The People's Alliance submitted the following statement as public comment for the Monday, June 7, 2021 regular session meeting of the Durham City Council:
June 5, 2021
Dear Durham City Council Member,
On behalf of the Durham People’s Alliance (PA), we are writing to express our thanks to you and the city staff for preparing the recommended FY 2021-22 budget. The proposed $524.6 million budget is an important statement of our priorities as a community and should help support a healthy and just recovery from COVID-19.
As you know, the members of PA work towards a vision of a just, equitable, and inclusive community where all people thrive in several interconnected areas — economic justice, education, housing, environmental justice, and race equity. In support of this vision, we submitted a letter to city council members on February 9, 2021 with a number of important budget requests. The recommended FY 2021-22 budget presented on May 17 meets several, but not all, of those requests. Below, we outline where the proposed budget reflects our values and where it falls short. We hope you find this analysis useful as you and staff prepare for the planned public hearing on the budget and as you debate where to prioritize your federal COVID resources.
Where the Proposed FY 2021-22 Budget Meets Our Expectations
- Eviction diversion funding. We are grateful that the City will fund the third year of its eviction diversion program. We are hopeful that the goal of serving 800 low income renters facing eviction may be surpassed in action.
Where the Proposed FY 2021-22 Budget Only Somewhat Meets Our Expectations
- Limited tax assistance for low-income homeowners. We recommended an investment of $1.5 million for a grant-based tax assistance program for long-time, low-income homeowners to help them stay in their homes. We are pleased that $500,000 of the budget will support a Durham County Long-Time Homeowner grant program for residents at or below 30% of the area median income, though this is only one-third of what we recommended. Additionally, we are concerned that the very low income level for eligibility and the $750 cap on assistance limits the program’s effectiveness. In light of the proposed 1 cent tax increase countywide and 2 cents for City residents, which together will place an additional burden on low-income homeowners, we recommend that the City expand eligibility to more long-time, low-income homeowners and raise the cap to $1,000.
- Improved public transit. We support the decision to continue the free service that started during the pandemic through FY2021-22. We appreciate the city’s continued work on pedestrian and bicyclist safety. However, we are disappointed that public transit operators’ need for living wages is not discussed in this budget. Our request for additional 15-min and 10-min service along routes that stop at highly-used stops like Durham Tech, McDougald Terrace, Glenn View Station (by the Walmart on East Geer), and Durham Regional Hospital is also not explicitly addressed. Riders must not be left behind by regularly overfull buses.
- Funding for a Bragtown Small Area Plan. We are pleased that the city has allocated funding to contract with 8 Community Partners for coordinated and collaborative community engagement in historically under-represented neighborhoods including Bragtown. With Bragtown facing increased pressure from gentrification, it is urgent that the city prioritizes the needs of this community. We continue to recommend a Small Area Plan process to allow the Bragtown community to develop and implement a proactive vision, while partnering with the city and county to identify the policies, programs, and regulations needed to achieve this vision.
- Divert public safety dollars away from armed police and jails toward alternatives. We are excited about the inaugural year of the Department of Community Safety. We welcome this opportunity to develop alternatives to policing in our city. We believe the city can do even more to reduce budget line items for armed law enforcement, weaponry, and new law enforcement vehicles and divert those dollars toward different models that embrace a holistic concept of what it means for us all to be “safe” and “well,” and we welcome the tough conversations about this issue like the one at the work session on Thursday, May 27, regarding freezing police department positions.
Where the Proposed FY 2021-22 Budget Falls Short
- No new investment in green jobs. Our recommendations included deepening the commitment to the Bionomic Educational Training Center (BETC) program and the Impaired Stream Improvement Program (ISIP). These programs provide green jobs and training to our youth and water supply protection to low-income households. We are pleased that the budget allocates $558,000 to the Durham YouthWorks program in general, but this is a missed opportunity. The need to address climate change creates an opening for investments in the Green economy that will further diversify our economy, expand job opportunities, and make our community healthier and more resilient.
- No creation of a racial equity fund. We are grateful for the ongoing implementation of the Racial Equity Action Plan. However, we continue to uplift the recommendation of Durham’s Racial Equity Task Force to create a racial equity fund to supply the investment necessary to address historic and ongoing discrimination in housing, education, economic opportunity, the criminal justice system, and environmental protections.
We urge the city to address these gaps and shortfalls in the recommended budget and to fully fund all of the items above. Doing so will address many long-standing needs in our community, respond to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and move Durham closer to our vision of a just, equitable, and inclusive community where all people thrive.