It’s not often that elected officials need help spending money, but Chapel Hill prides itself on being a little bit different. Not different enough to draw unwanted attention, or cause anyone to clutch their pearls, but different enough to make you occasionally and quietly wonder if there’s some merit to the growing interest in fascism. Chapel Hill looks decisions in the eye and asks “do you think we can maybe talk about this over coffee every morning for the next 17 years?”

For months now, the town has been wrestling with some questions about town spending. I don’t want to suggest these are easy questions, or that there aren’t real tradeoffs involved, but we have now reached what is known in the language of municipal finance as the “shit or get off the pot” stage of decision making.

Council has about one month to get a bond on the ballot this fall if it so chooses. Perhaps we can give them a gentle nudge. 

Here’s the gist of what Council needs to decide

The town has the capacity to issue a bond for roughly $50 million to invest in town services and facilities (it could issue a larger bond but that that would trigger a tax increase). Town Council and town staff have priorities for how to use the bond. But it seems they are having trouble getting on the same page (staff recommendations, for example, call for $10 million for affordable housing, while Council Member Nollert is calling for $18.5 million, the latter of which wound fund an additional 200 affordable units).

There is also disagreement whether the bond should be on the ballot this fall or next.

That’s basically it (though of course there’s a lot of nuance I could mention if I had 17 years to write it out): What do we spend $50 million on, and when do we let voters give a thumbs up or down on that spending? 

How can you help?

You can take a quick poll to tell Council how you’d like to spend the $50 million. To keep it simple, we’re asking you to allocate the $50 million across the funding areas Council has already prioritized. We’ll aggregate and share the results. 

The funding areas and anticipated use of the funds include:

Affordable housing: fund affordable housing developments at the American Legion property and other location(s).

Fire stations: build a new fire station and improve a second fire station.

Improving streets and sidewalks: fund the Fordham Sidepath, elements of the ADA Transition Plan, sidewalks on Ephesus, and the Raleigh Road sidepath.

Building/improving parks and recreation facilities: install artificial turf at Homestead and Southern Community parks, build a climbing wall, splash pad, and pickleball courts.

Sustainability projects: fund Climate Action projects, including rooftop solar on town buildings and electric vehicle fleet.

Greenways: complete the extension of the Bolin Creek greenway.

What if I have no idea what these things cost?

That’s ok. This is more about signaling what your priorities are for the town. 

Here’s the poll

Please ensure your selected choices add up to 100% across the 6 questions.

In the last municipal election cycle, we helped increase turnout by over 20 percent. We're all volunteers who care deeply about Chapel Hill and Carrboro, and we're working to make Chapel Hill and Carrboro more vibrant, accessible, fun, and sustainable.  Please consider a small donation to help us keep our digital lights on, host events, and hire students to do data deep-dives.

Stephen Whitlow lives in Chapel Hill. Trained as an urban planner at DCRP, he works for a research, evaluation, and technical assistance firm and focuses on the areas of housing affordability, fair housing,...