will say that Rogers Road is a moral imperative and that we have to raise taxes to pay for it. In effect they will have cleverly funded affordable housing — which would be much harder to raise taxes for, not to mention the upfit to Town Hall. In fact we can fund Rogers Road without raising taxes by selling the land and sticking with the old Town Hall design. Very clever. No doubt I will be severely scolded for even suggesting such a thing. That’s OK — prove me wrong.

  8. Terri Buckner

     /  November 25, 2013

    Matt–I’m curious about why the developer needs 10 acres for 140 units. Shortbread is building 85 units on 1.5 acres + some retail. Has anyone discussed giving the developer 2-3 acres and selling the rest?

  9. DOM

     /  November 25, 2013

    Matt Czajkowski:

    “In effect they will have cleverly funded affordable housing — which would be much harder to raise taxes for…”

    The real solution here is to support more commercial development and high-density housing possiblities to help alleviate the tax burden that’s now almost entirely picked up by CH homeowners. If we as a town continue to listen to the small minority of folks who discourage multi-family and localized retail options because they’re so entrenched in the antiquated 20th century belief that suburban single-family, large-lot residential is the right solution, we are doomed to failure. Don’t you agree?

  10. Nancy Oates

     /  November 25, 2013

    Evidently the discussion of Town Hall renovations is too controversial for our delicate ears. Live-streaming of Town Council meeting cut off as the mayor announced the topic.

  11. Bonnie Hauser

     /  November 25, 2013

    DOM- what is the basis for thinking that dense development is the silver bullet for the town’s fiscal woes. Has anyone done the math?

    The town has relied on reserves to pay the bills and is still hiking taxes. There’s new fiscal demands from rogers road, affordable housing, transit, town hall, and who knows what. Lets not forget the continual erosion of the high value tax base from UNC, UNC Healthcare and other not-for-profits.

    Iincreasing commercial development and density can help. So will the town’s plan to sell off some assets. – but someone still has to run the numbers. It’s not an accounting exercise – the question is strategic and directional – is there any indication that projected revenues come close to paying the bills – and when will that occur?

  12. Deborah Fulghieri

     /  November 26, 2013

    Who was it who said that if you repeat something often enough people will believe it to be true? Chapel Hill’s revenues don’t come “almost entirely” from Chapel Hill homeowners:

    Taxes are hiked to pay for new town and school infrastructure, and staffing, in order to service a larger population. Taxes went up to pay for jumps in population as Southern Village and Meadowmont were built and inhabited. The financial downturn which curbed building (here and everywhere) also slowed the rate of tax increase.

  13. Deborah Fulghieri

     /  November 26, 2013

    About the cemetery give-away:
    the cemetery brings in $90,000-$100,000 every year of revenue (according to the town), and the present value of this cash flow was NOT included in the land appraisal.

    Also, it is the only non-sectarian cemetery, and provides affordable graveplots– $750 for residents, $1,500 for non-residents, which is less than half of what it costs elsewhere in the area. There are 376 plots left.

    Reading the DHIC proposal, the town of Chapel Hill will pay for extensive retaining walls, water and sewer improvements, and will pay Chapel Hill, Orange County ($168,000), and OWASA impact fees due 2014-15. Perhaps the Town will waive its own impact fees.

    The project will not pay property tax. The property doesn’t yield property tax now, but yields other revenue.

    DHIC also proposes building 80 units of senior housing. I hope it won’t overlook the graveyard.

  14. Deborah Fulghieri

     /  November 26, 2013

    CORRECTION: Community Home Trust property is tax-exempt, whereas a low-income housing development is taxable at a reduced assessment per NCGS 105-277.16

  15. Bonnie Hauser

     /  November 26, 2013

    Thanks for doing the math Deborah. OMG

  16. Here’s a rough, back-of-the-envelope, concept draft of how the remediation might be paid for more directly by the folks who created the trash. It’s far from perfect and would benefit from tweaking, but it is an attempt to look at the issue differently. I was provoked to come up with this over a year ago when I thought about the recycling fee on my tax bill.

    Rogers Rd. remediation

    80,000 residential properties at a 2-time $75 tax fee = $1,200,000
    20,000 business properties at a 2-time $150 tax fee = $600,000
    2000 higher-use businesses at a 2-time $200 tax fee = $800,000
    Apartment complexes 1-time fee at $10/unit per year in operation with a five year cap = maybe $50,000
    UNC 1-time payment of $600,000
    OC 1-time fee of $1,100,000
    CH 1-time fee of $1,100,000
    Carrboro 1-time fee of $300,000
    Hillsborough 1-time fee of $100,000

    Total = $5.8 mil
    System cost = $5.8 mil

  17. Bonnie Hauser

     /  November 27, 2013

    Mark – the towns and the county have agreed to percentages based on the interlocal agreement – its 43-43-14 (Carrboro pays 14%). I don’t think a new model is needed -but I do like the idea of inviting UNC to help

    There’s a couple of questions. One is Carrboro’s $900,000 commitment. Its unclear what that entails. Are they paying for the community center or just sewer? I believe Chapel Hill is committed to both.

    Also- the brew-ha-ha arose when Jim Ward questioned whether there should be consideration for revenue impacts for Carrboro. Carrboro annexed a bunch of Rogers Road homes 10 years and has been collecting taxes. Also – once the sewer lines go in, other homes in the area will benefit – and their tax values are likely to increase. Its a fair question. Chilton became indignant – but Lydia Lavelle seemed willing to have the discussion.

  18. DOM

     /  November 27, 2013

    Deborah Fulghieri

    “Who was it who said that if you repeat something often enough people will believe it to be true? Chapel Hill’s revenues don’t come “almost entirely” from Chapel Hill homeowners”

    I beg to differ. See Ellie Kinnaird’s editorial in today’s DTH where she states that 85% of our revenues come from residential tax payers.

  19. I think that citizens and businesses should be directly levied against. It’s fairer than the current approach and doesn’t require the large sums that are making the municipalities balk, procrastinate, and scramble.

    This 43-43-14 agreement has hardly been agreed upon yet.

  20. Nancy

     /  November 27, 2013

    DOM — Do you have a link? I don’t see it on the DTH website.

  21. DOM

     /  November 27, 2013

    My error. Check front page of today’s CHN hardcopy.

  22. Nancy

     /  November 27, 2013

    Ah, that would require going outside. More power to you.

  23. DOM

     /  November 27, 2013

    A brisk walk in the rain? Very bracing.

  24. Bonnie Hauser

     /  November 27, 2013

    Here ya go Mark -where’s the part about the percentages not set?

  25. Bonnie,

    If setting the percentages was tantamount to an agreement, there wouldn’t be any arguing. It would already be a done deal. The other night they were effectively bickering over the percentages.

  26. Bonnie Hauser

     /  November 27, 2013

    The percentages aren’t at issue (except for a small point about how to factor in Carrboro’s revenue benefit- which is neither a deal breaker or maker) Chapel Hill is moving forward on the ETJ and there’s still the stalemate on the EPA complaint.

    The big issue that Matt raised repeatedly – is where will the money come from – given all the other pressures on town and county budgets.

    I’m curious about another issue. There was a time when there was a discussion about a pump station rather than a gravity-based sewer system. OWASA needs to weigh in – and I’ve heard that their board is open to the discussion. Such an option could save millions of dollars (which you could divide 43-43-14).

    I believe that Rogers Road is finally at the front of the line – but there’s some surmountable obstacles preventing the finish.

  27. many

     /  November 27, 2013

    Mr. Marcoplos,

    “………..a rough, back-of-the-envelope, concept draft of how the remediation might be paid for more directly by the folks who created the trash. It’s far from perfect……”

    I am curious.

    If indeed you are interested in paying for the remediation directly by the folks that created the trash, why not weigh the percentage of contribution to the Rogers Road solution by the amount of waste deposited in the landfill? From what I research Chapelboro contributed 61% of the garbage in 2011…. I expect historically it was a much, much greater percentage.

    From the link above:

    “Last year there were 35,340 tons of waste was disposed in the landfill. Of that, Chapel Hill contributed 42 percent, Orange County accounted for 30 percent, Carrboro chucked 19 percent of it and Hillsborough pitched 9 percent.”

  28. Anita Badrock

     /  November 27, 2013

    Someone made a statement that isn’t correct earlier. Community Home Trust homeowners pay the full tax rate on the assessed value of their homes. . Their homes are not tax exempt.

  29. Deborah Fulghieri

     /  November 28, 2013

    In reply to Anita Badrock re: CHT (source: Orange County):

    Properties in which both the land and improvements are owned by Community Home Trust (formerly and aka Orange Community Housing and Land Trust) are totally exempt. For properties in which the improvements are “sold” , only the land is exempt. I say “sold” because, in actuality, Community Home Trust technically owns the improvements, but they convey the improvements to “owners” in a 99 year lease. As purchase of these improvements are subject to income restrictions, these improvements cannot be taxed at market value (as if the property was available for purchase by any typical purchaser) but rather at a lower value based upon the improvements’ initial investment basis when the improvements first qualifies, and in subsequent revaluations, the valuations cannot exceed the sum of a restricted capital gain amount and the initial investment basis. Our current policy is to bill Community Home Trust based on the value of the improvements that they have transferred to owners. The taxation of community land trust property (such as Community Home Trust) is explained in N.C.G.S. 105-277.17. Community Home Trust, in turn, passes the taxes on to the “owners”. Also, the Orange County Board of Equalization and Review has also ruled that the “owners” of these improvements can also obtain additional tax relief if they meet the requirements for the homestead exemption or circuit breaker program.

    In reply to DOM (whoever that is) re: Chapel Hill’s revenue sources, 40% is shown is coming from property taxes (source: Town of Chapel Hill, 2012-13 budget):

  30. Bonnie Hauser

     /  November 28, 2013

    Deborah- this is helpful thank you.

    There seems to be some confusing about the % of revenue that comes from residential property taxes. The answer depends on the context and rhetoric that’s being spewed. Last I looked, roughly half of the town’s funds come from grants and subsidies from other governments.

    The issue that people are screaming about is local tax revenues – where a high portion (people like to throw around 85%) comes from residential taxes. They’d like to see more retail and commercial. Of course its difficult when the largest commercial enterprise is tax exempt (UNC and UNC Healthcare).

  31. Deborah Fulghieri

     /  November 28, 2013

    One of the sections must include sales tax, another includes business tax, and it looks like the town’s fund balance earns $4+ million. Property tax should include both commercial and residential property tax.

    I wish the original source regarding 85% could be revealed. As of now, it’s like Calvin Trilling said: “My mother for 30 years fed her family nothing but leftovers. There’s a team of anthropologists trying to track down the original meal.”

  32. Anita Badrock

     /  November 28, 2013

    Deborah, your last statement is correct. Over 200 Home Trust homeowners do pay taxes on the assessed value of what they own. I don’t want to get off topic here so if anyone wants more information please call me at the office. Thanks. Good discussion about the Rogers Road community. It’s time to honor the commitment made to this community.