Durham talks budget in ‘E-Town Hall’

jwise@newsobserver.comJune 3, 2013 

— City Council members tried out an “E-Town Hall” Monday night, responding to citizens’ electronic questions about the way the city spends – or doesn’t spend – money.

Over the hour preceding a standard public hearing on the proposed 2013-14 budget, the council fielded 15 questions posed by WTVD newsman Anthony Wilson, acting as moderator. The experiment was carried live on the city cable-television channel and streamed on the city Web site.

“This approach represents in my opinion a tremendous advance for the city of Durham – bringing more people into the discussion,” said Councilman Howard Clement at the end.

Some questions concerned specifics in the budget, such as money for a new greenway on Ellerbe Creek, and others general, such as what the city is doing to create jobs.

On the greenway, Councilwoman Diane Catotti said, “We will have additional discussion.”

On jobs, Mayor Bill Bell said, “We are more an enabler. We want people investing in Durham to continue investing in Durham and facilitate that.”

One question came with a video of dust hanging over an unpaved street after a city truck went by. The questioner wanted to know why it takes a long time to get a street paved after a citizens’ paving petition is submitted.

“It’s a complicated process,” said Mayor Bill Bell. He went on to explain the process, concluding, “If we don’t have sufficient funds available, the project gets rolled over to the next year.”

Council members also took several opportunities to remind viewers and their City Hall audience that city services cost money.

“Every year we begin with the premise that we have more needs than revenues. That’s it,” said Councilman Eugene Brown. “Everything then becomes an issue of priorities. …

“If anyone can find a grove of money trees growing somewhere in Durham, please let us know,” Brown said.

Video replays of the meeting are available at bit.ly/FnewD. The proposed budget for next year is $381 million. Council members have a final work session Thursday, with adoption scheduled for June 17.

Wise: 919-641-5895

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