County residents asked the Orange County Board of Commissioners this week to include senior needs and affordable housing in a $125 million bond planned next year for school renovations and repairs.
The bond, as currently proposed, would cover some of the $330 million identified needsin the Chapel Hill-Carrboro and Orange County school systems.
County Commissioner Penny Rich suggested, after hearing from residents, that the commissioners dedicate $10 million in bond funding for affordable housing and set aside another $5 million for senior needs. The county could find another $15 million for schools in its construction projects budget, she said.
“If we put (money for affordable housing) on a bond and the citizens vote for it, it’s a bond and it’s binding,” she said. “I don’t want to see us do an affordable housing plan and have another board come in and decide that they don’t like what we put in place and they can eliminate that funding.”
The commissioners will hear public comment again Oct. 6 before deciding what to put on the November 2016 ballot. The debt could require the equivalent of a 4- to 5-cent increase in the county’s property tax rate, officials said.
A penny on the county’s current tax rate – 87.8 cents per $100 in assessed property value – raises $1.6 million. The owner of a $250,000 home now pays $2,195 a year in county property tax; the proposed increase could equal $125. The spending and related tax impact could come over a period of several years.
The county’s last bond referendum, in 2001, provided $75 million for schools, affordable housing, senior center projects, parks and recreation.
Affordable housing also helps students succeed, residents said, because lower-income parents who don’t have to pay excessive rent can provide their children with more stability.
“It’s a very humbling experience to witness the overcrowding, the substandard construction, the extensive mold issues, the insect infestations and the safety issues that plague these families,” said Kelly Thomas, with the Habitat for Humanity of Orange County board of directors.
Chapel Hill High School junior Ree Ree Wei said she dreamed of having a place her family could call home while living in a small basement apartment in Carrboro. Eight people shared the apartment, she said; it was not safe, and there was no space for homework or fun.
“Then we moved to Phoneix Place, and now I have all of these things – I have a room of my own, a space I can do my homework and a place where I can go to when I need private moments,” she said.
Habitat built the Rogers Road neighborhood subdivision with money from the county’s 2001 bond.
Older residents also urged support for the schools but noted their numbers are growing faster. The county’s two senior centers are crowded and need repairs, they said, while more seniors will create pressure for the county to provide more transit and EMS services.
“The demands of the senior population are clearly growing faster than those of our schools,” resident Mary Kraft said. “If we ignore this emerging reality and fail to make the capital investments now, we will be placing everyone in the county at risk.”
Nearly 28,700 residents were under age 18 last year, according to Census estimates, while roughly 15,600 residents were over age 65. The over-60 population could grow by 84 percent in next 20 years, compared to 3 percent for students, said Beverly Blythe, with Friends of the Central Orange Senior Center.
The Orange County Board of Commissioners also will take public comment on the proposed bond referendum at its Oct. 6 meeting at the Whitted Building, 300 W. Tryon St. in Hillsborough.
Written comments can be submitted via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or mail to: Clerk to the Board’s office, 200 S. Cameron St., Hillsborough, NC 27278.