The 2015-16 budget, city employees’ health insurance provider and a “road diet” for Chapel Hill Boulevard are among the items up for decision at what could be a lengthy City Council meeting Monday night.
Monday’s agenda (nando.com/1d7) lists 56 items, which have already consumed more than 11 hours’ discussions at the June 1 council meeting and two work sessions since then, plus two meetings on the budget alone.
Monday is the council’s last regular meeting of the 2014-15 fiscal year, with several items needing resolution before June 30, including the budget and two matters continued from June 1.
One is the proposed reconfiguring U.S. 15-501 Business, aka Chapel Hill Boulevard, from five vehicle lanes to three, with bicycle lanes and on-street parking.
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The council appeared to favor the so-called road diet when it came up at a May work session, but delayed a vote after opposition came from business owners on the state-maintained road
Reconfiguring, or a “road diet,” would be achieved by re-striping the lanes after NCDOT has the road repaved later this year or in early 2016.
The N.C. Department of Transportation has said it will repaint the lanes as the city prefers, but needs the decision on five lanes or three by the end of June.
If the council votes for reconfiguring, it may still have to seek another state approval. A bill in the state Senate would require approval from the state transportation board for any reduction in travel lanes to accommodate bike lanes on any state road inside a city. If passed as currently written, it would affect the 15-501 project, said Mike Kneis of the DOT’s Durham office.
“It’s just another step,” Kneis said.
“Nothing would surprise me,” said City Manager Tom Bonfield.
The bill, House Bill 44 (nando.com/1d6), passed a second reading in the Senate Thursday and Durham state Sen. Floyd McKissick said he expected its third reading Monday. Because the Senate has amended the bill from its original House version, final approval would require a concurrence vote by the House.
Another postponed decision, is whether Blue Cross and Blue Shield or Aetna gets the contract for city employees’ health insurance for the next three years.
The city’s human resources department recommended Aetna, but Blue Cross – the current carrier, which is based in Durham – has made counter offers and there is a difference of opinion among council members on which offer to accept. (See story, 1A.)
At the June 1 council meeting, about 50 Blue Cross employees appeared wearing blue “Made in Durham” T-shirts, to give human resources time to analyze the latest offers. At this week’s work session, Aetna remained human resources’ pick, but city employees’ emails to council members have urged them to stick with the hometown company.
Budget and priorities
Council members have appeared satisfied to leave basically intact the $386.5 million budget City Manager Tom Bonfield proposed in May, though they planned to revisit the associated 2016-21 capital improvement plan this fall, with an eye toward juggling project priorities.
That plan includes almost $15 million, over six years, for new sidewalks, which was the top priority among 10 big-ticket projects in a poll of council members earlier this year. But other high priorities, such as a multi-field sports complex and infrastructure to support planned light-rail stations, were left for farther in the future.
Councilman Steve Schewel has advocated earlier financing for new greenways, and Councilwoman Diane Catottti has suggested advancing the sports complex, as well as about $400,000 worth of repairs to the park system’s restrooms.
“That should be a high priority since it’s a small amount of money,” she said. “Usage of our parks is in high demand, and we do have restroom problems.”
Besides reconsidering priorities, a subject for later discussion is how to pay for more capital projects, and/or get them done sooner. Mayor Bill Bell has supported a bond referendum, though a property-tax increase has also been mentioned.
Bonfield’s 2015-16 budget holds the property-tax rate at the current 59.12 cents per $100 of assessed property value. That rate generates a tax bill of $986.12 on a house and lot valued at $166,753.
That rate provides about $9 million a year for debt service or cash payments on capital projects from the city’s general fund, which mainly covers day-to-day municipal operations. Capital projects are also financed from revenues – such as permit fees, water charges and parking tickets – that go into funds dedicated to particular use; and from occasional outside grants.
The City Council meets at 7 p.m. Monday at Durham City Hall, City Hall Plaza at Mangum Street. The meeting is open to the public, and carried live on Time Warner cable channel 8.
To see the council agenda and supporting material, visit nando.com/1d7.
Average tax bill
City Manager Tom Bonfield’s 2015-16 budget holds the property-tax rate at the current 59.12 cents per $100 of assessed property value. That rate generates a tax bill of $986.12 on a house and lot valued at $166,753 – median home value in the city, according to the Durham County tax office.