Residents who missed Tuesday night’s City Council hearing on whether Durham should eliminate its municipal primary will have another chance to speak Feb. 6.
Three residents spoke at the public hearing, asking council members to not consider the change. A fourth asked them to research it more.
“I think it’s a money issue, “ Anita Keith-Foust said. “ Somebody thinks they're going to save money. Well it’s been a long struggle for civil rights in America, and we’re being forced to go back in time.”
Former council member Jackie Wagstaff said residents are still reeling from the “tumultuous” 2016 election and asked council members to consider a “true ward system” election instead.
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Chris Tiffany said local minority community members are already being “suppressed.”
“Instead, hold local elections and primaries at the same time as statewide elections and primaries,” Tiffany said.
Jim Svara asked council members not to make a change, until they’ve explored an instant runoff voting alternative.
Councilwoman Jillian Johnson said although the state doesn’t allow “rank choice voting,” it’s a matter that is on the city’s legislative agenda.
“(It’s) a system of voting that allows (you) to rank your choices in election rather than just pick one candidate,” Johnson said. She said she thinks it’s a more democratic process.
The city currently uses the non-partisan primary that “reduces the number of candidates for an office to a particular number when applicable,” city documents state. A second election is then held among the candidates remaining from the primary election to determine the winners.
According to the proposal for council consideration, the candidate receiving the most votes in a single election would be declared the winner. If the leading candidate does not receive the majority of the votes, a runoff election could be requested.
In other business Tuesday, the council unanimously approved designating the J.A. Whitted School – Durham’s first high school for black students – a local historic landmark.
In December 2013, the building at South Roxboro and East Umstead streets was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
State statute allows taxes to be reduced by half on properties when accounting costs to restore, preserve or maintain historic structures.
The landmark designation includes both the building and land.
Karla Rosenberg, with the city-county planning department, said including the property does not have high tax impact.
If there was ever a building that had tremendous historic value this is clearly it.
Eddie Davis, City Council member
The owner, Whitted School Redevelopment LLC, is renovating the school at a cost of about $22.8 million for 79 low-to-moderate income apartments for senior citizens and eight preschool classrooms operated by the Durham Public Schools.
The residential and commercial parcels are where the value lies, Rosenberg said.
According to the staff report, the assessment of all three parcels is more than $1.56 million – or $100 for the common area parcel, $942,610 for the residential condo, and $617,973 for the commercial condo.
Once designated as a landmark, the taxable value of the entire property would be reduced to $780,342 – or a loss of $5,778 per year in Durham County revenue with the county’s current tax rate and $4,375 per year to the city at its current tax rate.
Councilman Steve Schewel, who supported the designation, asked if the land will have more value once the project is complete.
Darryl Jones, vice president of Integral Group, which partnered with Durham Public Schools about four years ago to find a way to repurpose the building, said it would be “much higher.”
The council still supported the designation.
“If there was ever a building that had tremendous historic value this is clearly it, and this is an obvious choice for a designation,” Schewel said.
Councilman Eddie Davis said he supports the historic designation of both the building and the land.
“I think it’s important not only recognize fiscal issues … but also the value of the history of the people who have attended that school and who have had some connection to school over the years,” Davis said.
Mayor Pro Tem Cora-Cole McFadden attended the school when it was a junior high.