To see how a city really is – and what it’s becoming – look at its budget. Raleigh’s proposed $858.6 million budget offers an impressive picture of a city on the rise, but also one taking careful steps to address the displacement and strains that come with growth.
The most notable element in the budget proposed Tuesday by City Manager Ruffin Hall is a commitment to providing more affordable housing. Soaring rents and home values are the consequence of Raleigh’s appeal, especially in its downtown core areas. Hall proposes dedicating 1 cent of tax revenue, or $5.7 million, to expand the city’s affordable housing program.
If Raleigh is to continue to thrive, it will need to offset economic pressures that make it less economically diverse and less affordable.
While the tax commitment is the right step on affordable housing, it shouldn’t be the only one. City Council members should continue to ask whether the winners in Raleigh’s boom – land owners, investors and developers – are contributing enough to those who lose their homes or apartments because of rising demand. In Raleigh’s housing market, buyers already are competing for an inventory that can’t keep up.
A look back 10 years illustrates the power of Raleigh’s growth. Since 2006, its population has climbed from 353,604 to 457,608 – a rise of 104,004 people. And the city’s tax base has soared from $33.6 billion to $57.4 billion – a jump of $23.7 billion.
Continued growth in the tax base has allowed Hall to propose lowering the tax rate by 0.27 cents from the current 42.10 cents. But the drop is not all the way back to a revenue neutral rate of 39.83 cents. As a result, property tax bills will increase slightly (about $95 on a $250,000 home), and the overall budget will grow by 3 percent. Part of the extra costs reflects the 1-cent increase for affordable housing, and another 1-cent boost to cover the finance costs for the $52 million the city borrowed to purchase the Dorothea Dix property.
This budget is the first to support the city’s 2015 Strategic Plan for channeling development and improving roads and mass transit as the population grows. It invests in infrastructure such as stormwater control and water systems but also provides for parks improvements, including a renovated Moore Square.
Like all proposed budgets, this one will be adjusted. But it starts as a sound plan and offers a promising picture of a city that can get better as it gets bigger.
A public hearing on the proposed budget will be June 7 at 7 p.m. in the City Council chamber on the second floor of the Avery C. Upchurch Government Complex, 222 W. Hargett St.
The City Council will conduct budget deliberation sessions June 6, June 13, June 20 and June 27 if needed. All sessions will be at 4 p.m. in the Council Chamber. They will be carried live on RTN11 (97.5) and video-streamed on the City of Raleigh’s website, www.raleighnc.gov.
For more information, contact the City’s Budget and Management Services Department at 919-996-4270.