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Council passes $373M budget, tax hikes

Without discussion, the Durham City Council approved a $373 million budget for 2012-13 Monday night, an increase of $10.5 million over the current fiscal year.

The council had settled on the budget after a public hearing and several prolonged meetings in the past three weeks. At its regular meeting Monday, the budget passed unanimously along with 41 other items on the council's consent agenda.

"The citizens of Durham should be proud and appreciative of the work this council has done as well as the administration to shape this budget," said Mayor Bill Bell (right).

Durham taxpayers face a one-cent increase in their property-tax rate next year, to 56.75 cents per $100 valuation. The increase adds $25 to the tax on a $250,000 house.

The extra penny, dedicated for low-cost housing and services for the homeless, is projected to bring in $2.3 million next year. Durham has planned a five-year, $57-million program of housing construction and improvements, with associated social services.

Downtown property owners also face a 7-cent tax increase to pay for promotions, special events and hospitality services in a "Business Improvement District."

Charges are also going up for city water customers and stormwater fees to property owners. The charges are rising on a gradual schedule, mostly to pay for compliance with water-quality regulations in the Falls Lake and Jordan Lake watersheds.

BID could get quick OK Monday from Durham Council

Durham's City Council, it appears, has heard enough about a "Business Improvement District" downtown. Approval for a service contract in the BID is on the consent agenda for Monday's council meeting, and could get the go-ahead along with 20 other items in a single vote without discussion.

Durham Republicans oppose downtown tax

Durham County Republicans have officially joined the opposition to a downtown "Business Improvement District" and a property tax to support it.

At its annual convention in March, the party passed a resolution against the proposal to add 7 cents per $100 assessed valuation to pay for downtown promotions and a team of "ambassadors" to greet visitors and perform custodial chores.

Particular points of GOP opposition include:

  • The BID tax would amount to a combined 4.39 percent increase in the city and county tax rates;
  • Both city and county are considering tax increases for other uses;
  • Many of the BID-financed activities "raise issues as to appropriateness, fairness and civil liberties and should not be financed by taxation";
  • The special tax district might favor some businesses over others.

Downtown Durham Inc. is promoting the BID.

The City Council approved a BID in principle last May, but put off imposing the tax and actually creating the district for a year. The BID is expected to come to the council again as part of the budgeting process for 2012-13.
 

Do you support Durham's proposed downtown tax?

Last month we published Hank Scherich's guest column arguing the city has failed to make the case for the proposed downtown Business Improvement District tax. (You can read that column here.) Today, columnist Carl Kenney argues the tax is overdue. We'd like to know what you think. Please tell us in 300 words or less whether you support the tax at editor@nando.com   

BY CARL KENNEY

It's a challenge watching those who have engage in conversations about not having enough.

It was enough to compel me to throw a shoe at my television after Mitt Romney made a comment about not caring about poor people. It was hard to hear after reading he only paid 14 percent in taxes for the $45 million he made over the past two years.

It’s dreadfully grueling reading about oil companies’ surging profits while they receive $4 billion a year in tax breaks. How can we justify a profit increase of 69 percent while gas prices rise and tax breaks continue? It’s painful for me to consider the whining among the prosperous while the middle class and poor are robbing the penny bank to get enough gasoline to make it to work.

I appreciate the complaint of small business owners who can’t get over the hump because Uncle Sam injures their dream every year at tax season. It is easy for me to advocate for those doing their best to catch hold of the American Dream, but it is arduous for me to concede the complaint of one who has taken the dream and made it his reality.

BID gets an endorsement

The city’s economic-development office has endorsed a proposal to establish a special tax district in downtown.

According to a memo by Kevin Dick, director of workforce and economic development, the “Business Improvement District” would:

  • "Make downtown more attractive for economic development and visitor attraction;
  • Make Durham more competitive with other cities;
  • Provide a “creative financing mechanism” for carrying out the Downtown Master Plans of 1999 and 2008.

Dick presented his memo at the city council work session today.

At its regular meeting last Monday, council members heard 43 citizen opinions on the “BID,” which would impose a surcharge of 7 cents per $100 valuation on real and personal property within a specified area around the central business district.

Twenty-six citizens spoke in favor of it, 17 against.

After the public hearing, Mayor Bill Bell and council members gave themselves two more weeks to think about it. The vote to postpone was unanimous.

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