Published: Feb 15, 2013 04:53 PM
Modified: Feb 15, 2013 04:54 PM
CHAPEL HILL - Nearly 300 homeowners in southern-central Orange County will get Chapel Hill fire service for two years while the town weighs its options for future growth.
Town officials want to talk with the county about how state annexation changes have affected the local Joint Planning Agreement that governs where Chapel Hill and Carrboro can expand. The agreement also charges each town with providing inspection and permitting services to its border areas.
The state legislature blocked involuntary annexations last year, leaving municipalities with two options: 100 percent of residents in an affected area must seek annexation or a majority must support it in a November referendum.
Council members said annexation has little chance of success but that the area just east of Mt. Carmel Church Road should be part of the town. While they approved the temporary contract to help the homeowners, council members Jim Ward, Matt Czajkowski and others questioned the fairness of letting those who don’t pay town property taxes benefit from its services and name recognition.
“The letters that I’ve received from people saying that they feel like they already pay their fair share ... it is just absolutely galling to me,” council member Donna Bell said. “I pay for a lot of things that I didn’t want to pay for ... but I also know that all these things make Chapel Hill what it is and make my property value what it is, makes the school system what it is and makes this one of the most coveted places in the country.”
The Town Council’s decision Monday levies a 15-cent fire service tax per $100 in property value on 274 homeowners. The tax will go into effect this fall and is the maximum allowed under state law. It will provide the town with $289,800 each year for fire service and capital costs. The town will not pay anything extra to provide service, because it already responds under a mutual aid plan with Carrboro and North Chatham fire departments.
The annual fire district tax for a $200,000 home will be $300.
Assistant County Manager Michael Talbert said it will take at least four weeks to establish the district and notify the Fire Marshal’s office. The Fire Marshal could approve the contract in about five months, he said.
Orange County and fire officials from the Chapel Hill and North Chatham fire departments negotiated the new contract to specifically help 112 homeowners facing big increases in their insurance premiums.
The area is served by North Chatham Fire Department, which is more than six miles away. That gives those homes a maximum Class 10 insurance rating. However, Chapel Hill’s Station 5 at Southern Village is less than three miles away, usually arrives first in emergencies and would give them lower premiums.
Hunt’s Reserve resident Douglas Longman said the council’s decision is a win for everyone. Some neighbors might be open to discussing annexation, but there are issues to resolve, he said.
“We believe that it makes sense to do this, and to do so expeditiously,” Longman said.
Chapel Hill Town Manager Roger Stancil estimated it would cost about $950,000 to provide town services over three years to 274 homes and that under annexation the town would collect roughly $3 million in property and other taxes in that same period.
Chapel Hill’s services could be a valuable bargaining chip in the future, Stancil said.
“In a different world, in a different future that we face, maybe that’s what we’ll do. We have excellent services, we ought to sell them to people outside the town at maximum value,” he said.