Category: Features

Carrboro Board of Alderman

Burden of Dependency:

Carrboro leaders long for freedom from harmful state legislation

Carrboro’s leaders sometimes wish the town they lived was somewhere else.

A town not tucked in the center of a state that passed HB2. Not nestled in place that strips their authority to govern with just a few approved words on paper. Not controlled by a majority that seems to think differently in every possible way.

A town that wants to, as its bus-side advertisements say, “Feel Free”—free to raise the minimum wage, free to outfit the police with body cameras, free to fund a public transportation system that connects communities.

But town leaders are starting to feel that this freedom is being slowly chipped away. Their own state legislators, the people claiming to represent them, are attacking their very way of life.

Where has the money gone?

For Alderman Randee Haven O’Donnell the main appeal of living in Carrboro is the schools.

Less than ten miles from Carrboro are three of the top ten high schools in the state—East Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill and Carrboro. The town also lies only two miles away from one of the nation’s top public universities, UNC-Chapel Hill. 23.5 percent of workers in Orange County, the county where most of Carrboro resides, work in education and almost half of the county’s budget goes to fund its two school districts.

But funding for the schools has recently been jeopardized by several bills from the state’s General Assembly.

House Bill 406 would remove the ability for Orange County to collect impact fees, or fees charged to developers to fund social projects. A similar bill, House Bill 436, would remove the ability impose these in towns and counties state-wide including in Carrboro. Impact fees make up roughly $2.8 million of the revenue for Orange County and Chapel Hill-Carrboro public schools. Carrboro Alderman Damon Seils believes the only ways for the town to make up for the lost revenue would be to raise property taxes or cut school spending.

“I think regardless of how people in Orange County feel about impact fees in general the reality is if Orange County is no longer able to collect those school construction impact fees that’s going to be a significant hit on the budget and the county will have to make up that revenue somehow,” Seils said in an interview. “Of course the community is not going to support cutting spending that would be a pretty major hit on the school system. Most likely outcome there would be a pretty significant rise in the property taxes.”

Other bills have attacked UNC-CH’s finances. House Bill 728 would forcibly remove UNC from the Atlantic Coast Conference if the conference continues its boycott of the state for its championships, potentially costing the university roughly $90 million in exit fees and the loss of all media rights until 2027.

Perhaps the greatest impact on the schools and on Carrboro has been the passage of House Bill 2, or the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, in a special legislative session in General Assembly in March. The bill limited the rights of transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice and also enacted limits on town non-discrimination and minimum wage ordinances.  Several companies pulled out of North Carolina including PayPal and Adidas and seven states issued travel bans to North Carolina in reaction to the law. In addition to the ACC, The National Basketball Association and National Collegiate Athletic Association also boycotted the state by removing their respective championship games. A HB2 repeal bill passed on March 30, but it was soon decried by civil rights groups because of provisions that continued to prevent municipalities from implementing non-discrimination ordinances until 2020.

“The economics of this should say to our Republican legislators that they do not have North Carolina’s economic interests at heart. That their ideology is in conflict with the health and welfare and stability, economic stability, of the state,” Haven O’Donnell said of HB2. “(Orange) county is going to suffer the most, because we’ve got UNC which is the flagship university of this state…. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.”

In July of 2016, the Orange County Visitors Bureau estimated that the county had lost over a million dollars in revenue from HB2, mainly from tourism. The majority of tourism revenue in Carrboro comes from the Hampton Inn on East Main Street. Haven O’Donnell said the hotel is vulnerable because of the discriminatory state laws’ effect on UNC-CH’s sports. The state also currently sets limits on how much money Carrboro can collect from the hotel, further constraining the town’s finances.

“78 percent of the tourism dollars are generated by the Hampton Inn in Carrboro,” Haven O’Donnell said. “(The economic loss) is not only going to make a difference county-wide—I think it’s going to erode those numbers for folks getting accommodation at Carrboro’s hotels.”

The state has also imposed limits on how much it will contribute to capital projects like spending on infrastructure. In February, the Board of Aldermen failed to approve of a new capital improvements plan that would provide much-needed repairs to Town Hall partially due to a lack in funding.

“I am very fearful about state resources in the future for transportation and subsidies, housing subsidies that kind of thing at the state level to our own ability to raise money at the local level,” Alderman Bethany Chaney “All of those things can really reset our ability to manage our finances as well as we’ve been able to do in the past.”

Several Alderman also expressed concern with a public transportation plan that was approved by the voters in 2012 because of a drop in state funding for the project. The $2.5-billion-dollar public transportation plan provides expanded bus service and also calls for the construction of a light rail system connecting Durham and Orange counties by 2062. The original draft of the plan requested 25 percent of the funding to come from the state, but after the law changed in 2016 only 10 percent of the project will be state-funded.

A report by the financial consulting firm Davenport and Company said unless the funding gap was addressed the plan could leave Orange County in a potentially risky financial situation. Davenport and Co. estimated the county will only have $210, 725 to cover any unforeseen expenses with the plan by 2040.

Despite historically sound financial management, several Aldermen believe that property taxes must rise to make up for the impact of General Assembly legislation.

“That being said I think the biggest threat to the towns ability to meet its expenses over time is actually the state of North Carolina and the state legislature. There are very few actions we can take as a board that are independent of the state,” Chaney said. “When the states legislature is as conservative and as bitter as it is we find that we are very constrained in the way that we can creatively raise resources and pour those resources.”

A progressive agenda in a conservative state

Seils said legislation is more partisan and targeted under the current Republican-controlled legislature, especially for liberal communities.

“It’s somewhat common I think especially under this current legislature for bills to come through that affect particular communities,” Seils said. “I think there are others that are more general ideological that they just reflect a different view what the state should be and certain kinds of regulations or what the role of local governments should be in local regulations.”

Orange County residents have supported a liberal candidate for president ever since 1928. In the 2016 election, roughly 72 percent of Orange County residents voted for Hillary Clinton—significantly higher than the 46.7 percent state-wide. None of the current members of the Board of Aldermen are registered Republicans.

Carrboro has also served as a model for other liberal municipalities state-wide. Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools was one of only three school districts in the country to close on March 8 because the “Day Without Women” protest was projected to leave the district understaffed. The town elected the very first openly gay mayor in the state in 1995, and currently is led by the state’s first lesbian mayor. In 2016, all Carrboro town and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools employees were guaranteed a living wage of $12.75 an hour, $5.50 more than the state minimum wage.

General Assembly legislation has damaged more than just the town’s finances. Several laws or pieces of proposed legislation conflict the progressive vision the town has prided itself on.

Recent proposed legislation also targets the towns environmental measures. Senate Bill 434 places restrictions on stream buffers, or lands adjacent to streams where vegetation is strongly influenced by the presence of water. Alderman Damon Seils believes the bill were to become law it would negatively affect both the water quality and disaster preparedness of the town.

Another bill, House Bill 63, would target policies on the treatment of residents in the U.S. illegally. The bill would allow for any resident to report their town harboring persons in the country illegally. Currently Carrboro is not registered as a “sanctuary” city for these immigrants but Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle said they need not fear deportation.

“The fact is in an environment where some of the basics are being dismantled, the ability, the local authority, to determine who is welcome and who has sanctuary in your town this is something that North Carolinians should push their legislator (support local control),” Haven-O’Donnell said.

A recent initiative to implement body cameras in the Carrboro Police Department sparked debate by Alderman Sammy Slade because of law passed by the General Assembly in November that would limit access of body camera footage.

Under the new law body camera footage could only be accessed at the discretion of the police department by a legal representative of a person appearing in the footage. In all other cases access to the footage could only be granted by a superior court judge.

Jeff Welty, a Professor at the UNC School of Government said in November that the law is the first of its kind.

“Other states are all over the map,” Welty said. “But one aspect of our that’s unique is that I don’t think there is any other state in which there is no way to get access to a recording like this except through a court order.”

Slade said he was unable to support the body camera resolution because it would not provide for proper public accountability of the police department.

“The value in general of video footage is for the public to serve to hold accountable not just the police force but (also) the justice system itself,” Slade said. “And so the reason I find the state law problematic is that it takes that opportunity to hold the justice system accountable from us.”

Town Attorney Nick Herman said he and a group of other attorneys are trying to fight back against the law to allow for disclosure of body camera footage to the town manager.

“There is nothing unlawful about the statute itself, its enactment or what it says. What the fight would be potentially is an interpretation of the reach of the statute—what it means,” Herman said. “Some of us believe that the statute must be read in light of other statutes—that the manager is empowered to do certain things. Viewed that way is disclosure or release may be more expansive than just what’s literally stated in this.”

Fighting back

Haven O’Donnell believes it is the town’s job to stand up against perceived injustice by the legislature.

“I think peaceful dissent is always appropriate,” Haven O’Donnell said. “I’ve always felt that when people have concerns that they need to express it, they need to be able to tell what they are thinking and feeling and need to be able to let people know where their voices are.”

Despite the legislative setbacks, Carrboro’s Aldermen continue to pass progressive policies and remain optimistic for the future and for the town they live in.

“Personality-wise we are much more like in kindred spirits with places like Portland, Oregon or on a tiny scale Seattle or Boulder, Colorado,” Haven O’Donnell said. “We extend that view in every direction—It just radiates out from who we are. And that’s the reason why I want folks to know “Come to Carrboro.” The rest of the state may have a different view, but the progressive mindset lives and breathes here.”

Features

Not Quite So Black and White: Students, Administrators examine…

Issue2Cover 2

 

A NORMAL SCHOOL DAY IN FEBRUARY 1977…

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Feb. 17, 1977 — It was the day of the big game. Two county rivals facing off on the hardwood that night. Tensions were high.

Red, white and blue-clad students filed into the gym for a pep rally. Junior William Anthony Shealy entered through the gym doors, crammed with students in the tiny space. A small scuffle ensued, but it was quickly resolved — that is, until the end of the pep rally.

Once the pep rally had ended, the fight began again. And then it got worse.

Ten students, both White and black, began brawling in the hallways. Soon it grew to as many as 60. In the fray, one student pulled out a knife and stabbed Shealy twice as Shealy attempted to break up the disturbance.

The school was plunged into chaos.

State highway patrolmen and local prison guards were dispatched to the school to stop the fighting and set up a roadblock in front of the school. Teachers fled to their classrooms and locked the doors. School officials worked to evacuate the school, afraid of further tension.

Black students began boarding buses at 11 a.m. Three students were taken to the hospital for treatment.

The next day, normally noisy halls were quiet. Students who filled the hallways remained at home. There were no lessons on history, math, science or literature. There was no county basketball match-up. There was only silence.

West may have come a long way since that morning in February almost 40 years ago, but some would argue that racism still exists in area schools.

Racial incidents like the one at West are not just events of the past. At nearby Brevard High School in November, an incident race-related bullying of a black student led to three men being charged with ethnic intimidation and concerns raised by parents at Transylvania Schools Board of Education meetings.

The situation at Brevard allegedly started out as an argument over a student’s girlfriend and escalated to the three men driving to the black student’s house and yelling racial threats. Police reported that the three men were wearing ski masks and carrying knives, a rope and a stick.

The FBI and the local chapter of the NAACP are now investigating the incident and determining whether the three men should be charged with racial intimidation, North Carolina’s designation for a hate crime.

The recent incident at Brevard raises questions. Could it happen in the Henderson County Public Schools? Is the occasionally uttered racist rhetoric evidence of a systemic problem or simply isolated incidents of bigotry?

DIFFERING VIEWS ON DIVERSITY AND DISCRIMINATION

“I would probably say every minority student at West has (experienced racism),” senior Tyreke Dunbar, a black student, said. “Earlier in high school, I encountered more racism than I do now. Freshman year there were a lot of seniors and juniors who thought they were hot stuff and (said some racist things).”

Listen to Tyreke Dunbar’s full interview here:

Students and administrators disagree over whether an incident similar to the one at Brevard could happen at West. Dunbar said he believes it is possible.

“I could guarantee that it’s possible to happen here,” Dunbar said. “Tensions can rise pretty fast in a situation, and there are enough white people here and enough black people here for something like that to happen.”

“I WOULD PROBABLY SAY EVERY MINORITY STUDENT AT WEST HAS (EXPERIENCED RACISM),” -SENIOR TYREKE DUNBAR

Principal Shannon Auten said she believes it is unlikely an incident like the one at Brevard could happen at West.

“I feel like this is a welcoming community. I’m so proud of West Henderson. We embrace the diversity we have,” Auten said. “Obviously, we’d never want something like that happening at West Henderson. I just want all of our students and teachers to be nice.”

Senior Caitlin Fuentes, a biracial Caucasian and Hispanic student, believes racism may not be readily apparent inside the hallways of the school, but off-campus it is more prevalent.

“Oh, racism definitely goes on here,” Fuentes said. “Perhaps it’s more outside of school, not in the school — not in the hallways but like on the buses.”

Listen to Caitlin Fuentes’s full interview here:

Senior Jade Dunbar, a black student, said she believes students and teachers at West are friendly overall and that any racism is minimal.

“I can’t say that I have (encountered any racism),” Jade Dunbar said. “There might have been instances where I thought it might have existed, but I was never certain.”

 

Listen to Jade Dunbar’s full interview here:

PERPLEXING NUMBERS

If racism exists locally, then one would expect there would be data to support that assertion. One metric that could show possible teacher discrimination is the number of short-term suspensions categorized by race.

According to a report from the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee of the North Carolina General Assembly, in Henderson County there were 885 total suspensions for the 2014-2015 school year. Of those, 116 involved African-American students or about 13.1 percent of all suspensions for that school year. According to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, African-American students made up about 3.7 percent of the population of students in Henderson County that year.

West vs Henderson County 

Advanced Placement Statistics teacher Tyler Honeycutt said the difference between the number of suspensions and the population could be statistically significant if the data on suspensions and demographics are accurate and from the same time period.

“It is impossible to tell which HCPS school the discrepancy is coming from without further breaking the data down from school-to-school, which the (Joint Legislative Oversight Committee) report unfortunately doesn’t do for us,” Honeycutt said. “Another item that would be good to know is what the offenses that received suspensions were and whether those suspensions were doled out with fairness among racial groups. Again, unfortunately, the data do not indicate whether the punishments were the same for offense types among racial categories. This occurs mainly because students who were sent to the office, but who did not get suspension punishment (ISS, OSS, etc) are left out of the data. This gives us very little by which we can compare practices of disciplinary procedures for different racial groups. To me, that would be the true marker of whether discriminatory practices were in place. I think the questions posed here really illuminate the need for better data-gathering practices regarding school disciplinary procedures in general.”

Henderson County is not alone in facing these racially disproportionate suspensions. A 2014 study by the University of Pennsylvania graduate school of education found that disproportionate punishment was systemic throughout the southern United States. In North Carolina alone, the study found that “65,897 Black students were suspended from North Carolina K-12 public schools in a single academic year. Blacks were 26% of students in school districts across the state, but comprised 51% of suspensions and 38% of expulsions.”

The study also linked these types of punishments to the “school-to-prison pipeline,” a term used to describe the increasing patterns of contact students have with the juvenile and adult criminal justice systems as a result of the practices implemented by educational institutions. In its conclusion, the report laid out possible ways to diagnose the problem of disproportionate punishment.

“In most teacher education and administrator preparation programs, too little emphasis is placed on racial disproportionality in discipline and ways educators help sustain the school-to-prison pipeline.” The report states, “More time and attention must be placed on educating aspiring teachers and school leaders about implicit bias and other racist forces that annually reproduce horrifying statistics such as those presented in this report.”

Discrepancies in treatment also occur with other minority populations. For multiracial students there were 69 suspensions for the 2014-2015 school year or roughly 7.8 percent of all suspensions for that year despite multiracial students making up only 3.6 percent of the total population. Multiracial students face some of the same pressures minority students do. Fuentes said being biracial puts her into an awkward position that has sometimes led to her feeling discriminated against.

“I was put into ESL (English as a second language classes) in elementary school, which is funny because I speak English perfectly. It’s my first language. I don’t really speak any Spanish at all,” Fuentes said. “They saw my skin color and said, ‘Oh you should be in ESL.’ It made my mom really mad. I was kind of too young to understand, but now when I look back I’m like, ‘Really, guys, just talk to me, and you can see I speak English just fine.”

“THEY SAW MY SKIN COLOR AND SAID, ‘OH, YOU SHOULD BE IN ESL.’” – SENIOR CAITLIN FUENTES

Auten said any perception of discrimination is unintentional.

“I think in Henderson County Public Schools and at West our goal is to treat each student and each disciplinary situation in a fair and consistent manner,” Auten said. “Every situation is different. If we are making this a place where we embrace everyone for their differences, we also have to be fair and consistent with our discipline.”

Another important metric to consider is the diversity of the school’s student body. According to Startclass, a service that ranks high schools and colleges based on academic performance, in the 2013-2014 school year, 87.1 percent of West students were white with the next largest group being Hispanics, making up 6.9 percent of the student body.

Startclass also reported that there was a difference between the graduation rates of white and minority students for that school year. The Caucasian graduation rate at West that year was 95 percent while the Hispanic and multiracial graduation rate was only 80 percent — three percent less than the state average. However, there was not a significant discrepancy in math and language arts standardized test scores for that school year.

 A SOUTHERN SCHOOL IN A DIVERSE WORLD

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Despite the numbers, Auten has faith that West is a diverse place for students to come to school.

“Diversity to me is based on culture and ability, gender, race, ethnicity, identity and expression, political affiliation, religion, sexuality, sexual identity and all sorts of different things. I feel like West is a diverse place,” Auten said. “What I’m really proud of is the way our students really embrace and accept each other. I feel like this is a welcoming community. I’m so proud of West Henderson.”

Listen to Principal Shannon Auten’s full interview here 

Jade Dunbar said she would like to have attended a more diverse school, but she believes West is becoming more diverse.

“I feel like it would be better if it became more diverse, but we are becoming more diverse as the years go on,” she said. “We’ve come pretty far since my freshman year. Now that we’ve had all these new African-American students, new Asian students and new Hispanic students, it’s made everything a bit more equal.”

“DIVERSITY TO ME IS BASED ON CULTURE AND ABILITY, GENDER, RACE, ETHNICITY, IDENTITY AND EXPRESSION, POLITICAL AFFILIATION, RELIGION, SEXUALITY, SEXUAL IDENTITY AND ALL SORTS OF DIFFERENT THINGS. I FEEL LIKE WEST IS A DIVERSE PLACE. WHAT I’M REALLY PROUD OF IS THE WAY OUR STUDENTS REALLY EMBRACE AND ACCEPT EACH OTHER. I FEEL LIKE THIS IS A WELCOMING COMMUNITY. I’M SO PROUD OF WEST HENDERSON.” -PRINCIPAL SHANNON AUTEN

Tyreke Dunbar would have liked attending a more diverse school, but he also feels it isn’t an issue.

“I think it would be a lot cooler for just about every aspect of our school if there was more diversity,” Tyreke Dunbar said. “It’s not too bad, though.”

But both Jade and Tyreke Dunbar agree racism is still a problem in American society.

“It’s pretty ignorant to ignore the fact that there is racism around black people,” Tyreke Dunbar said. “People still try to act like it’s not a big deal. It still is. It’s just not in the same way that it used to be.”

By Ari Sen

Features

Price to Play: Schools face challenge funding sports

Writing and Editing. June 2, 2015. Wingspan. 

This is a feature I wrote in high school about West Henderson sports teams. Before I started my reporting I thought that I would try to investigate the sports program. I assumed – wrongly – that the sports team was funded from the same money that the school was and that the sports team was taking money from the academics at the school. What I found out after I did my reporting was just as interesting. In fact, the athletics program is funded completely on its own, without any state or local funding from anyone and it was struggling to break even. 

A 3A state runner-up volleyball team. The North Carolina 100-yard backstroke champion. A football team with its most successful season in more than 30 years. A dozen or more athletes going on to compete in college.

These are just a few of the accomplishments of the sports program at West in the past year. People think of these accomplishments as a sign of success. But who pays the price for that success?

“The school system does not allocate any dollars for athletics,” John Bryant, the Henderson County Public Schools district athletic director said. “We contribute funds for the construction and general maintenance of the facilities and provide the dollars that pay and compensate the coaches.”

All other expenses of the sports program are funded by the school through gate receipts and fundraising.

According to the school’s athletic director, Assistant Principal Jeff Smith, the school spent a $108,000 on sports teams last semester with gate receipts of $115,000. The extra funds helped pay for spring sports teams. It is hard for the school to break even, Smith said.

“Athletics are very fickle. When you go through a down year, sometimes you need an influx of cash,” Smith said. “When it comes to refurbishing the track or doing major repair on our football field or practice field or basketball court, it would be nice to have some cash. Right now, we are forced to prioritize. Do we give our athletes new uniforms or paint or get new floors? I think our athletes deserve better. It would be nice to just have a base amount of money to start. About $10,000 to $15,000 would be great. It would help us keep better care of our facilities.”

Some sports teams cost more than others. Smith said football is the sport that costs the most, but it also brings in the most revenue and helps pay for other sports.

“The equipment costs for football are just unbelievable,” Smith said. “We have to recondition helmets every year. They have to be sent off to an inspector that makes sure they are legal. After a certain age they have to be thrown out. If there are any cracks or damages they have to be thrown out. It can cost up to $300 for one helmet, and we have 80 players. Shoulder pads are also expensive and can cost from $100 to $200 apiece. Football uniforms can also be really expensive. We bought football uniforms for the first time in eight or nine years, and they cost $9,000. But football also takes in the most money.”

The school is responsible for funding uniforms and equipment and for upgrading athletic facilities. These upgrades can have a high cost. “We are trying to buy a new scoreboard because the one we have is falling apart. We are trying to put a digital Jumbotron scoreboard down there, which could cost from $80,000 to $100,000,” Smith said. “We are also having some discussions with our central office about what it’s going to take to (Astro)turf our football field.”

Not only does the school pay to operate the sports program, it also has to pay the state and the North Carolina High School Athletic Association. The NCHSAA is a private, nonprofit athletic association that governs high school athletics for the state of North Carolina. NCHSAA charges a $0.75 per pupil membership fee and takes 15 percent of all gate receipts for postseason games in exchange for providing locations and logistics for playoff and championship games.

The NCHSAA also has an allotment of additional funds which are partially returned to schools to protect against emergencies. Last year, NCHSAA returned $500,000 back to schools from its allotment funds.

“The NCHSAA doesn’t govern West or North or East other than the fact that our high schools choose to be members and they are participating in sanctioned athletic activities across the state. Each of our high schools pays a membership fee, and when they do, they are accepting the organization,” Bryant said. “I certainly think that our student athletes and our schools have found great value in being members. Like anything there are limitations, and there are things in which the organization can grow and be better. It would appear by the simple fact that all the schools in the county continue to be members that the value for our student athletes, the opportunity for them to compete against other schools in our state, that value exceeds the challenges schools face.”

Smith agrees that the NCHSAA is helpful, but disagrees with the way the organization structures the playoff games.

“The amount of money they (NCHSAA) take from our gate money really hurts,” Smith said. “For example, in the Kings Mountain playoff game (in November), Kings Mountain got a share of our gate, and we had to pay all of the expenses: security, ticket takers, even the rescue squad. That came out of our half, so Kings Mountain ended making more gate money from our playoff game than we did. The state also walked off with a good chunk of it, and they did nothing.”

Rick Strunk, the associate communications director for the NCHSAA, says it’s rare that an away school makes more money than the home school. He feels that these payments are more than fair because school officials come up with the fees, not his organization.

“The athletic organization is governed by a board of directors with equal representatives from each of the eight regions of North Carolina. The representatives consist of athletic directors, superintendents and other school officials,” Strunk said. “The board of directors determines the formula for the travel allotments for different sports.”

Strunk said that many state athletic organizations take 100 percent of all funds from postseason events, so the 15 percent they take is minimal.

Some of the costs for sports teams fall on students. Members of the volleyball team said that without fundraising the equipment and uniforms required for the sport can cost up to $500. Student-athletes are also responsible for the transportation fee which in Henderson County is $20. Smith said the cost is minimal compared to what other school systems charge, but that sports should be free.

“We are fortunate in Henderson County that our transportation fee is very minimal for our athletes. In Buncombe County that fee is up to about $100 per student per sport,” Smith said. “I don’t think students should have to pay to participate in sports.”

By Ari Sen

Photo illustration by Analyse Wilkins. 

Carrboro Board of Alderman

Developer’s complaint to cost schools, community millions

By Ari Sen

Ask any high school or college student and they’ll tell you that one late paper or homework assignment doesn’t carry to large a penalty. Ten points off or perhaps the difference between an A and a B.

But one local apartment owner’s late paperwork might have led to proposed legislation that could cost local schools and taxpayers millions of dollars.

The bills, House Bill 406 and House Bill 436, would eliminate impact fees for municipalities across the state. HB 406 specifically targets impact fees for Orange County whereas HB 436 would ban the fees in several municipalities including Carrboro, Cary, Chapel Hill, Pittsboro, Raleigh and Wake Forrest. HB 436 also applies to Catawba, Chatam and Orange counties.

“It’s probably a good sign in that there’s not a whole bunch of people signing onto these and saying, yes, we support this,” Orange County Rep. Graig Meyer said in a Board of Commissioners meeting.

Despite Meyer’s comments, both bills have cleared their first procedural hurdles by making it to the finance committee of the General Assembly. Seils said they were told it was unlikely the bills would be voted on this week, but they could move to the House floor as soon as next week.

Impact fees are fees paid by developers to the local town or county government that help to fund social programs such as infrastructure projects or schools. Orange County currently receives $2.8 million in revenue from these impact fees, which goes to support both Orange County and Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools. Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools budget is roughly $144 million for the 2017-2018 school year whereas the smaller Orange County public schools requested roughly $44.5 million for the 2017 fiscal year. Alderman Damon Seils said the only ways the county could make up the lost funding is by cutting spending or raising property taxes by at least two cents.

“If we are looking at a shortfall caused by loss of revenues we are talking about needing to make up that revenue some other way, notably by increasing property taxes,” Seils said.

“Of course the community is not going to support cutting spending—that would be a pretty major hit on the school system.”

Seils said the bills were likely brought on by a single development in Orange County. Orange County Rep. Verla Insko told the News and Observer that the development in question is likely the Chapel Hill complex currently known as Townhouse.

Townhouse apartments are currently owned by A.P. Segar, and are located on Hillsborough Street, roughly a half a mile from downtown Chapel Hill. In 2014 Segar submitted a proposal to update the apartment complex, adding additional recreation facilities and 204 new beds putting the total for the facility up to 850. The complex would also be renamed, changing from Townhouse to Grove Park.

The impact fees increased for some developers recently when the town underwent its re-evaluation process which became active on January 1. After the re-evaluation, Grove Park’s impact fees would rise from roughly $300,000 to more than $1 million.

The Orange County commissioners passed a grandfather clause that would cover Grove Park and other developments from the new impact fees, but only if they were to submit the paperwork on time, which Seils believes Grove Park didn’t.

After the late filing, Segar hired four lobbyists including former lawmaker and attorney Bill Faison. Documents show that Faison lobbied the bills’ primary sponsor, House Speaker Pro-Tempore Sarah Stevens.

“I think you have to look at who benefits from (the bills),” Seils said. “In this case who introduced the bill, who was lobbying for the bill, who benefits if the bill passes.”

Campaign finance reports show that Stevens accepted campaign contributions from real estate and construction companies that opposed impact fees in the past. Stevens also operates S&E Properties, a Mt. Airy real estate leasing and rental company, with her husband.

Both Chapel Hill and Carrboro have spoken out against the bills. Carrboro’s resolution opposing the bill was drafted by the Triangle J Council of Governments, a group of local governments, stakeholders and partners that attempt to solve problems in the Triangle region. Triangle J said the bills could cause up approximately $28.9 million in lost revenue across the region.

“That really affects rural communities that use this revenue particularly for infrastructure and it does not spare communities that are Republican-led or Democrat-led—progressive or conservative it doesn’t matter,” Carrboro Alderman Bethany Chaney said in Tuesday night’s work session. “Everything really is damaged by this bill and we think because the regional impact is so great and our region is interdependent we need to support our colleagues’ cause to let these bills fail at the NC General Assembly.”

Seils feared that the bills represent an attack on Orange County and its values.

“In the case of this impact fee bill it’s pretty clear based on the history of the bill that it was meant to benefit particular people,” Seils said. “It had a very clear motive.”