The Daily Tar Heel

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Friday December 3rd

Here's an update on the Town of Chapel Hill's FY19 budget process

Planning Director Ben Hitchings speaks at Wednesday's town council meeting.
Buy Photos Planning Director Ben Hitchings speaks at Wednesday's town council meeting.

Town Manager Roger Stancil discussed his recommendations for the town budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year to the Chapel Hill Town Council Wednesday. The proposed budget notably includes raising taxes by 3 cents, the first increase in four years.

Stancil acknowledged the significant interest surrounding the increase at the outset of the meeting.

“A 3 cent tax increase tends to get a lot of attention,” Stancil said.

The town manager's proposed budget for all funds in the fiscal year of 2019 is $108.5 million. Although it includes no changes to core services, it does include an increased market salary adjustment for town employees and measures to minimize tax increases, such as an investment in building maintenance programs.

According to Stancil, the planning for this budget is a year-long process, and behind the development is a strong, cohesive team. Stancil said that they were very intentional this year in expanding the group of participants in the budgeting process. He attributed this to his upcoming exit from his role as town manager next year, wanting to ensure that questions about how the budget was formed could be answered and supported.

The 3 cent tax increase recommended by Stancil included 1.2 cents for the general fund, .8 cents for debt service and 1 cent for transit. Brian Litchfield, the transit director for the Town of Chapel Hill, spoke with the council at the meeting about the increase and its goals.

Chapel Hill Transit is the second largest transit system in North Carolina, according to Litchfield, with 204 employees and 117 revenue vehicles. It also has the second largest ridership and revenue hours.

Of transit’s current revised budget of $23.8 million, UNC currently provides 55 percent of local contribution. The University has already committed $8.6 million for the upcoming fiscal year.

Litchfield explained that costs to transit are incurred by bus replacement and development projects. Under the 2018-19 plan, transit aims to develop services like operation on Sundays and address overcrowding on routes.

According to Litchfield, transit’s major initiatives are updating bus stops to include shelters and solar lights; electric buses; solar lights and new cameras at park and ride lots; and updated mapping.

Litchfield said that without the funds, the only other option is to reduce service and employees.

After Litchfield discussed transit, Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue and Fire Chief Matt Sullivan gave a presentation on town funding for community safety, including their departments. The two addressed the council’s interest in their departments’ expense allocations and main goals, and what the departments would do with additional funding.

Blue discussed the allocation of funding necessary for budgets set aside for Halloween and basketball season. He highlighted cooperation that Chapel Hill Police has developed with UNC regarding campus and Greek life on the last day of classes.

Addressing major expenses, Blue stressed the importance of finding, training and keeping the very best people in a position that is increasingly hard to hire for. According to Blue, 80 percent of the police budget is dedicated to employee salary, while additional funding goes to training and staff development. Sullivan also stressed this point of funding for positions. 

“Cuts will be about people,” Sullivan said.

Personnel-related costs account for 75 percent of the town budget, and this theme of focusing on the people affected by the upcoming budget was apparent throughout the meeting’s presentations as well as Stancil’s remarks on the proposed budget.

“We understand that none of us are successful without the other 700 employees that work hard every day – seamlessly, in many ways,” Stancil said. “Arresting bad folks, keeping us safe, arriving when you have a heart attack and perhaps saving your life in a very short period of time, picking up our garbage, doing all those things that make this a successful city. That’s why we put out focus on them in this budget.”

Adoption of the budget will be considered on June 13 at the Chapel Hill Town Hall.

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