By Ari Sen
In the past 60 years, buildings have come and gone in Carrboro. New technology has been developed. The population has increased by a factor of 11.
But in that time, the town hall has stood waiting for the same change and development that occurred all around it.
Now, when the building is finally scheduled to be renovated, the Carrboro Board of Aldermen is having second thoughts.
At the February 21 Board of Alderman meeting, town leaders failed to approve a new capital improvements plan, which would fund the $6.2 million needed for renovations to the town hall.
Town leaders expressed concerns about the overall cost of the plan, which they say is significantly higher due to the addition of town infrastructure for the first time this fiscal year.
“It’s is not a surprise because we’ve asked for those things,” Alderman Bethany Chaney said. “But it does give you pause when you realize how much things cost and it’s hard to make choices when we have so many priorities and demands.”
The town hall, which sits at 301 W. Main Street, has been rendered partially unusable due to a failure to meet certain property codes. Chaney said the closure of part of the building means the town staff no longer have adequate space. Chaney also said the current boardroom is too small to accommodate all the people who attend some of the town’s larger public hearings.
The town hall renovations were proposed in this year’s capital improvement plan. The plan lays out what the town needs to spend from the current fiscal year until fiscal year 2021-2022.
The plan also recommends funding an additional $14.3 million in office space above the planned southern branch of Orange County library at 203 S. Greensboro Street. Town manager David Andrews said town leaders are still deliberating about how much additional space they will need.
“(The library) can be built up to as high as five stories per the zoning so we are looking at building some office spaces on top of the library, and going up another two, or three or four floors depending on what our needs are and what we can afford,” Andrews said.
This year’s plan calls for roughly $51 million total in capital spending, $9.7 million of which have already been appropriated. Last year’s plan only requested $49.3 million.
Alderman Jacquelyn Gist said she was alarmed by the cost increase.
“With some of these numbers—well I haven’t been that scared since Trump’s last speech,” Gist said in the meeting.
Gist also expressed concern with the possibility of the town having to raise taxes on residents to fund the capital improvement plan.
Chaney believes that it is likely town residents will see tax increases in the coming years, regardless of whether the town funds the improvement projects.
“The inflationary cost is increasing at a rate that the growth of our current tax base so whether or not we move forward on the projects I’m afraid that we are going to see tax increases in the next two to three years,” Chaney said.
The projects also faced funding challenges, Chaney said, because public buildings don’t generate property taxes, so they can’t be paid for sustainably without other revenue streams.
“When you are trying to build a building you want to have somebody paying for it, through the property taxes or otherwise,” Chaney said.
In previous meetings, Alderman Randee-Haven O’Donnell also expressed concerns about a drop in funding from the state and federal governments, which could affect the town’s ability to fund projects in the capital improvement plan.
“We do not know what tomorrow will bring and where our economy is going,” Alderman Randee-Haven O’Donnell said. “When you overlay that uncertainty on top of basic questions about county funding not to mention North Carolina and the legislature you really have to be careful.”
While the aldermen debate the costs, the town hall still stands on W. Main Street waiting to be fixed.
“All those projects are vital projects. Whether they could be delayed a year, or two or, three—every time we delay a project the costs increase and that’s just increasing the bottom line.” Chaney said.
“It’s just not adequate. Frankly, it’s a little shameful.”
Brent Green gives a presentation to the Aldermen about the condition of town infrastructure at the Feb. 28 Board of Aldermen meeting. In the presentation the roof of the town hall was given a failing grade and the basement and plumbing were rated poor. Photo by Ari Sen.