Commentary

Steve Schewel: Your city taxes work hard

June 13, 2014 

Over the last two weeks, we on the Durham City Council have been debating one final budget issue: whether or not to replace the solid waste fee with a small property tax increase. 

Aside from the outcome of that debate, the council is considering a tax-rate increase of 1.79 cents per $100 of valuation to pay for additional police officers and firefighters, fund basic park maintenance, and retire debt that the voters took on when they voted to issue bonds to pave our city streets.

What would an increase of 1.79 cents on the tax rate mean for you? Here’s the math: If you own a $200,000 home in Durham, you’ll pay an additional $35.80 in taxes. I know exactly how that feels. I pay taxes just like you do.

The good news is that I see how hard our tax dollars work in the city of Durham. Here’s a sampling of what our property taxes pay for. Last year, our taxes made it possible to

• Fill 1,800 potholes

• Pave 12 miles of streets;

• Pick up 47,500 tons of trash from 70,811 households

• Pick up 13,800 tons of curbside recycling

• House 80 homeless families

• Build 5,000 linear feet of new sidewalk and repair another 8,000 feet

• Maintain 68 parks, 57 playgrounds, 40 picnic shelters, five pools, 36 miles of trails, 78 tennis courts, 11 recreation centers, four disc golf courses, four spraygrounds, two city lakes, 42 athletic fields, and one high ropes course

• Put 516 police officers and 306 firefighters on the street

• Sweep 20,000 miles of streets

• Remove 650 tons of debris and junk dumped throughout the city

• Remove 492 graffiti sites, 99 percent of them within 24 hours of being reported

• Answer 224,000 calls for service at Durham One Call

• Answer 344,000 emergency calls to 9-1-1, 88 percent of them within 10 seconds

• Collect 375,000 pounds of household hazardous waste, 360,000 pounds of e-waste, and 2,900 tons of tires

• Maintain 401 traffic signals

• Install 450 new street lights;

• Board 20,100 riders on DATA buses daily

• Inspect 4,000 housing units for code violations

• Reduce the number of Durham’s boarded-up houses to 125 – down from 500 just five years ago;

• Maintain our AAA bond rating with all three rating agencies, making us one of only 38 cities in the nation with this financial strength

• Offer 1,912 recreational classes and sports leagues serving 24,220 people of all ages, in addition to many, many thousands using our parks and attending free open gyms, swimming pools, exercise classes and more

• Send our firefighters to respond to 835 fires and 21,017 emergency calls

That’s just a taste of what your taxes pay for. How about your water bill? It’s going up a little bit this year, too. What does it buy you? For starters, it pays to clean our city’s wastewater, 18 million gallons of it every day. In addition, when you turn on your tap at home, you expect safe, clean, tasty water to flow out in unlimited quantities, and that’s exactly what you get for that water bill you pay. In Durham, we use 26 million gallons of clean water every single day – drawn from our reservoirs, treated in our water plants, and piped right into the homes of 80,000 customers like you. Not bad, I’d say.

Thanks to the leadership of City Manager Tom Bonfield and to the 2,400 city employees who work so hard on our behalf, in Durham our taxes and fees are working hard, too.

Steve Schewel is a member of the Durham City Council.

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