City Council members fielded questions from the public Monday night during an “E Town Hall” session.
The 45-minute session, carried live on the city’s cable television channel and on the city website, ran a gamut of issues related to the city budget – from body cameras for police to street conditions and sidewalks.
WTVD reporter Ken Smith moderated, posing questions that residents had submitted in advance to Mayor Bill Bell and particular council members.
Councilman Eddie Davis fielded the question on whether money for body cameras is in the $386.5 million budget proposed for next year.
“Yes,” Davis said, “but there is a silver lining. ... We hope we can capture some of the (federal) grants being offered.”
Durham police have been testing different models of the cameras and recently held a series of public meetings on them.
“Whatever the funding source,” Davis said, “we want to make sure that ... is covered in Durham.”
Another questioner wanted to know if the city would reimburse the cost of car repairs due to “abysmal” streets, or direct tax money to street repairs.
Councilwoman Diane Catotti did not speak to reimbursements, but did say the budget includes $2 million for street maintenance.
Bell took a question on parking, which specifically mentioned the lack of enough in the restaurant-nightspot district near Durham Central Park.
“We recognize parking is a challenge,” Bell said. He noted the council had just approved an increase in parking ticket fines – and that he had just gotten one himself.
“I paid it,” he said.
Catotti answered the question about sidewalks. The budget has about $850,000 for sidewalk construction and $100,000 for repairs.
“It has been a priority for me, and it’s a high priority for my colleagues,” she said.
Projected long-range budgets include $17 million worth of sidewalks.
“It takes a while, but we’ll be doing our best,” she added.
One questioner expressed “shock” that so much of the city budget is earmarked for employee salaries, rather than spending more for poverty relief or on schools.
Mayor Pro Tem Cora Cole-McFadden explained that Durham County, not the city, is responsible for the public schools, and that all city services “have to have people doing that work.”
The council responded to 15 questions during the E Town Hall, which preceded a public hearing on the budget held during the council’s regular meeting.
During that hearing, residents asked for funding to build new trails and soccer fields.
“The health of our citizens will improve greatly if we make (more trails) available,” said John Goebel, chairman of the Durham Open Space and Trails Commission, who told the council that by the 2016-17 budgeting season the commission “is going to give you a very bold plan” for the trail system.
David Fellerath of the Durham Soccer Council asked the city to expedite construction a multi-field athletic complex, one of a number of expensive major capital projects in long-range city plans.
“This is important to our community,” Fellerath said, and encouraged the city to look into grant programs of the U.S. Soccer Foundation to expose low-income children to the game.
On another issue, resident Gwyn Silver asked that the budget include a $50,000 line item for police officers specifically assigned to Northeast Central Durham, an area east of downtown long afflicted with high crime rates and poverty.
“It would prove to your citizens you are very serious about crime,” she said.
Council members received those last requests without comment. Approval for the final budget is scheduled for June 15.
In other business, the council put off until its Thursday work session a decision on the insurance carrier for city employee medical coverage.
The city’s personnel office had recommended a three-year contract with Aetna over a contract with Blue Cross Blue Shield, the city’s current medical insurer. The council voted to delay its decision to give the city administration time to review a new proposal from Blue Cross.