City budget includes new solid-waste fee

May. 20, 2013 @ 08:30 PM

City Manager Tom Bonfield’s fiscal 2013-14 budget request holds the line on property taxes, but would hit homeowners with a $1.50-a-month fee to pay for the Solid Waste Management Department’s vehicle purchases.

The new fee, worth an estimated $1.2 million a year for the city government, would appear on residents’ water bills.

Officials don’t intend to levy it on businesses or apartment complexes, areas that in general rely on private-sector waste collections rather than the city’s service.

Bonfield said he believes it’s “fairer to charge the persons receiving the service” for the cost of replacing garbage trucks and other solid-waste-department vehicles that have a relatively short life span.

The actual property tax rate, meanwhile, would remain at 56.75 cents per $100 of assessed value.

Getting to a no-tax-increase budget required administrators to give up on some of the City Council’s adopted goals for 2013-14.

The manager proposes giving most city workers only a 2 percent pay raise, rather than the 3 percent the council’s budget guidelines suggested during the winter.

Sworn police and firefights will get raises in the range of 3 percent to 5 percent, as they would have under the winter budget guidelines.

Bonfield also for the second year in a row abandoned the goal of boosting the annual allocation for street paving to $1 million. He recommended budgeting $750,000 for paving instead, same as in fiscal 2012-13.

The proposed budget will also require the elimination of 16 positions, including five that are currently filled. Four of the affected employees are likely to find other positions in city government; the fifth will be retiring.

Bonfield’s request holds the line on the Durham Area Transit Authority’s $1-a-ride base fare. But he recommends raising the cost of daily and monthly passes on the bus system, in essence cutting the discount the city now offers for them.

The budget assumes all of DATA’s existing routes would remain in place. It also doesn’t use proceeds from a $7-per-vehicle increase in vehicle registration fees that’s earmarked for new transit service.

The proposed fiscal 2013-14 budget deepens the city’s tax subsidy of the bus system, boosting it to 3.75 cents per $100 from the present 3.23 cents per 100. That’s a 16 percent change. All told, the city’ subsidy of the system costs it about $9 million, Bonfield said.

Paying for transit and public-safety requests ended up being among the budget’s biggest challenges, he added, as they ended up “being such high priorities in terms of the sensitivity of things” while also “growing at faster rates than the money that’s coming in.”

He hinted that the problem could force a rethink of the transit-expansion plans voters endorsed in 2011.

“We need to have an urgent conversation with Triangle Transit about going forward with the expansion of routes when we’re struggling to pay for what we’ve got,” Bonfield said. “But that’s a conversation for another day.”

On the public-safety front, the budget request includes money to begin designing replacements for the West Chapel Hill Street police headquarters and the city/county 911 center, and to begin designing a new fire station.

It maintains subsidies for a judgeship assigned to domestic violence cases and an assistant prosecutor assigned to gang cases. But there’s no money to replace the expiring grant funding for a few other court personnel. The request also assumes a mid-year cutback on spending for the city/county warrant control program after clerks finish working through a backlog of old warrants.

Bonfield and Budget & Management Services Director Bertha Johnson said the tax revenues, five years after the 2008 market crash, haven’t resumed the year-to-year growth rates local governments were seeing prior to the 2008 market crash.