Nine candidates are running for the Orange County Board of Commissioners in the upcoming Democratic primary election on March 15.
- At Large (1 seat): Andy Cagle, Matt Hughes, Mark Marcoplos
- District 1 (2 seats): Jamezetta Bedford, Mark Dorosin, Gary Kahn, Penny Rich
- District 2 (1 seat): Bonnie Hauser, Renee Price
OrangePolitics asked the candidates to answer five questions, and all provided responses. We're posting the candidates' responses to one question every Monday. Last week, we posted the responses to the first question. Today, we post the responses to the second question:
Is the allocation of funds in the county's proposed 2016 bond referendum appropriate? If not, how would you have designed the bond proposal differently?
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I like the bond just as it is. However we do need to diversify and expend our tax base to help avoid potential future bonds.
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I appreciate the Commissioners for developing a bond that will allow us to upgrade our community’s schools, give our children a better learning environment, and help address affordable housing. However, the bond referendum could have been structured differently.
I have spoken with many members of the public regarding their concerns with the bond. It is evident that many in the community wanted to see an increased commitment from the Board relating to affordable housing for our senior residents. Because our two senior centers are at their full capacity, both in space and the programming they offer, I would have added support of our senior centers to the 2016 bond proposal. For the residents of the county as a whole, I also question if the $5 million that will be applied to affordable housing will be sufficient. The last bond that contributed to affordable housing was in 2001, for a total of $4 million. 15 years later, we can assume that we need a substantially larger amount of money than last time due to the decreased purchasing power of the dollar. Having $5 million for affordable housing this year, I believe, will be attempting to do more with less.
Luckily, the bond is not the only way we can fund affordable housing and senior services. I advocate strongly that more be funded through our normal budget process. We also know that there are recent public-private partnerships that have been successful in implementing affordable housing, particularly in regards to seniors. Eno Haven, a senior community located near the SportsPlex, has 76 units and was built with both public and private funds, including a $1 million loan from Orange County. Tenants who live in Eno Haven must make 60% or less of the area medium income, which equaled $66,000 in 2011.
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There is no question that we need extensive repairs, maintenance, and improvements at many of our schools. We absolutely must not allow the investment we’ve made in education in Orange County to fail in any way – and certainly not our facilities which are so fundamentally important.
I was very active in organizing the public to support including affordable housing money in the bond referendum for several reasons. First, bonds don’t come along very often so I saw this as an opportunity for a much-needed infusion of funds for affordable housing. Second, housing affordability is inextricably linked to our educational goals. We need affordable housing for school teachers and staff. Third, children with a more stable family life learn better. This helps shrink the achievement gap.
After all the increased attention paid to affordable housing over the last year or so, I was disappointed that $10 million of the bond was not allotted to affordable housing, especially since the additional $5 million at that point would have been the equivalent of a fraction of a penny per hundred on the tax rate. But we moved the Commissioners from $0 to $5 million and that was a victory for our communities.
If I had been on the Board I would have advocated for $3 million for senior needs. The growing senior population is one of the most important issues for us going forward.
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DISTRICT 1 CANDIDATES
The BOCC is planning to place $120,000,000.00 on a bond referendum for school capital projects and also include $5,000,000.00 for affordable housing.
See http://server3.co.orange.nc.us:8088/weblink8/0/doc/39863/Page1.aspx (Oct 6, 2015 minutes)
Watching from the audience and at earlier meetings, I was impressed that speakers made a strong effort not to pit schools and children against affordable housing or the needs of seniors. Rather, many recognized the integrated nature of affordable housing and education to serve the needs of children and seniors.
Commissioners disagreed on the process. Some supported a bond that only included the schools due to the combined needs of the school facilities which exceed the annual county budget and include serious safety corrections. Others wanted to include at least $10,000,000.00 for affordable housing. Others wanted to have a process more like the last bond when stakeholders worked with a committee to list their desired projects which was then later refined. I believe the desired process should always include resident input. The challenge is to prioritize our needs from wants, and then prioritize the needs themselves. We must be pragmatic, as there are insufficient funds to solve all our needs with one bond.
The question also assumes that a bond referendum is the best mechanism to fund these capital needs. The cost should be slightly lower if approved by voters, but the delay risks increasing interest rates. For example, the new jail has been included directly into the county CIP (Capital Improvement Plan) and will not be part of the bond. The jail is essential and there is a small risk the voters would not approve it. During the commissioner discussion, it was stated that the senior centers are already in the CIP, but that is inaccurate. And bond counsel projects a 2 to 5.5 cent tax increase if these bonds are approved and no other changes are made in the CIP.
I think a better process and communication could have been used. Surveys would have helped with input. Citizens should have been informed of the current status of all existing facilities, the county’s legal responsibilities for required capital projects and projections for future required projects before discussion of additional projects. This would then be weighed with other needs – and there are many. We must remember that debt payments also limit the funds available for operating expenses. New facilities require additional operating expenses such as utility costs.
The CIP needs a thorough review for long term planning. As commissioners knew, two and three years ago each school district employed engineers, architects and security professionals who worked with stakeholders at each school to develop the list of tiered needs at the older facilities. The schools have charts to project when a new roof or HVAC will be needed for each building looking out for decades. It does not seem like the school and county facility needs have been projected and integrated far enough into the future. It seems long term cash flow analysis is lacking. There is no affordable housing plan to guide the board. Speakers stated that $10,000,000.00 is needed to actually implement any project. There was confusion on what is already included in the current CIP. At least not all of the debt capacity will be used. There must be some cash flow projections and prioritizing. These should be based on the county’s goals, but those had not been updated since 2009, though they were tweaked January 29 at the BOCC retreat and new priorities are being developed. (However, there did not seem to be any public input yet.) Funds should be allocated to the legally required governmental activities and then to additional goals/priorities.
The change to add affordable housing was good. I think the entire CIP budgeting process needs to change with much more community input, at least every five years!! And, that includes the allocation ratio of pay as you go funds too.
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Because the anticipated costs for rehabilitation and renovation of older schools are so significant, there were no meaningful conversations about other capital needs (housing, senior citizens, parks) during the early discussions about the bond. Attempts to later raise those needs created an unnecessarily adversarial process. While I was ultimately able to convince my colleagues to dedicate $5 million for affordable housing, I was disappointed that they did not agree to another $5 million, the benefits of which would have easily outweighed the minor increase in interest payments. Nevertheless, dedicated affordable housing bond money gives the County greater flexibility to improve housing options for underserved communities.
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The question should not be is the 2016 bond allocation is appropriate, but why was our county and city schools neglected in previous budgets so now we need bonds to upgrade our buildings?
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It has become clear that our school capital needs are greater than can be funded in the near term, even with the proposed bond referendum. Although I feel that it is appropriate to put the maximum available resources towards school repair, safety enhancements, modernization, and capacity improvements, I am disappointed that the majority of the board acted before we had clarity on the priorities of both school boards and other critical needs of the county.
At our 2014 retreat we discussed creating a committee, including stakeholders and citizens, to determine how to move forward with the 2016 bond. This did not occur due to the majority of the board insisting on a schools-only bond. I would have liked to continue with the original plan, seeking the input of Affordable Housing, Seniors, Parks and Recreations, and Bike/Ped. I fought hard for a $10 million allocation for Affordable Housing and $5 million for Senior Center expansion while still supporting the majority of the bond for school improvements. It was hard to watch this vote go down, but I am thankful for the $5 million for Affordable Housing. I do not think that it is enough and will only move the needle a fraction of what really is needed.
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DISTRICT 2 CANDIDATES
I cannot determine whether the allocation is appropriate because the commissioners have not provided plans for school facilities, affordable housing, seniors, parks and other public priorities. With a good plan, the commissioners can clarify needs versus wants, and assure adequate funding for all priorities.
The bond is one of many tools that the commissioners can use to fund public priorities. With over $500 million of projects under consideration by the county, the allocation on the bond ($125 million) is a small part of the puzzle. Rather than just look at the bond, I would prefer that voters understood the entire capital plan, including the projects that are funded without voter approval.
I support the bond as the fastest way to get funding to schools, affordable housing and other public priorities. If more money is needed for any of these and other priorities, the commissioners have other funding tools at their disposal. In the future, I’d like to see a funding policy that keeps our schools in good repair on an ongoing basis, and that assures that essentials, including affordable housing and seniors, are funded first.
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The proposed allocation of funds for the 2016 bond referendum is insufficient to meet the totality of needs of the Orange County community, yet I support the proposed allocation. We have immediate social justice and safety needs—i.e., safe and secure schools or learning environments, and decent and respectable housing for persons of all ages and income levels.
For the two school systems, the proposed allocation from the bond is $120 million. I am hopeful that the BOCC also will appropriate at least $1 million per year for the next five fiscal years from the Capital Investment Plan. By doing so for FY 2016-17, funding for building improvements could be available before the bond is passed and requests made for the bond funds. In addition, the total allocation to schools for the next five to six years would be at least $125 million.
The proposed allocation for the affordable housing portion of the bond package is $5 million. Along with my BOCC colleagues, I wanted to include housing in the bond from the onset, yet little had been said to me regarding the management of funds, the use of funds or even an amount. Then, the Orange County Housing Director provided a needs assessment, Commissioner Dorosin gave a figure of $5 million, and the County Manager spoke of funding from the CIP and/or Operating Budget. My hope is that the voters will pass the bond referendum, and that at least $1 million will be appropriated to housing from the Operating Budget to address non-capital needs such as rental assistance.
Regarding the discussion of a larger bond package to include more items or increased allocations, my concern was that such a proposal most likely would have raised taxes further, with the result of making living in Orange County less affordable.
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