Orange County Schools Bond
Both Orange County Schools and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools have considerable needs in terms of maintaining aging facilities. The $120 million bond being put before voters only gets the districts about a third of the way there, given that recent estimates put necessary repairs at $330 million.
In CHCCS, the money will flow to only two projects: a major renovation of Chapel Hill High School and a reimagining of the Lincoln Center campus that will culminate in the consolidation of pre-K operations, new administrative offices, and doubling the capacity of Phoenix Academy High School. OCS will spend its $47 million adding a five-hundred-student classroom wing to Cedar Ridge High School and making infrastructure repairs and updates to mechanical systems at schools across the district.
These projects—expected to add somewhere between 3.7 and 5.8 cents to the tax rate, meaning a property valued at $300,000 will see an increase of somewhere between $111 and $174 per year—are deserving of taxpayer money. Troublingly, though, there's no plan to fund the rest of the school repairs, and school board leaders and county commissioners have signaled that another bond is likely down the road. This does not seem a very sustainable approach.
At some point, we'd like to see the county and the schools put together a more coherent plan for how to keep the schools in good shape. The schools already get about 48 percent of all taxes the county collects. But this isn't the right nit to pick right now. We support the schools bond, albeit with reservations.
Orange County Affordable Housing Bond
The lack of affordable housing in Chapel Hill and Carrboro—across the Triangle, really—is a mounting problem that needs to be reckoned with. Solutions are not easy to come by. They require tough decisions by town and county leaders, developers, and other stakeholders.
The county says a $5 million bond will help it achieve its stated goal of creating one thousand new affordable homes for seniors on fixed incomes, special needs populations, and ordinary people—low-level employees of UNC, teachers, law enforcement—for whom living in Chapel Hill and Carrboro has become unrealistic. But how? Ask around about how this $5 million will be spent, and you'll discover a startling lack of specifics. We'd prefer to have a better idea of where this money is going before we sign off.
We'd be happy to approve $5 million for affordable housing, but right now it's not hard to imagine that money disappearing into a sea of nonprofits and construction outfits, with very little in the way of actual affordable homes to show for it. Come back to us when you've got a coherent plan.