Durham council clears bond vote

A $110 million issue to pay for more than 80 projects will be on the ballot in November

Staff WriterAugust 16, 2005 

The City Council voted unanimously Monday to ask Durham voters to approve $110 million in new bonds on the November ballot.

The money would be spent on more than 80 projects across the city, including streets and sidewalks, sewer infrastructure and two new community centers. Millions also would go to renovate the city police station and several fire houses, the Carolina Theatre, the old Durham ballpark, the Hayti Heritage Center and 25 existing recreational facilities.

If approved, the general obligation bonds would be the first for the city since 1996. In 2003, county voters approved $124 million in bonds for schools, libraries and museums. City officials have said that the $110 million in new debt could eventually require property tax increases totaling $87 a year on a $150,000 house.

At a public hearing held before the council's vote, however, about a dozen speakers said the city needs to do more -- especially for the poorer, mostly minority communities south of downtown.

A group presented a detailed 119-page plan asking for $25 million to benefit the neighborhoods lining Fayetteville Street. Several residents traced the area's decline back to federal urban renewal efforts in the 1960s and 1970s that bulldozed wide swaths of the city's historic Hayti community.

"I grew up on Cecil Street and, since then, the whole Fayetteville corridor has really gone down," said Janet Rawls, who recently moved back to care for her ailing mother. "I see downtown Durham being beautified, but our neighborhoods are being left out."

Victoria Peterson, a frequent critic of the council now running for the Ward I seat, suggested that the city raise money for the effort by building special toll roads to tax the more than 75,000 commuters who travel to work in Durham each day, mostly from Wake and Orange counties.

Mayor Bill Bell pointed out aspects of the bond proposal that would benefit these neighborhoods, including money to renovate the former Holton Middle School for a new community center and vocational school.

The mayor agreed that the city would not succeed if it renovated the center city alone, but he told the Fayetteville Street residents that there is a limit to how much can be done at once.

"I have a vision for the city, as do many of the council members," said Bell, who is campaigning for a third term. "What you're seeing downtown is the result of years of work and planning. ...

"The council will do what it can to implement some aspects of your plan, but it takes time. But we are not blind, and we are not deaf. Don't think that just because we don't do everything you want that we are not listening."

In a separate 6-0 vote, the council approved borrowing $10 million in two-thirds bonds -- a form of reissued municipal debt that does not require voter approval. The money will be spent for street and sidewalk construction, park upgrades and other public improvements not financed in the larger general obligation bond package.

Staff writer Michael Biesecker can be reached at 956-2421 or mbieseck@newsobserver.com.

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