As part of a $429 million budget proposal, Durham's city manager is recommending a 1.79-cent property tax increase for the 2017–18 fiscal year to help address affordable housing needs in the city.
The city's current tax rate is 56.07 cents per $100 of property, including one cent dedicated to affordable housing. A budget proposal presented Monday night by Thomas Bonfield would raise the tax rate to 57.86 cents and double the dedicated housing portion to two cents. It would also dedicate 0.79 cents to public safety initiatives.
“Addressing priority gap areas in the city’s affordable housing strategy all start and end with adequate funding,” Bonfield said. “That is why I am recommending an increase in the dedicated housing fund by a penny, which, coupled with federal entitlements and the existing penny for housing, brings the city’s commitment to affordable housing to almost nine million dollars.”
Bonfield introduced the budget proposal with a shout-out to a recent Vogue article calling Durham North Carolina's "hippest" city. He said, after playing a snippet of "Hip to be Square" by Huey Lewis and the News, that the proposal builds on the city's "everyday square efforts" to keep Durham running, while introducing "hip" ways to address budget challenges.
The additional penny for housing would raise $2.7 million. Bonfield said the increase is "substantial" but won't close the gap between the city's affordable housing supply and its needs. According to a 2015 housing report by Enterprise Community Partners, there are 27,300 low-income renters and homeowners in Durham. At the time of the report, there were 6,100 income-restricted, subsidized homes in Durham.
"There's not enough money to solve the city's affordable housing problem," Bonfield said.
Leading up to Monday's budget presentation, council members' email inboxes were flooded with messages of support for affordable housing funding. Members got more than twenty emails from residents about the issue since last week.
“We’ve heard very clearly from residents and the city council that we need to be doing more to provide affordable housing in our community," Bonfield said.
The 1.79-cent tax increase would raise the average property tax bill by $32 to $1,041. Bonfield's budget proposal represents a 6 percent increase over the 2016–17 budget.
The proposed budget would also increase funding for street improvements from $4 million to $6.6 million and eliminate daily pass fees to the city's recreation facilities for residents under the age of eighteen. Water and sewer fees would go up by an average of 2.6 percent.
The budget dedicates $97 million for public safety, including $1.7 million to continue the Durham Police Department's take-home car program, which lets officers who live in city limits take their patrol vehicles home in an effort to boost police visibility and encourage officers to live in the city. Public safety dollars (which make up 51 percent of the general fund) would also go toward three audio/visual support personnel to help handle body camera footage, active shooter training equipment, and new computers and dash cams.
The proposal would create fifty-three new jobs, including thirty firefighters to staff a fire station being built on Leesville Road.
Three residents spoke about the budget. Nick Johnson, who owns The Cookery, spoke on behalf of downtown business owners who want the one-way downtown loop made into a more pedestrian-friendly, two-way street.
Two representatives of Durham Beyond Policing, a group that advocates for divesting in police and prisons, spoke against the public safety budget. Jose Romero read excerpts from letters by neighbors of a new $70 million police station under construction on Main Street who said they'd rather see that money go toward education and affordable housing.
Council member Jillian Johnson said a lot of the increases for public safety funding have already been approved, like the take-home car program and a pay raise for officers. She said that while she would like to see less policing in Durham, underpaying "people we empower to carry guns and badges" isn't the way to do that. How to divest in policing, she said, is a "longer process and a bigger conversation" than the upcoming year's budget.
A public hearing on the budget will be held during the council's June 5 meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. The city council is expected to approve the budget June 19.