NECD Hosts Coffee with Council

By Jamese Slade
NCCU Staff Writer
the Durham VOICE

Durham residents got their chance to help shape budget priorities and expectations last Saturday at the Holton Career and Resource Center. The Coffee with Council and Neighborhood Engagement Workshop brought residents and city council members together to discuss how to make up for a $13 million deficit.

Four city council members, including the mayor, William V. “Bill” Bell, and other city officials, listened and interacted with the approximately 75 community members.

“It allows city input in a structured manner,” said Bell during the discussion. “Here there are different neighborhoods, ethnicities, ages and it is important because Durham is a diverse community.”

City council member Mike Woodard opened the meeting by making everyone feel appreciated and welcome.  “You are first class citizens,” said Woodard.  “First class citizens are engaged and involved in our community.”

After that, Bertha Johnson, Durham’s budget director, went over Durham’s total budget, revenues and funds, debts, budget developments, and city council goals.

“Durham’s number one revenue that we are having difficulty with is sales tax,” said Johnson.  “The number one priorities are streets and transportation.”

Durham currently has $19 million worth of necessary maintenance.

One community member attending the workshop said, “We need to start fixing them now while the damage is minor and before it gets worse and gets more expensive.”

Johnson responded they are trying to set right the deferred maintenance issues in Durham.

The city is making efforts to increase the deferred maintenance fund to one million dollars, as it currently receives a $500 thousand budget.

“Our main goal is to finish projects that are underway before starting new projects,” said Johnson.

Durham currently has a $13 million budget deficit.  Johnson gave a simple metaphor for the debt the city is in.

“If we have more bills than income, we have to make up for the money by making more revenue or by cutting costs.”

Some costs that will possibly have to be cut are community programs.

To help the city’s deficit, George Roberson, the co-founder of Partner’s Against Crime said, “I wouldn’t mind seeing a two cent tax hike on property tax, because it will produce extra revenue of $4.4 million.”

“If you invest in your neighborhood you are investing in your community, and it will expand,” he said.

After Johnson gave the breakdown on the city’s budget, everyone broke into four groups and collaboratively answered four questions including priority changes in the city, concerns for their neighborhoods, and money sacrifices they would or would not make to see change.

Bell said he is confident that Neighborhood Engagement Workshops are effective.  “The feedback helps us formulate the budget based on the opinions here,” he said.

“I know the input we have received from Coffee with Council has helped shape the budget.”

After an hour all the groups came back together and presented their answers to the questions.

Many groups agreed that the most important concerns for the city are core services including police stations and fire departments.

No one wanted to see programs cut.

Another focus for the attendees was mending the roads and expanding routes into the Chapel Hill and Duke areas.

“The council talked about having fare-free routes and connecting the transportation systems to Duke and Chapel Hill,” said Johnson.

Some groups did not agree on everything, with one group of 16 split 8 and 8 on raising taxes to cover fees.

“In Durham the economic balance has been off center for so long,” said Roberson.

“For a long time the government gave us what they wanted us to have but the little people now have a voice loud enough to be heard, and we can make demands for our needs to be met,” he said.