Durham City Manager Tom Bonfield’s proposed budget for the upcoming year doesn’t include a property tax increase, but does add money for homeless support services, affordable housing, athletic parks, and staffing.
Bonfield said the city is able to avoid a property tax increase in part because of higher-than-expected property tax revenues due to new construction.
That would be good news for city residents, who saw both a city and county tax increase this fiscal year with another likely increase in county property tax rates for the coming year.
“The taxable value for next fiscal year will grow by $1.2 billion, or 4.46 percent, which is over twice the amount our financial model had projected,” Bonfield said.
That growth is happening citywide, he said, noting property values are up 17 percent downtown. There are currently about three hundred active site plans for building projects in Durham with a total of more than eight hundred reviewed this fiscal year. Forty-two hundred building permits have been issued to date.
“All those numbers are the highest the city has seen,” Bonfield said.
The total proposed budget for fiscal year 2018-19 amounts to $510.4 million — an increase of about 16 percent over the current year budget. Most of that increase will go toward water and sewer improvements.
Under the proposed spending plan, the budget for the city’s Dedicated Housing Fund would increase from $5.6 million to $13.3 million. Bonfield is recommending $450,000 to support eviction diversion efforts and a realignment of homeless services.
The budget proposal also allots $304,000 for three staffers to work on participatory budgeting, a new initiative that will allow Durham residents to decide how to spend a pot of money. The council voted five-two Monday night to set aside $2.4 million in funding in the fiscal year 2019-2020 budget for the projects residents choose.
Under the proposal, funding for transit services would also go up about five percent without any fare hike. That increase, however does not include any money to preserve or improve free Bull City Connector service. GoDurham, which operates the route, is currently reviewing all of its routes for realignment, and had proposed cutting the fare-free service after Duke University pulled its share of the funding. Council members weren’t pleased with that option and asked GoDurham staff to come back with new recommendations for how to realign services within current funding levels, but that didn’t happen in time for this spending plan.
The proposal raises the budget for the downtown business improvement district to $1 million to help increase wages for Downtown Durham Inc.’s ambassadors to $15 per hour. Bonfield said all full-time city employees will be earning that much by July 1. City employees would also see raises of 4 percent, with police and fire getting 5 percent.
The proposed budget adds one hundred and thirty-three positions, including fifty-three county firefighters who will become city employees through a merger, and fifteen firefighters to increase coverage of the growing downtown area.
Among the capital projects funded in the proposal are the Hoover Road Athletic Park and soccer fields, the Duke Belt Line Trail, a renovation of the Public Works Operations Center, and a fiber optic network to meet the city’s future broadband needs.
The council is expected to approve the budget during its June 19 meeting, following a public hearing at seven p.m. on June 4.