City projects water bills will rise, but property taxes won’t

Feb. 09, 2013 @ 05:46 PM

Water bills may rise about 2.5 percent in the next budget year, but the property tax rate should remain unchanged, Durham city officials predicted Saturday at a Coffee With Council meeting at Campus Hill Recreation Center.

Some city services, however, may have to be cut due to a projected $5.2 million shortfall in revenue in the fiscal year that begins this summer, they cautioned.

Don Greeley, director of water management, said the city has about $300 million in water and sewer infrastructure needs as it replaces 100-year-old lines. Initially, it appeared water bills could rise as much as 8 percent to pay for it, but that’s been revised to under 3 percent, he said.

“We’re continuing to look at how we can drive the rates down,” Greeley said.

In response to a question about the $5.2 million funding gap for next year, administrators said the city is not proposing a property tax increase, but will have to consider cuts in some “low priority” programs and services.

One woman complained Durham residents are paying inflated property taxes based on inaccurate county valuations, since the recession has pushed down the value of their homes. She wanted to know when the next property revaluation will be.

City officials said the county is required to reassess property every eight years, and the next one is set for 2015.

Durham Mayor Pro Tem Cora Cole-McFadden asked the audience to mention positive things the city has done, and several people obliged.

They cited:

- Enhancing downtown’s appearance.

- Neighborhood improvements.

- Rolling Hills subdivision funding.

- Street repaving.

- Durham One Call for information and city services.

One woman praised Mayor Bill Bell for his efforts in landing the Durham Performing Arts Center, which she said has put the city on the world map.

April Travis, who works with Open Table Ministry to help Durham’s homeless, questioned whether a recently passed city ordinance restricting where panhandlers can ask for money was a good move.

City Councilman Steve Schewel said he backed the ordinance, not to punish beggars, but with the hope that they will encouraged to go to homeless shelters and then be referred to needed services.

“A lot of these people resist that,” he said. “Many have mental illnesses and severe social needs. Our goal is to encourage them to come and get what they need.”

Also speaking was Frank Hyman, who said that the Home Energy Savings Program has reduced greenhouse gases in Durham each year, equivalent to removing 350 cars from the road every year.

Hyman said the program has been funded by the federal government, but that the money has run out. He said retaining the program would keep $280,000 “from bleeding out of our city’s economy every year.”

“We have an opportunity to help those families being left behind in Durham while fighting climate disruption and the recession,” he said. “We just need our city council to instruct the city manager to continue an effective and well-managed program.”