SUMMARY: Chapel Hill spends millions of dollars each year hiring various consultant companies from as far away as Canada to draft plan after plan on everything from development rules to elaborate plans to redo downtown with little likelihood of ever being funded. At the same time, despite having proposals to do so for a decade, we haven’t built basic parks amenities like a splash pad, dedicated adaptive playground, or new skate park. Instead we’ve partially funded half-measures, hoping the public won’t notice and won’t care about the millions of dollars in taxpayer money we instead spend on consultants, some of whom don’t even bother to learn the basics of NC zoning laws which would seem to be important when one is advising the town about development.
CHAPEL HILL SPENDS OVER MILLIONS EACH YEAR ON VARIOUS CONSULTANTS: Here’s a recent listof town consultant contracts. Chapel Hill taxpayers spent $470,000 on a recent development consultant from Canada and have hired another record four separate consultant companies (total cost at least $1.4 million, see “LUMO re-write” line item) to help us rewrite our future land use development rules and map despite having just updated our future land use map development rules three years ago! So, in just a few months we’ve spent nearly $2 million on just development consultants for yet more development planning after recently paying for another expensive development planning process. There are much better ways to spend this money – for instance on our parks system. For example, doing our own development planning without just the consultants mentioned above would allow us to immediately build the town splash pad we’ve been planning for a decade. And reducing our consultant spending by about half next year would allow us to finally build a decent skate park and inclusive playground for all kids. Our new budget has a widely-touted “penny for the parks” property tax increase which raises about a million dollars a year. When you consider the millions we spend on consultants every year this “penny for the parks” might as well be considered instead a “penny tax increase so we don’t have to stop enriching all these fancy consultant firms.”
CHAPEL HILL HAS NOT FUNDED A DEDICATED INCLUSIVE PLAYGROUND OR SPLASH PAD LIKE OTHER COMMUNITIES: On April 19, 2023 the Town Council voted for a final distribution of funding for various projects around town. “Inclusive Playground Equipment” for $500,000 and “System Wide Playground Accessibility” for $285,000 were two items funded and which I supported. These are to add accessible playground equipment at playgrounds around town – an effort I wholeheartedly endorse. However, this funding will not pay for the estimated cost of a new dedicated inclusive playground like Cary’s Marla Dorrel park, which Chapel Hill’s parks staff estimated would cost between $1 million and $1.2 million in October 2022, a cost that has no doubt gone up. Likewise, no funding was included in these allocations for a splash pad in town and there was no splash pad funding dedicated in our recommended or adopted 2023 budget. Our parks staff has estimated that a large destination splash pad (like Fuquay-Varina’s great facility) would cost between $2 million and $2.2 million and a less desirable medium pad would cost between $1.6 and $1.7 million. Once again, our years and years of promises on either a dedicated inclusive playground or a town splash pad don’t match our actions!
CHAPEL HILL HAS NOT FUNDED A MODERN SKATE PARK LIKE COMMUNITIES AROUND NORTH CAROLINA ROUTINELY PROVIDE RESIDENTS: The Town Council voted on April 19, 2023 for $500,000 for what was billed as a new skatepark. This amount of funding, while helpful for repairing the park and doing some basic upgrades, is nowhere near enough to build a modern park like communities around North Carolina and nationally have done. Town staff describe Chapel Hill’s skate park like this: “[O]ne of the oldest in the state having been constructed 20+ years ago. Given the wood materials that it is constructed from, it continues to deteriorate, and we continue to have to make temporary repairs in order to keep it usable. For the space remain viable and usable into the future, it needs to be redesigned and rebuilt.” Most communities have long ago upgraded their skate parks to modern, concrete parks that are popular and safe recreation areas. The cost to Chapel Hill to build a new skate park is not a secret. Apex’s amazing skate park cost $1 million in 2015. Lexington, NC’s new skate park cost over $1 million in 2019. Mooresville, NC’s park cost $2.2 million in 2022 – all town similar in size or smaller than Chapel Hill. Once again, we are shortchanging basic parks amenities by only allocating a fraction of the funding needed for a new park. It’s nice the park will be repaired but we are not keeping up with most peer communities.
IF ELECTED I COMMIT TO DIVERTING THE MILLIONS GOING TO FANCY INTERNATIONAL CONSULTANTS AND USE THAT MONEY TO HELP US CATCH UP ON OUR PARKS. From Fuquay Varina’s splash pad, to Apex’s new skate park, to Cary’s Kids Together inclusive playground, most other towns around here are far ahead of Chapel Hill’s deteriorating and outdated facilities. I’ll divert the millions we are paying to these fancy consultants every year for yet more plans and start to get our parks back in order! Kids can’t play on a plan! Let’s get our priorities straight in Chapel Hill!