I understand the angrily expressed frustration recently vented by Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt and certain members of the Town Council.
They’re upset that the families in their southern-area Extraterritorial Jurisdiction probably cannot be forced into annexation due to changes in state law, and that those families will most likely not volunteer to do so. Council member Donna Bell went so far as to call the actions of those of us living in the ETJ “absolutely galling” for our apparently uncooperative nature.
If town leaders can take a sip of water and calm down, I invite them to step into our shoes for a moment.
The Town of Chapel Hill ignored its southern ETJ for decades, because there weren’t enough homes there to add to the tax base to warrant what the town would have to spend on infrastructure and services. But now that Chapel Hill has dug itself into an $880,000 hole and the number of homes in the ETJ has blossomed to where the town can make a healthy profit off the increased tax base, all of a sudden it’s a good idea to tap that money keg. But not answering the town’s clarion call of “annexation,” Chapel Hill’s leaders paint the families of the ETJ as mere parasitic leeches.
In reality, who is trying to leech off of whom?
It apparently doesn’t matter that those of us in the ETJ pay taxes and fees for the Chapel Hill schools our kids attend and many services such as the public library; or that we pay for our own garbage collection and that it’s the Orange County sheriff who polices us, not the town; and it certainly doesn’t matter that we collectively account for thousands and thousands of dollars being pumped into the Chapel Hill economy annually via its restaurants and shops and other businesses.
Do we use town busses and parks? Well, yeah; but so do a lot of people in Orange and Chatham counties outside of the ETJ. We don’t hear the Town Council complain about them, though. Those outsiders are OK, because they come to spend money in Chapel Hill. But we do, too. The difference? Those folks outside of the ETJ can’t have targets painted on their property values.
The mayor and certain members of Town Council only seem to see what the families in the ETJ don’t contribute to the town, not what we do. The Town Council has obviously moved way beyond issues of community cohesiveness; they want to punish the families in their ETJ.
Here are some of the ideas introduced from the Town Council dais by members of that esteemed governing body:
• The residents living in the southern-area ETJ should be forced to abandon their Chapel Hill addresses and take on Durham addresses;
• The town should find a way to use the lack of reasonable fire coverage and its associated insurance problems for families in the ETJ as, quote, “leverage” against them to force annexation;
• The town should not only have the southern-area ETJ pay the maximum allowed by state law for fire coverage by Chapel Hill (15 cents per every $100 of property value), but petition the North Carolina legislature to change the maximum rate for everyone statewide to 49.5 cents per $100 for the sole purpose of forcing the families in this lone ETJ to accept annexation or otherwise pay the amount equivalent to what they would be taxed for all Chapel Hill services combined, but receive only the town’s fire service;
• The town should attempt to circumvent strict annexation laws by simply requesting the legislature change the boundaries of the town limits. (The mayor rightly pointed out that this has backfired on municipalities in the past that found they wound up with shrunken city limits, not expanded ones.);
• And the coup de grâce, the town should find a way to have children living in its ETJ removed from the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, even though those residents pay the taxes that give them the right to attend those schools.
And what of the massive Obey Creek project developer Roger Perry is trying to ram down the throats of southern-area residents? Is there any way southern-area families’ concerns and issues will be dealt with fairly by the town of Chapel Hill when its leaders openly display such contempt toward the ETJ, as well as exhibit a desire to wring as much money out of it as possible?
Mayor Kleinschmidt, Town Council, when you leave the families in your ETJ to feel as if we are only Chapel Hill’s cash cow-in-waiting and that one way or another – be it though annexation, piecemeal services provided at the highest fees you can possibly charge or by plopping an unreasonably sized, completely unwanted and out-of-place development right in the middle of our small family neighborhoods – why would we want to become part of Chapel Hill? If you lived in your ETJ, are these the acts of a town you’d want to join?
The actions of this mayor and Town Council leave me without hope. This is all political rhetoric and posturing designed to justify overrunning this ETJ with mammoth commercial development. Without intervention on the state level, the residents in the southern-area ETJ have no chance of fair treatment by the Town of Chapel Hill.