The big money at stake

This election boils down to economic theory. One theory, held by the Nancy Oatesincumbents and a challenger who as an advisory board member voted in lockstep with them, aims to add enough luxury housing filled with high-wealth individuals that national chain stores will open branches in town. This group is banking on sales tax revenue and residential property taxes to fund town operations. Affordable housing strains that model, so adding more would be a detriment, and that is reflected in this group’s recent decisions.

The other theory, ascribed to by candidates endorsed by Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town, says that increasing the commercial tax base proportionate to residential taxpayers will balance the tax burden and strengthen the community by enabling local, independent businesses to flourish. Though affordable housing costs the town money by not providing enough tax revenue to cover the cost of services, people who live and work in the same town feel invested in the community. As a candidate endorsed by CHALT, I believe the benefit of having people who work in town being able to live in town is worth the cost.

I believe the retail ship has sailed already due to decisions made by Town Council members many years ago to discourage national chains and big-box stores from opening in town. I would like Chapel Hill’s economic development officer to focus his attention on recruiting business that provided what we need going forward. For instance, Town Council has approved quite a bit of senior housing. Thus, we will need home-care services and assisted living facilities in the near future. A new business incubator has opened in town, so we’ll need affordable office space with shared conference room and reception and gathering areas to make it possible for these fledgling businesses to stay in town.

In an editorial in Sunday’s Chapel Hill News, a local real estate broker wrote that in this election, “there’s some big money at stake.” He’s right. Though he perhaps was thinking of how he would benefit from policies that keep housing prices high, I’m thinking of Town Council’s recent practice of shifting development expenses from private developers to homeowners. In the past couple of years, we have seen council try to get homeowners to pay for new roads and stormwater abatement necessitated by new development. This on top of residents absorbing more traffic jams and crowded schools.

Residential property taxpayers are loath to take on any more burden. The town’s current $51 million of debt eats up 16% of the town budget to pay it down. Best practices recommend capping debt service at 10%. And if the $40.3 million bond referendum passes, the town’s debt load will almost double. A good portion of the bond will cover what I consider routine maintenance or capital projects that could have been avoided had routine maintenance not been delayed.

Polls open Tuesday, Nov. 3, at 6:30 a.m. and stay open through 7:30 p.m. In this election, big money is at stake. If you vote, you have a say in how it’s handled.

I am running for Town Council, and I would be honored to receive your vote.
– Nancy Oates

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6 Comments

  1. anon

     /  November 2, 2015

    good luck. The Town footing the bill for road widening for the Edge (now called Carraway village) that would not be necessary otherwise , was the last straw for me.
    the opposite of sharing the tax burden.

  2. Joe Blow

     /  November 2, 2015

    “The other theory, ascribed to by candidates endorsed by Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town, says that increasing the commercial tax base proportionate to residential taxpayers will balance the tax burden and strengthen the community by enabling local, independent businesses to flourish. ”

    Unfortunately, you can’t support local businesses by limiting development. Limiting building drives rent up; the largest cost for many retail businesses.

    “A new business incubator has opened in town, so we’ll need affordable office space with shared conference room and reception and gathering areas to make it possible for these fledgling businesses to stay in town.”

    The idea of a business incubator is an idea that has been tried many, many times, but never seems to work. Office space has never, as far as I know, ever been a limiting factor in starting a business, high-tech or otherwise. Besides, there’s plenty of empty office space in town.

    “I believe the retail ship has sailed already due to decisions made by Town Council members many years ago to discourage national chains and big-box stores from opening in town.”

    Encouraging big box stores helps small, local businesses, how, exactly?

    “As a candidate endorsed by CHALT, I believe the benefit of having people who work in town being able to live in town is worth the cost.”

    Subsidising housing so that people can live on this side of the town line instead of the other seems fairly pointless, incredibly impractical, and absurdly expensive.

    I’d like to think that CHALT means well, but this business owner is, quite frankly, scared of what would happen if CHALT people took over town governance. If anything, it might be time to leave town, since prices would be significantly more unaffordable than they are now. From my vantage point, it seems that CHALT is interested in preserving their own home property values, and pushing their own personal tax bills down, everybody else in town, be damned.

  3. Nancy

     /  November 2, 2015

    Thank you, anon. I hope you’ll brave the rain and vote Tuesday, if you haven’t already.

    And, Joe: 1) Building luxury housing has driven up the cost of commercial space. Management at Village Plaza is giving only short-term leases to small businesses, and that instability, along with the impending rent increase, has driven out several local businesses. 2) Business incubators have been successful in Chapel Hill, then the new businesses go to Durham once their 6-month fledgling period is up. 3) If Chapel Hill were collecting the sales tax revenue shoppers give to Durham at New Hope Commons alone, property taxes would be lower for everybody in town, making it easier for local businesses without deep pockets to serve their niche markets, as they do so well.

    Change is scary, Joe. Hang in there, and see what happens.

  4. anon

     /  November 3, 2015

    @ Joe –

    part of the anti-incumbent sentiment is not only the development approvals by the council but also how they are “sold” to the public during hearings.

    I don’t remember the Council saying we want to increase high rise luxury apartments and condos – instead something nebulous like “smart growth” is touted. Once the developer gets their approval than they are more forth coming. The ephesus fordham thing is advertised by the developer as “Luxury Apartments”. Is that what the Council told us?

    look at the developers own advertising picture….
    http://ourtownchapelhill.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Alexan.jpg

    Also, things like The Edge have a name that sounds like something commercial, but as soon as it’s approved it’s now called “Carraway Village” – which is clearly residential.

    so I think some residents feel a bit mislead by the Town Council although most of us expect developers to do it, we are surprised when Town Council with the help of Town Staff does it.

    Lastly, I think there is a feeling that Town Staff is working primarily for developers and not the residents.

    If the Council wants to explain how building high rise luxury apartments/condos is beneficial go ahead but don’t mislead

  5. anon

     /  November 3, 2015

    can’t wait for some developer to propose “The Commercial Centre” get it through the development process and change the name to “The residences at Homewood”..

    surprised that hasn’t happened yet

  6. many

     /  November 6, 2015

    Heh, “The Residences at Commercial Center” has sort if a ring to it doesn’t it?

    I agree anon. I expect as much from telemarketers, stockbrokers and insurance salespeople, but huge development at all four cardinal points on the compass, the lack of a unifying vision, topped off with marketing misrepresentation really is scary when it comes from the elected officials, especially when they and their staff turn out to be tone deaf.

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