Chapel Hill News

Hillsborough leaders note changes ahead

Town leaders spent time recently considering changes that could challenge the county seat over the next few years.

The town’s population – now roughly 6,400 – could grow by 36.3 percent, or roughly 2,300 people, by 2018, Town Manager Eric Peterson told the Town Board at its annual retreat. The recommended financial plan for 2016-18 addresses that possibility, he said.

The town’s strategy map, which includes its vision and strategic priorities, was adjusted last year to encourage getting more residents involved. A six-week citizens academy, which starts March 11, grew out of that priority, officials said.

“I feel like we have a very balanced, inclusive vision, but we have to keep checking ourselves,” Mayor Tom Stevens said.

Nearly 1,000 residential units have been approved for development, Planning Director Margaret Hauth said. So far, nearly 80 have received permits from the town, and about 15 are completed. The town typically issues about 150 permits per year, officials said, although there were 200 in 2014.

“You can see there’s a lot more to come than what we’ve received permits for or than what’s been completed,” Hauth said.

The town expects more developers to propose projects as a planned Amtrak rail station is developed off Orange Grove Street, just south of downtown, officials said. The N.C. Department of Transportation could pay $7.68 million toward the station’s construction, they said.

Additional housing won’t make an immediate difference in what the town earns from property taxes, Peterson said. The town also faces the loss of up to $330,000 in annual water revenues and $40,000 because of state changes that ended local business privilege license fees, officials said.

The town also needs to take a look at how it is organized, Peterson said. Most divisions and departments now report directly to him.

“With all the talk about the growth and the things that we want to accomplish and the things that we want to avoid, do we have the structure to let us accomplish what we want going forward?” he asked the board. “The answer is no.”

The town could reclassify what is now a fellowship program job in 2017 to create a new assistant to the manager role, he said. New positions also could help the human resources and public information offices, both of which are partially staffed, he said, while freeing up an analyst to support the budget director and manager.

Board members directed town staff to work on both positions this spring.

Peterson also proposed reclassifying the planning director’s role in July to include “assistant manager,” recognizing the position’s larger government role and designating someone who can act in the manager’s absence.