We passed our 2008-2009 town budget, approximately $18.5 million, at our June 3rd meeting.

Our town property tax rate increased by 3.26 cents, and our tax rate is now 68.63% of $100 assessed value. Town Manager Steve Stewart informed us that (at the current tax rate) town property tax revenue for the next year was projected to only rise 2%, and sales tax revenue was expected to increase just 1%. Inflation is now at 4.1%, and so these figures make for a challenging budget year.

Our tax rate reflects our need to continue to work to increase our commercial tax base. It also reflects our need to continue to be conservative about any decisions we make that result in an increase in the budget. We were presented with a budget this year that not only handled increases that we cannot control (health insurance and gasoline costs, for
example) but one that that also cut or saved in enough areas that we were able to fund through an expansion of the budget two additional police officers, six flushless urinals at the Century Center (the financial payback of which will be realized in six years, and then savings will result), and additional money for the Orange Community Housing and Land Trust. Our CIP initiatives (sidewalks, greenways, street resurfacing, Weaver Street reconstruction, etc.) are also progressing. Otherwise, our budget remained the same as the previous year.

I should note with regard to the additional money for the OCHLT that I voted for an increase of $4,000, not $8,000 (the $8,000 increase was approved 4-3 by the board). I voted this way because the town manager’s recommendation of $4,000 was in line percentage-wise with what neighboring jurisdictions were budgeting, and additionally, although I wholeheartedly support the work of the OCHLT, it is hard for me to justify almost any increase to the budget during these tough financial times.

It looks as though our citizens will be hit heavily in the pocket this upcoming year with Orange County (which includes the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system) raising its tax rate, and the Orange Water and Sewer Authority raising its fees. The reality is that these financial decisions affect the overall tax and financial burden on our citizens more than decisions that we on the BOA make, because they are a much greater piece of the pie.

As such, just as we carefully review and consider ways to be smart with our budget, we must renew our effort to collaborate and brainstorm and work with Orange County, the school board and OWASA, with the goal of making our area a place where we can all continue to afford to live.