BCR updates later today
BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for September 30, 2010

Bonfield fields street paving bond questions at INC

City manager Tom Bonfield's street-paving roadshow made its way to the InterNeighborhood Council meeting last night, where delegates seemed receptive to the logic of a $20 million issue for street paving bonds this fall -- though concerns over funding priorities and on traffic calming/road safety came up from more than one direction.

Still, Bonfield offered delegates a stark reality of Durham's road conditions, one of the more complained-about features on the Bull City, and one that City Councilman Mike Woodard said started in the 1990s when previous City Councils were for a time paving only a dozen or so miles a year even as suburban growth expanded the road network.

All told, Durham's got 680 miles of City-maintained streets, Bonfield pointed out, and with a 20-year expected lifecycle for pavement, that works out to almost 35 miles a year just to keep up on deterioration.

A $20 million bond issue would allow City leaders to catch up once and for all, officials say, assuming voters approve the levy this November.

Of course, it wouldn't be the first time bonds have been used recently for roads. $20 million in 2005 and 2007 general obligation bond funds have been dedicated catching up on street paving, prioritized by a 2007 survey that found one-third of Durham's roads to be in poor or very poor condition.

While half of those streets will have been repaved once current bond money is exhausted, though, that still leaves almost 150 miles of streets in tough conditions. And Bonfield noted that was reflected in last year's citizen survey, which found roads the #1 issue for 64% of Durham voters.

Bonfield also cautioned that delays in handling maintenance translate to more expensive fixes down the road. He singled out Parkwood's Riddle Rd., a thoroughfare built to NCDOT standards in the 70s but where the road had fallen to the point where reconstruction was needed, not just repaving, taking a perhaps $300,000 project over $1 million.

"We've got to get to this backlog soon, because as these roads get to poor or very poor condition, we get to reconstructing them, and we don't want to get there," said Bonfield.

Of course, the City's been down this bond-funded path to roads back in '05 and '07, and Bonfield was straightforward in noting that Durham leaders' hopes that those infusions would put the city back on the path to good roads was overly optimistic.

What got in the way was the Great Recession, Bonfield told the audience, which led a financially-strapped city to be unable to increase its annual operating allocation towards street paving, even as it started deferred maintenance funds in other areas.

It was a point that later led one INC representative to ask whether there was any assurance that such deferrals wouldn't happen again. Bonfield noted that those decisions were always up to Council, but added that the operational dollars for paving were included in his administration's multi-year financial plan, noting that the current Council has been supportive of the track, a point Woodard supported.

"Speaking for all seven of us is tough to do, but as a group we're committed" to the administration's recommended ongoing operating budget allocation for repaving.

Over a multi-year period, the City would work its way towards $5 million in annual street-paving allocations to get back on and stay back on a 20-year schedule.

But Bonfield stressed that while debt wasn't a perfect way to handle street paving, the current recession and easy money made it a logical step:

  • Durham remains one of just a few dozen cities with AAA financial ratings from all three major rating agencies, something reaffirmed just yesterday, making it very cost-effective to borrow money right now.
  • This summer, when the City bid out its most recent debt issuance, it was able to lock in a 2.79% interest rate -- for twenty years' time. "I've been doing this for 32 years, and I've never seen anything like that," Bonfield said. "If we're going to borrow money, now is the time to do it."
  • Even with the bond, Bonfield stressed that the City would remain below the 15% cap on debt service payments as a percentage of operating fund expenses, something that contributes to the debt ratings and sound financial practices.
  • Oil prices have dropped and contractors are hungry. "Last time we bid [street repaving] out in 2007, we were competing with a lot of private development" including contractors merrily paving subdivision streets and retail parking lots -- but the recession stopped that. "They are anxious to bid on City work, and we think going forward now, we are going to get a lot more bang for the buck."
The city manager -- who is going into his third year since arriving from Pensacola in 2008 -- added that this bond would be managed differently than previous issues, though he took care not to paint that as a criticism of his predecessors' administrations.

In pass issues, bond funds were spread out over multiple years' draw, and in fact the 2007 issue for streets won't be completely expended until next year. 

But Bonfield stressed that staff were already working to pull together bid documents in anticipation of a hoped-for voter passage, so as to be able to turn these out for bid almost immediately and to use these funds solely in the 2011 and 2012 paving cycles (March through November).

And the roadwork would be prioritized only by road conditions, not lobbying or activism.

"It's not about which political neighborhood had more clout, and why some neighborhood got it and someone else didn't," Bonfield said, noting that the paving action is based strictly on the independent, outside evaluation of Durham street conditions, even if that means only some streets in a subdivision get repaved in any given year. "We start at the bottom -- the lowest-rated block gets paved and we keep going right up the list."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

INC representatives were asked Tuesday to bring the issues back to their neighborhood association boards and meetings in anticipation of a vote on a resolution of endorsement at October's INC meeting.

Based on the reactions last night, support seems likely -- though several residents voiced concerns over traffic calming needs that some said have been de-prioritized by elected and appointed officials.

"What we're worried about is that smoother streets are going to translate to faster streets in some places and we already have problems with speeding," said Old North Durham's Peter Katz. "It doesn't appear that there's any money out there for traffic calming right now" that isn't spoken for for existing projects, including neckdowns on West Club Boulevard in Watts-Hillandale.

Katz added that a position was cut from the city that was supposed to focus on neighborhood speeding issues and traffic calming.

Bonfield conceded that the administration and Council had cut traffic calming and street light funding a couple of years back; the latter was restored and he hoped to find money for traffic calming, Bonfield said, though he added his skepticism over whether City resources could ever provide what he described as the desiderata described to him, speed enforcement in every neighborhood.

"It's something that Im very familiar with, have been for a long, long time," Bonfield said of speeding complaints. "Sometimes it's a case where the perceptions are not validated, other times they are validated." 

He added that apocryphal stories of speeding City-owned garbage trucks rattling pedestrians have garnered attention, but that automated vehicle locator (GPS-style) systems now in place on those vehicles track their locations and can impute speeds, and that the City has a way now to check up on citizen complaints of too-fast trucks when residents complain.

Tom Miller noted his concern that sewer and water infrastructure in Durham is also aging, reminiscing on a past visit by one-time city manager Patrick Baker to INC, where Baker joked that the refresh cycle for Durham's potable and waste water systems resembled that of the Great Pyramids.

Bonfield noted that the city's debt service cap applied only to general obligation bond funds, not the type of utility revenue-driven levies that would be used for water and sewer projects.

"That's the way you look at it, but all of my money comes out of the same bank account," Miller said.

The city manager also noted that the City Council has signed off on a ten-year capital projects plan for water and sewer improvements, including a plan for rate and fee growth over time.

Still, concerns over debt and priorities weighed on several members, as Northgate Park's Mike Shiflett pointed out in noting residents' and the municipality's needs for everything from parks to a new police headquarters. "There's a lot of needs out there," Shiflett said, asking whether the paving issue would crowd out other efforts.

David Harris from Old Farm made a similar point in noting concerns raised over Rolling Hills and affordable housing, pointing to a City memo this summer discussing the lack of available debt headroom for additional housing projects.

But Bonfield noted that that memo focused on additional debt capacity without a tax increase; tax increases bring revenue that allow you to pay for what you borrow and give you more spending room to work with. And the $20m bond issue for streets would bring a three-quarter cent property tax increase in the first year of the issue, translating to about $15.20 additional tax for the owner of a $200,000 home in that year and declining thereafter.

The manager also added that the city's capital improvement plan has been pared down from being a wish-list to contain only items that have a realistic shot of funding. "There's way more needs than there is capacity," Bonfield said.

Tackling narrowed priorities and doing so even as deferred maintenance gets annual operating dollar funding is a way to preserve the ability to borrow for other priorities, he added.


Joshua Allen

I hope the citizens of Durham approve these bonds. It's important to correct the mistakes made by previous councils to reduce funding. We should make annual funding from the budget a prereq to the approval of the catchup bonds.

Todd Patton

Durham voters should approve these bonds to get street maintenance caught up once and for all. Putting it off only makes the costs escalate in the future, as the Revere Road problems have shown.

With contractors needing work and materials costs down, now is the time for Durham to get lower bids and the biggest bang for its buck.


I just hope cycling and pedestrians are thought about with all this streetscape work.

Pete K

Thanks for reporting on this Kevin. I feel like the lack of traffic calming funding is not on as many people's radar screens as it ought to be. As David pointed out last night, neighborhood speeding was number 3 at one point - on at least PAC2's list of priorities - and it's also a pretty common flair-up issue on the neighborhood lists as well.

I don't think it's is going to improve on its own either... because ironically a lot of our neighborhood traffic problems are brought about by increasing downtown prosperity. It's also not something that can be placed entirely on the back of enforcement either... The police department has a full plate and increased traffic enforcement hours have got to come from somewhere.

At the moment it appears there really is very little money out there for this. Most of the funding for traffic calming has been covered by the CIP (capital improvements program) and the traffic calming budget item is zeroed out for this going forward. Additionally, the staff position which was used to collect speed and volume data was eliminated last year. All of the remaining capital improvement funding, $486K which comes from 2005 GO bonds is likely to be used up by three pending projects:

1) Club Blvd Phase II curb bump-out project (pending neighborhood review and input this fall, then bidding and contracting...)

2) additional curb bump-outs on Duke and Gregson St. (currently undergoing a pilot test evaluation at Duke and Urban)

3) Raised median islands for the intersection of Roxboro/Markham/Mangum

As the TBJ pointed out a few weeks ago there are many more places in Durham that need attention. My neighborhood, Old North Durham, for example has one block (Trinity-Mangum-Roxboro) that has had roughly 45 accidents since 2007, and many of these crashed through fences and ended up next to (on on top of..) peoples porches. Residents of Northgate Park and Colonial Village have also noticed increased traffic speeds on North Roxboro as a result of the recent repaving there...

That being said, I wouldn't argue that we don't need this bond... our roads are obviously in terrible shape and the longer we wait to fix them the more it will cost... so I do hope the bond passes. I'm just saying that since we already have a traffic problem and since a consequence of smoother roads is going to be faster traffic... we need have a plan for how to deal with it.

Not Drinking Tea or Kool-Aid

Ah, bonds. "Hey, everyone who has a pulse, er, vote! Would you like free upgrades paid for by the people who actually see property taxes? Check 'yes' or 'hell yes'."

I look forward to uninvested leaseholders' 70% approval.

Rob Gillespie

Leaseholders pay property taxes in the form of rent. I manage a property for a friend, and the rent I charge the tenants includes the cost of property taxes.

Nice try at a troll, though.

Michael Oehler

@Josh and others supporting bonds,

Do our streets need paving? Probably. Do we need teachers in classrooms, mental health services, police on the street, and programs that will enable those out of work to find jobs? Hell yes!

This is a question of priorities. Namely, we are facing a budget crunch across the board. We are either going to be asked to give up services (teachers, mental health, etc.) or we're going to have to increase taxes. I'd like to see my taxes increased to support a number of things in Durham... mental health services, job training, better library services... I've got a long list..., but right near the bottom is resurfaced roads. Certainly, the City does not provide some of these services, but I'd like the Commissioners to increase my taxes, not the City Council.

But, what really stinks, is the blind acceptance of this tax increase. We're told by politician after politician that they won't/can't increase our taxes, but what the heck... for roads? Much of Obama's stimilus is going for roads. Are we just as crazy in Durham?

Who will really benefit from all this new asphalt? All those people that drive all those miles and use up all our resources and send our sons to die in all those wars over oil? Oh yeah... Durham is such a progressive place.

The moment someone suggests that schools need more money every one and their mother has a story to share about waste/incompetence/graft. Privatize the schools. Well, Durhamites, how many times have we seen recently repaved streets torn up for "work" on our aging sewer lines? How many times has the true cost of paving been increased because of "unknown" finds like "trolley tracks"? My God! All you have to do is read Gary's blog to know that they'd uncover trolley tracks. Why don't we have toll roads? Why don't we make developers more responsible to building roads/infrastructure? We're told that development brings tax dollars. Right. We see how well that has worked.

At the last City Council meeting I attended, you could see the guy presenting the road paving info to the Council (can't remember his name) quivering. He knew that his job was a scam. They haven't used all the last bond money for Christ sake? Did any City Council members ask tough questions? NO! Do we have such a short memory in Durham?

Cora asked the Billboard people who they employed and where they live. Has anybody asked the road paving contractors who they employ, where they live, and how many will be undocumented workers? I know our city has policies concerning some of these details, but the guys I see standing around shovels sure don't seem like the kind of high tech jobs that Durham needs.

We need to patch and repair. Turn some neighborhood roads back to gravel. Talk about traffic calming. I'm so tired of hearing from certain city residents who drive to work everyday to Hillsborough complain about speeding and roads. Get on a bike. Live closer to where you work. The roads can wait. All those people out of work that need retraining, all the childern in schools that are underfunded, and all those people who will be turned away from mental health programs they need can't wait.

Michael Oehler


THANK YOU Michael Oehler for actually standing up and telling the TRUTH that nobody wants to here!


Many of the streets would be a heck of a lot better if the city would require utility companies and Public Works crews to do a better job with pavement patches. Many of the streets in our neighborhood, including main thoroughfares like Duke Street, are a patchwork quilt of rectangular humps and sinkholes where utility repairs or new taps have been made.

It won't do any good to repave all these streets when we're continually cutting them up to repair the failing utility infrastructure below and then doing a half-assed job patching the pavement.

W. Schell

Two points - Good road conditions contribute to increased investment interest in the city ; it's money well-spent.

Regarding speeding vehicles - it's the norm for many streets and roads. I'd like to hear from city/county officials why speed limits are not consistently and strictly enforced. Levying traffic (and parking) fines seemingly would generate revenue as well as improve safety. Is increased courtroom time too much of a problem for patrol officers?

Seth Vidal

I'm inclined to agree with Michael Oehler, here. I think we need a bond referendum to help pay for things. I'm not sure if road paving is the best use of things.

And I'm also reasonably certain that faster and more traffic increases wear-and-tear on the roads.

Would it make sense to patch our roads now but put more money into calming and enforcement of speeds. Heck, maybe even LOWER the speeds in some places to make the enforcement have more teeth.

For example: drop residential speeds to 15 or 20mph - so someone going 35mph through a neighborhood gets a reckless driving ticket.

Drop Club and Broad streets to 25mph.

Narrow Duke and Gregson to one lane and drop their speed to 25mph.

Then setup speed traps on it every 4 or 5 blocks for a few months.

I suspect the income from the violations would be substantial and don't traffic income violations go to help schools?

matt dudek

Amen Seth!

Can I vote for red light cameras here too, or better yet I'd love to see the cops stake out busy intersections and ticket red light runners. Just last week I saw a bad wreck, that could/should have been deadly, because a driver ran two red lights in a row.

Kelly Jarrett

I've said this before, and it still holds: some of the problems we're struggling with locally are a result of federal tax cuts that have systematically defunded federal programs that support things like mental health services, affordable housing initiatives, police, public transportation, public safety and public health initiatives, infrastructure construction & maintenance--not to mention a host of regulatory areas--food & drugs come to mind immediately. People still want these things and the chickens come home to roost locally. People in this country seem to want the services they want, resent the services others need and receive, and don't want to pay taxes to support any of it. We pay relatively low taxes in US--relative to the tax rates in other developed countries and relative to what we've paid historically. The disrepair we're seeing in infrastructure--roads, bridges, railroads, utilities, water & sewer, parks, libraries--across the country is a direct result of tax & economic policies coupled with the "greed is good" economics that has redistributed wealth and created the vast inequities between the few very rich, the shriveling-on-the-vine middle class, and the growing numbers of people living in poverty.

Here's an idea: let's end the wars in Iraq & Afghanistan, bring our troops home, and redirect the rivers of money that flow into those two idiotic endeavors and other government overreactions to overblown threats(x-ray body scanners in airports, for example--how many millions are flowing to TSA coffers for those??). Lets redirect those millions away from senseless, wasteful wars and toward all the things mentioned by people above--schools, streets, medical & mental health services, food programs, infrastructure, affordable housing. Just MHO.

Kevin Davis

All:  Whatever I think about traffic calming being a Good Thing (and I was one of the people working on this in my neighborhood), the idea that we should delay paving the streets now only to have to spend several times as much rebuilding them a few years ago is.... well, hard for me to swallow.

Rob Gillespie

Re: police cracking down on speeding.

We have more police per capita than the NC average. ( http://www.durhamnc.gov/departments/bms/GPRbenchmarkingDocs/fy10_police_services.pdf ). We also have less per capita crime than the average of cities >100k population (less crime per capita than Winston-Salem, Grensboro, Wilmington, and Fayetteville).

So why is it, exactly, that we can't have police enforce *all* of our laws, including traffic laws?

Seth Vidal

I'm a little unclear on the requirement to rebuild some of the roads at all. Your implication is that a road that is not paved is some sort of functional impossibility - but that's obviously not true.

But let's assume that it is true - can we add an earmark on this bond money that says all roads resurfaced as a result of this money will be traffic-calmed and speed limited to a maximum of 25mph, no matter where they are?

Seth Vidal

I think that's a fair question to ask the city councilmembers and the police chief.

I think we all know the places where the speeding is at its worst and when they are there. Why don't we see more speed traps in durham? I bet if you asked any number of residents along duke or gregson they'd be perfectly happy to let an unmarked police car sit in their driveway all day long.

How many speeding tickets in excess of 10mph over the limit do you have to give before the speedtrap is paid for in terms of offset public school costs?

I'm fairly confident red light cameras are not allowed in Durham (or maybe in NC) due to some sort of higher-level issue. But no matter what I would want the city or county funds to benefit from red light cameras, not some random company who puts them in.

Todd Patton

I don't see a clear linkage between street resurfacing and the need for traffic calming. Speeding traffic on Duke/Gregson or Roxboro/Mangum has seemingly always been a problem, regardless of pavement conditions. Speeding is more of a road design issue (straighter, wider, flatter = faster) than a pavement condition one. The idea that Durham should leave 150 miles of largely residential streets in poor condition as some sort of traffic calming measure is wrong.

Potholes are not the issue - the city will fill potholes once they know about them. The issue is the quality of the patches - especially in the winter- combined with the general deterioration of the pavement.

Streets in my neighborhood are too rough for the kids to bike, have so many patches and uneven ruts and ridges that they are a tripping hazard for pedestrians, and have piles of gravel in low spots from the surface of the pavement coming apart.

This work should not be put off any longer, and should not be confused with unrelated issues or things the City is not even responsible for.


I have always been confused why streets like Duke, Gregson, Club, Roxboro, Broad, and Buchanan don't have police routinely giving out tickets for speeding and running red lights. Why is this not a priority for the Durham PD and for the City Council?

The electronic speed signs on Duke and Gregson seem to be working, at least in their close proximity. I see cars slow down all the time when they see their speed displayed. The reputation for a street being a speed trap can also slow cars down.

As far as gravel streets in city neighborhoods are concerned, are you kidding me? The advocacy of more biking with more gravel roads is clearly contradictory.

Better streets means less wear and tear on cars and bikes. A bond issue for this is a great idea. Maybe they'll get around to repaving my badly deteriorated street which looks like it hasn't been paved since my house was built in 1950.


The simplest and cheapest way to slow down Duke and Gregson would be to allow two-way traffic. It would also make it a lot easier to get from point A to point B in Durham.

Not re-paving roads is very costly in terms of everything from city perception to property tax revenues; it also would make those areas very bicycle and pedestrian unfriendly (gravel roads are very difficult on a bike, and a muddy mess for pedestrians). The money saved would be a tiny drop in the enormous bottomless bucket known as public education, and thinking it could do any good there is laughable.

One thing certain posters seem to forget is that people can leave. If you let the infrastructure rot, companies will leave, and the people who work for them will follow. This will cost far more in tax revenue than actually fixing a few roads properly.

The evidence is that red light cameras cause more accidents than they stop, though some actual traffic enforcement coupled with reasonably set speed limits (MUTCD says 85th percentile free-flowing speed) would be good for Durham, doubly so if they actually went after outright dangerous behavior and not just the all-too-easy speeding tickets.

One of the few things that City Hall can truly due to help Durham is to actually maintain the infrastructure. Our city manager is very wise in choosing to fix the first thing many people see when they come to Durham, which is the state of our road infrastructure.


Are there seriously people who don't believe that roads in Durham are that bad? And who would advocate for us to continue to ignore them ? Seriously? Do you live in Durham or drive on the roads?

I live and work within two blocks of the loop. We consider Hillsborough Road to be "the other side of town" and yet - even with our limited driving- the state of the roads in town scares me.

The road I live on was supposed to be paved in the last bond issue, however, because of deferred maintenance, the road had deteriorated to such a point that they could not repave the road. It now rates a 28/100 according to the City's condition atlas on Operation Green Light.

Michael Oehler

I have two questions for you and others that support this bond: 1) Why this bond right now? and 2) Why not look at this problem of streets and paving more critically.

First, sure the interest rates are ridiculously low, but I do not think that this is the time to be taking on any debt, no matter how attractive it might seem. Why not wait a year or two? I can't fault Bonfield for stating the obvious: Durham has differed maintenance for far too long. What I'd ask all voters is this: Why can't we wait another year or two? Why not wait and see what happens with the economy? If we are truly in recovery mode, then we'll know shortly. It seems grossly irresponsible of our elected officials to ask us to take on more debt and higher taxes right now for roads when we still have teachers without jobs.

Concerning my second question: Why must the Republicans be the only ones to "Starve the Beast". Why can't liberals choke off the outrageous sums of money that go to the macadam monster? Where are our creative solutions? I live in WHHN. I have a gravel road two blocks from my house. No big deal. I walk, bike and drive on it. Why not a few more? Last year we were told that DPS would defer maintenance. Our schools are crumbling. Our elected officials have cut mental health services to the bone because we're told by the commissioners, "We can't raise taxes right now, it'll put Granny out on the street." Oh really? But, we can increase your taxes because our polling data show that you want better roads? Did they follow that up with this question: Would you be willing to pay higher taxes for better roads? Would you be willing to sacrifice other services for roads? Our elected officials keep telling us we've got to make hard choices, but I see them taking the easy way out.

@ Todd and Natalie,

I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that you haven't been on a bike recently, because if you had, you'd know that today's bikes dodge potholes, handle gravel, and smooth out rough pavement far better than any green house gas emitting car. Take a bike out. I think you'd be pleasantly surprised how much you'd look forward to the obstacles that would make your bike ride fun. I knew that people were afraid of Durham. I never knew that fear went all the way to Durham's roads.

@ SK,

You made my day! We definitely need to stop wasting and pour it into roads. Asphalt! Dammit. The American way! Detroit, gas, suburban sprawl, debt. God bless us. If we don't repave our urban streets and major thoroughfares like the DTloop where only neighbors travel along with speeding city vehicles, then Cree is sure to leave our fair city. All those hipsters that have enlivened downtown by riding single speeds while sporting their skinny jeans will abandon us for Cary if our roads go another year without more asphalt. In fact, I bet that the only reason that all that venture capital is hanging around downtown drinking mocha frappes and eating at Dos Perros is that they're stuck here; certainly their cars have flat tires due to the horrendous state of our roads. Imagine what will happen if Durham‘s roads are so crappy that our foodie food trucks will no longer be able to get around. They‘ll drive into an enormous pot hole and we won‘t have Only Burger anymore. It‘ll be the pothole burger. On second thought, I support the bond. Surely, the Bull City's urban renaissance will come screeching to a halt if this bond is not passed this year.

Michael Oehler

Rob Gillespie

Why now? We've already gone through this. The interest rates being offered on municipal bonds are the lowest they've been in more than 30 years. Add to that the fact that bids are coming in at 50 to 60% of what they were 3 years ago for the same scope of work, and the city is going to get a great deal on re-paving.

It sounds like you have quite a bit of anger toward the BoCC and their treatment of schools. You should take that up with the BoCC, not with the City Council. The city is asking that we approve this bond, not the county.

As far as biking on gravel, my hybrid doesn't do that very well. I've tried numerous times, back when Maxwell Ave was still gravel. I ended up having to walk my bike the two blocks. Add to that the fact that the gravel streets in my section of town end up becoming drug dealing hot spots due to the chronic lack of investment in these areas, and you have a good argument for repaving the miles of dirt streets in our city.

[You're kind of going ad hominem, by the way, and we like to avoid that on this board. I'm pretty sure Todd Patton harbors no secret fear of Durham, and if this is the same Natalie that I've seen around here before, then she doesn't seem to fear Durham either. Do you really know how often Natalie and Todd ride a bike? No, you're making an assumption, and it makes all of us really doubt your ability to objectively analyze the issues.]

As far as your last argument, you couldn't troll harder if you wanted to. This bond will only repave new streets or convert gravel streets within city limits to pavement. How does that contribute to suburban sprawl? Major thoroughfares like the loop are owned by the state, and not covered by this bond.

On the argument of investment and physical infrastructure, I can assure you that the condition of streets factors into the minds of a company looking to relocate here. If a city looks like a crumbling wasteland, then that is how it will be perceived.

Kevin Davis


I'm not sure there is much to be gained by my debating the point with you, but since you asked:

It is a fait accompli that we need to pave city streets. There is zero chance that we will allow the streets to crumble to gravel and dirt; like it or not, we have a streets infrastructure, along with some modern amenities as running water and sewer and electrical power.

We can pay now to fix or pay later to rebuild. And if we pay literally NOW to fix, we save on the construction cost and interest.

But, do you know what? It's not up to the elected officials. It will be up to the voters to approve or disapprove. Bond issues do well around here when they're well-justified. I suspect that roads are a major issue to two-thirds of Durham's citizens, and I'll bet a decent chunk of those will support the issue, though passage is by no means assured.



The fact is, if a city wants to attract employers, it needs to have good infrastructure. This small city bond issue helps make sure we have the sort of infrastructure we need to continue to attract real employers, not just burger trucks and hipsters (most of whom seem to ride their fixies a few blocks on the sidewalk and park anyway).

Since I'd rather stick with facts and avoid personal attacks, let's take a quick snapshot of DPS. Based on the "Quick Facts" page on their own web site, they had a $451 million budget last year for 32,551 students, 2,300 teachers and 2,300 other employees (a total of 4,600 employees).

This gives a per-student budget of $13,855, which is extraordinarily high by local, regional and national standards. Just for comparison, in '06-'07 (the last year the feds have data), the national average was a bit under $10,000.

For a 22-student classroom, that's a total classroom budget (including all support infrastructure, administrative overhead, building, etc) of just under $291,000, versus a national average of under $200,000.

Michael, I put the question to you: how much is enough? How much extra should we be taxing (or cutting infrastructure) to spend on schools? What would you consider "enough" spent on a student, or a classroom? If 140% of the national average won't cut it, what will?



For a typical residential lease, you can't typically pass on tax increases any other cost increases to the tenant.

You charge what the market rate supports and any cost increases are eaten by the owner until the market rate supports an increase in rent.

So, raising taxes will cut into the owner's profits.

Commercial leases are typically plus costs, so you could pass that onto the tenant.

Managing property for someone else requires a real estate license, so possibly you already knew all this.

Michael Oehler

@ Kevin,

Point made about who will ultimately approve this bond, but I certainly don't hear any of our elected officials using their position to speak out against it.

@ all the rest of you,

I'm not going to debate the merits of school funding. Been there; done that; will do it again this Spring.

As to Durham's image becoming one of "crumbling roads". I just don't see it. Sure Durham's roads suck. They've sucked for the 17 years I've lived here, and we love it. Helps keep Durham disreputable.

As to the issue of BoCC vs CC vs. NCDOT... I don't see the disconnect. They all want my money. I don't want to give it too any of them for more asphalt. Also, by pointing out that this money would NOT go to pave many of the major roads in Durham, they are State owned and maintained, you further support my belief that most of this money is going to pave neighborhood streets.

As to suburban sprawl... I know that all of you have been reading about the new developments on the City's periphery that will most likely be annexed in the future? Also, so much of what we call the City of Durham, neighborhoods like mine WHHN, are really just some of Durham's first suburbs. The streets in our neighborhood are not thoroughfares, and they do not get traffic from anyone other than neighbors. Honestly, I see no reason to pave these streets. It would be a much greener solution, it would help calm traffic, and I think it would look quaint. Since I've lived here, I've seen too many streets paved one day and cut up the next. It is ridiculous.

Sorry if I've ruffled your feathers. The simple fact of the matter is that I dispute the idea that there is no other choice than more pavement, and on top of that, I find it incredibly frustrating that some people that are so quickly willing to support "a small bond issue for roads" will come up with all sorts of reasons NOT to support more money for schools.

I'd ask all of you: What do you want? Guns or butter? Mental Health or Tax Cuts? Schools or More Asphalt.

Michael Oehler

Michael Bacon

Michael O: Rather than get into the weeds of roads and such above (FWIW, I largely agree with Kevin and others), a few things about school funding do need to be pointed out:

1) Durham has the highest per-pupil local funding in the state.

2) After much wrangling, the BOCC supported a substantial increase in local taxes to schools, along with a tax increase to pay for it. It still required budget cuts because it did not fully replace the loss of state funds. However, to say that Durham is not willing to increase taxes to pay for schools is silly. It did not increase taxes as much as some would like.

Michael oehler

@ Michael B.,

First off, I hesitate to even get into this with you. You are much more knowledgeable about Durham's demographics/size/politics etc. I know you are aware that the population of DPS is much needier than other NC counties... more children at risk, non native English speakers, etc. We also have the whole Duke/RTP/Durham Renaissance thing going on… the “duality of Durham” which makes DPS a one of a kind school district and place to live. So while our per pupil spending is one of the tops in the state, I take little solace in that fact, we need that money and more. Our western neighbor, CHCCS pays the highest teaching supplements in the state which siphons off some of DPS’s best talent. (Of course, CHCCS has the highest per pupil spending in the state as well as the highest scores in the state… which you and I know is not the result of their per pupil spending, but it is a great factoid to throw out to the Art Pope/John Locke Foundation crowd.) Our eastern neighbor, Wake County, spends less per pupil than us. But what exactly are they doing right? Finally, NC’s state per pupil funding is below the national average and usually ranks somewhere around 40 and below. (The most recent data I could find with a quick internet search was from 2005-6. SK, you are simplifying the way per pupil funding is calculated.) So yes, DPS funding is near the top, but by my way of thinking, sitting on top of that pile of shit still stinks.

Secondly, the BoCC increased our taxes 3.78 cents. This did not save all the teaching positions, regardless of what we are told. Some teaching positions were saved, but only with the tax increase AND the redirection of lottery money that would have been used for much needed repairs and maintenance did the saving of DPS occur. DPS is on life support. Our buildings, systems, and libraries are not getting the maintenance they need. In fact, the maintenance jobs were not saved. The custodians, painters, and HVAC guys are all working under too much pressure to maintain to many buildings. Much like the argument seems to be, “The roads need upkeep”, well the schools need upkeep, too. The BoCC have left DPS on life support, but next year the Federal Stimulus money that has been keeping DPS afloat for the last two years will be run out. Then what? Last year, Joe Bowser said, “You can forget” about it when asked about the possibility of another tax increase. The BoCC was given the opportunity to open a referendum into allowing a quarter cent surcharge to sales taxes to benefit the schools, and they did not bite, which irked me. Why not let the people decide? Just like the people will decide about the roads. And so, IMO, Durham just provides lip service to its support of DPS.

Michael O

The comments to this entry are closed.