OP Live Candidate Forum: County Commissioners

Good evening. I’m really looking forward to this. Hope you are.Tonight we have several candidates for commissioner with us.If you’re not a candidate or a political junkie this election is kind of complicated.There are two candidates for one seat in District 2 and three candidates for two seats in District 1. And there’s one candidate for one at-large seat. Got all that? Groovy.Let’s get going.

Hello everyone.

How Are Ya?

Hello to all the participants.

Good evening.

Looking forward to hearing what questions people have for county commissioner candidates.

You’ve been in a lot of forums and talked to a lot of voters. What’s the mood of the electorate? What are people interested in? What kind of changes do they want to see?

Voters are talking about solid waste and specifically about Rogers Road. They are talking about the transit tax, the transit plan and about taxes and economic development. But I think they are also looking to the county commissioners for vision and leadership, both among elected bodies and for the residents of the county as a whole. 


I believe that most people are satisfied with the job the current BOCC is doing.  I have not heard substantial demands for any changes.

The electorate is engaged. They are still feeling cautious about the finances of the County and are concerned about their personal finances as well, including property taxes. There is a focus on Economic Development particularly the way in which we approach the Econ. Dev. districts. The electorate wants us to grow in a way that is environmentally conscious and that reflects the values of the County. They want to see stronger cooperation between the County and the municipalities and would like to see the focus shift to building bridges and having conversations early rather than allowing disagreements to grow and create wedges between municipal and County governments.

The big concern is economic development. How can Orange County progress and still maintain its values re the environment.  People also are concerned about the budget, our financial state, because people still are unemployed, underemployed and losing homes.   Maintaining excellence in education also is concern considering the budgert shortfalls. Third, the closing of the landfill and what to do with our solid waste.

I have not heard too much about the Orange County Board of Commissioners.  The issues I hear the most about are taxes and transit. There is a lot of concern about Amendament 1 and funding for local programs by the state.

I'm hearing people's concerns about amendment 1, and the state of NC politics.  People are concerned about growth in our district, the high property taxes, transit issues, and maintaining funding for schools. Mostly I'm hearing questions and concerns.  People want to know how we will deal with all these issues.  People are concerned about high tax rates (property and sales), and want to know how the county will handle this.   Another thing I hear a lot about is planning for economic growth, and wanting to know what actions the county is taking to address this.  

 I earlier mentioned that residents are concerned about taxes.  I would like us to do a better job of having citizens understand how the taxes are used and also what we are doing to increase economic development and our non-residential tax base.  It will require a concerted effort between the towns and the county.

Among the changes that people want: open and honest government.  People want to be heard and their values respected.  We need better collaboration with other local governments, organizations and agencies--and more public-private partnerships.  And thirdly, better fiscal accountability.

It’s budget season and one of your top jobs as commissioner will be to try to balance a lot of needs with scarce funds. What guides your thinking on the county budget?

The role of the county commissioners is much more than just minding the pocketbook. Budgets have values. Our spending decisions must reflect those core principles that define our sense of community: social justice, equity, and community inclusion. The organizing around Amendment One is a reminder that people in this community care about issues larger than themselves. We must tap that same spirit in making our local funding decisions. A specific example would be funding the mitigation needed in Rogers Road: water and sewer and cleanup of hazardous waste dumpsites. 

Our first priority is to fund mandated services.  Emergency services, schools, and our Social Services responsibilities must be maintained. Secondary services such as recreationand open space conservation can only be funded as additional resources are available.  Spending on economic developement now will make these decisions easier in the future.

The safety and welfare of County residents and maintaining the quality of our school systems should be the main focus in a time of tightening budgets. Often the programs that are the first to be cut are the programs that are most needed in an economic downturn (i.e. the consolidation of the dental clinics). We need to be mindful of the needs of all Orange County citizens regardless of income level. The strength of our school systems is a source of pride and helps us to draw the talent we need to support our economic development goals. We must prioritize schools even in a time of tight budgets.

We have to balance the revenues we know we have against the requests we get.  We have both capital and operating budgets.  We have outstanding debt.  We try to maintain a 15% fund balance to cover emergencies.  The schools and all departments present their budget requests to us.  We look at this information and try to best determine a prioritization based on timing (for instance, which projects need to happen now, which have matching grant funding, which can wait).  My highest priority is preserving the social services safety net, and making sure our schools have sufficient funding to provide quality education to our children.  We currenlty have many needs, a good bond rating, and we do a 10 year capital needs projection.  All this helps put projects and services into perspective when planning not just for this year, but for the future (i.e. our 10 year capital plan).  We always have to make tough decisions, and we try to leverage the money we have to make the effective use of it we can, for the most citizens.  

We have to remember first and foremost that when taking into account the services that are mandated by federal and state statute and education, there is little flexibility in the services we provide.  Although the level of county funding for education is not mandated, quality educatuion is a value shared across the county.  Some of the services that are not mandatory are ones that I doubt Orange County residents do not want - for example the senior centers. The proponents of each service category are always advocating to increase funding for their service.  What I realize is that we must be strategic and emphasize discretionary funding for the services which are most needed by the residents while recognizing that many of the services are interrelated.  For example, at-risk children who come to school wihout proper nutrition and other essential services won't learn well.  Therefore, in looking at education we must also consider how we ensure that at-risk children come to school ready to learn.  This is just one example.At present, we know that there are some defiencies in our emergency services.  Safety and security is one of the most essential services and I will consider that in looking at our budget.   Throughout the past few years, I have advocated for mainting the funding for safety net services.  When there is an economic downturn, it is our responsibility to ensure the basic welare of everyone.

An analysis of the fiscal status, common sense and needs of the community will help guide me in budget process.  I will listen to the people, to what the community has to say re their specific needs.  The County also has staff well-versed in finance and I would solicit their advice and expertise.  Yet, we have to maintain our schools, promote economic development, protect the environment and help assure social services are provided to those in need in our community.

Candidates, please respond by clicking the reply button next to the question or response to which you are replying. This will allow readers to better understand what you are talking about, and also prevents the chance that you will lose your comment-in-progress when the page refreshes every two minutes.We are moving replies as needed, but would greatly appreciate your help in this matter. Thank you. 

One of the concerns I’ve heard for years is that the county and its municipalities need to do a better job of working together. The library funding issue in Chapel Hill and the ill-fated library siting choice in Carrboro stand out as examples. What will you do to to improve cooperation and coordination with the towns?

There must be greater substantive collaboration and cooperation between the county and the municipal governments in development both effective county and municipal policies that serve our collective goals and recognize the interconnected issues being addressed by various county and town agencies. It is worth noting that no current member ofthe BOCC has ever served as a municipal elected official. 

The conversation needs to start earlier, especially with contentious issues such as the libraries. There has been a pattern of letting problems go on for years rather than having uncomfortable conversations to resolve the issues. The delay makes the problem worse.  Regarding the Chapel Hill Library, we finally came to an agreement between the Town and the County, and one reason I am running for BOCC is to ensure that it is seen through. The Carrboro Library is another story.  Carrboro does not want the type of library that the BOCC has discussed siting there. Carrboro wants a small branch that is accessible by foot, bike and public transportation.  In other words, Carrboro wants a library that reflects its values.  This disconnect is why that conversation has fallen flat. In addition to having conversations earlier at the elected official level, the staff must communicate and cooperate more effectively.

Collaboration is one element of my platform.  We desparately need to work better with our local town governments.  People, the general public, lose out when governments are suing each other.  We need to "play well with others."

As county commissioner, I will pursue regular joint meetings.  One of the first goals will be to determine a common or shared vision for the entire county.  Then, we will have a basis to move forward, to make progress toward sustainability.

The regular joint meetings we have with each municipality have already proven to be a great opportunity for each board to gain greater insight into the perspectives of the other.

A necessary first step would be to inform town residents of all the services that the County provides them.  As the County has begun to reflect the interests of all its residents,  the needs of the municipalites must be seen in a broader context.  Cooperation and coordination with the towns remains an important goal of County government and is critical to the success of our efforts.

The recent dissention over a southwest branch library and the disjointed decision making on solid waste are examples where better communication earlier in the process would have produced outcomes with greater community support. Those areas (such as solid waste) where the county has the ultimate decision-making role should be considered a hierarchy of responsibility, which encourages collaboration and synthesis in decision making, and not a heirarchy of authority. I will use my experience as an alderman and a community advocate to encourage cooperation among elected officials and among residents.  

I might add that I have good working relationships with various members of our local town boards, and I hope to continue those relationships for the good of the county.

I think the fiscal challenges faced by both the municipalities and the county have created more tensions in the last few years.   We also have to recognize that we represent different sets of responsibilities and it is unreasonable to expect that we would always agree.  Disagreement does not mean that we are not collaborating and working together.  When the media and citizens highlight the disagreements, the other areas of cooperation are sometimes forgotten.  Let's remember that Orange County and Chapel Hill have cooperated on parks, for example.  Let's remember that we have some recent positive experiences in collaborative economic development efforts.  Let's remember that the Board of Commissioners is working collaboratively with all the municipalities on the Orange County transit plan which will provide transit to various areas of the county. Collaboration means good faith negotiation and I think that we reached a good agreement with Chapel Hill regarding funding.  We took a step back regarding a library in Carrboro and asked Carrboro for input on our draft criteria for choosing a Southweat branch of a library.  It is important that we talk to each other and listen to each other and made the decisions we think best to serve the consituents we serve.  As a county commissioner, I need to ensure that we take into account the entire county. I will continue to discuss issues with my colleagues in the municipalities.  This is how we learn what each other's assumptions, needs and perspectives are.  This is how we work towards finding solutions which we can all accept and may differ from our initial viewpoints. One thing I have learned from the library situation is that we must always have a written agreement that all parties have signed onto.  Without such agreements, different individuals have different expectations, even within a particular elected board.  We need to ensure that all our cooperative efforts and collaborate are clear to all of us.  

It's true!   We haven't done a very good job in the past, as county commissioners, of communicating with the towns.  We have four towns in our county, and we have made a conscious effort in the last couple of years to meet with the towns individually, and discuss issues that are coming before both of us.  An important step is being more proactive in our discussions, to meet to plan about upcoming issues, rather than dealing with them after they have become problems.   The Chair of the BOCC is now meeting with the mayors more regularly to make sure information is shared between the jurisdictions.  No one is quite sure about the library funding history, and why the funding support remained static for so long.   In the last few years, we have increased the library funding, and we have moved to a more proactive approach, which has helped in our communctions, for instance,  in developing a plan for sharing resources (books, etc between libraries).  For the southwest branch library, we are trying to work with the town of Carrboro to find a site that serves the most people in the southwest part of the county.   We currently have two small branches, and would like to consolidate into one larger facility, which would be more efficient and be able provide more services.  We remain committed to working with Carrboro, to find the best possible spot.   In general, we do not have to remain trapped in our previous history of poor communications between towns and the county over issues like this.   Instead we will have more opportunities to work collaboratively, especially in such areas as economic development and services for our mutual citizens. 

Are you for the transit tax? How important is it to our transit strategy? If you're for it, what will it take to sell it to the voters?

Yes. If we are serious about moving Economic Development forward in Orange County, we must have a 21st Century transit system in place. We must make sure that we have the proper infrastructure and that adequate public transit is accessible to ensure the success of new businesses. Chape Hill's LUMO relies heavily on public transportation to support Economic Development countywide. To convince county residents that they will benefit, we need to educate citizens that even if they never board a bus or train, they benefit from public transit with $4 in economic activity generated from every $1 invested in public transportation (American Public Transportation Association study). We also need to make sure that citizens understand that the transit plan is not just light rail, but includes Bus Rapid Transit, the Amtrak station in Hillsborough and the necessary feeder buses.

It has been questioned by the County Commissioners whether this should be on the ballot at all. I feel strongly that this is a decision that should be made by the citizens and that it should be placed on the ballot regardless of any individual Commissioner's feelings.

Yes, I am for the transit tax and will support it. I am hopeful that the transit tax will be on the ballot and approved in November and disappointed it is not scheduled for a vote in May. The transit plan must be presented in context with other issues facing the county. The tax is critical to an overall strategy in that it will allow us to leverage state and federal funding.

Thus far, the commissioners have let the question of who will use the services eclipse important public education about the collective value for our entire community of a comprehensive transit plan, including reduced traffic congestion, less dependence on fossil fuels, and connecting otherwise isolated residents and communities to jobs and service. In addition, insufficient attention has been paid to promoting how transit oriented residential and commercial development and redevelopment can create new opportunities for mixed income, mixed use neighborhoods and help reduce sprawl.

Talking about transit as if it only matter to people who ride it is like suggesting education should only matter to people with kids in schools.  

Ultimately, the plan should include the range of mass transit options (local and regional rail and bus, on-demand services, paratransit) that will most effectively facilitate the use and development of public transportation.

Even though I am wholeheartedly in favor on the transit tax, it is the voters who will decide.  I want to make sure the voters have the opportunity to decide.The transit tax is of utmost importance to our transit strategy.  There is no other funding source that would allow us to develop the transit infrastructure for the future.  Even if we don't receive the federal and state matching monies for light rail, we will be able to substantially increase transit.  Keep in mind that the state faces enormous projected deficits just to maintain the road and transit infrastructure we now have. I think that there are many voters out there already who want to vote for the transit sales tax.  This has been discussed for many years and endorsed by a number of groups to date, the Sierra Club, the Orange County Democratic Party, student groups and Friends of Durham Orange Transit.  For those who are not familiar with the plan, I will work actively with these groups and any other interested parties to educate the citizens about the need for and advantages of transit.  I will personally reach out to groups.  We need to let citizens know that transit is important to air quality, quality of life, mobility for lower-income individuals, and focusing growth in the urban areas where all the other important infrastructure exists.  We need to ensure that residents of all areas of the county are provided the information about the transit plan.I will advocate for the transit advocates to hold open houses in different areas of the county in order that citizens have the opportunity to hear about the plan and have their questions answered (all this AFTER we vote on a plan which is still in draft form).

We also need to let the public know that the transit plan is one which can change over time as needs are identified and/or as our sales tax revenue increases with economic development. For example, we know that the aging population is increasing.  Let's make sure that we address thier needs as we made modifications to bus routes.

I have not been convinced that the transit plan presented benefits all of Orange County residents in a way that justifies imposing a 1/2 cent sales tax on everyone.  I believe that public mass transit is an important component of our transportation future, but I'm concerned that the current plan, with its emphasis on light rail, commits too many of our limited resources to a technology that limits our options.  Light rail requires very dense development for its support and the opportunities within Orange County for that kind of development are limited.  I would prefer Bus Rapid Transit as our immediate alternative because its flexibility allows it to adapt to changing conditions and  its lower cost provides us with options for more service in more areas of the county.

Yes, I am for the transit tax being on the ballot.  We need improved transit for all of our citizens.  For both those traveling into as well as out of the towns and the county.  Currently 27,000 people commute out of Orange county each day for jobs, and 24,000 come in for work, services, or education.   This plan calls for increased bus hours and for light rail or some other means of rapid transit.  The county and the towns do not have enough in their general funds to support increasing transit services.   The transit sales tax will provide the needed revenues to expand our services and plan for future growth--whether it is light rail, bus rapid transit or commuter lines. The commissioners are working to establish long term commitments with Durham and the TTA regarding transit plans and funding.   We are gathering citizen input, and listening to the municipalities' needs, working with our neighbors to finalize the best overall plan, before putting this issue before the voters.   It's a complicated issue, and we need to make it as clear as possible for the voters to understand it.    We will need to work with our muncipalities, civic groups, and other organizations to educate the public about this issue.  There will need to be publicity and outreach.  I worked on the 1/4 cent sales tax to get it passed, and I am willing to work on this important transit tax as well.  Our population will continue to grow, as will the number of people commuting in and out of our county.  It is critical for us to develop at this time a long term transit plan that will work and that we can secure funding for. 

With the rise in gas prices, the need to reduce emissions, and the desire for greater mobility, mass transit has a significant role to play in the future of Orange County.  I believe that we should be moving forward with that concept. Buses--including bus rapid transit and smart buses-- and more bus hours will be a great improvement.  

Train service also can mean progress to Orange County.  Chapel Hill/Carrboro wants light rail, and Hillsborough wants a train platform or station.  These additions will promote economic development.  The train station in Hillsborough has the potential of making Hillsborough and its surrounding areas more of a destination--i.e., for the tourism industry.

The issue for many constituents is the financial plan for the transit. How can we be sure of its sustainability?  When I asked a representative about ridership fare, we were told that, at the moment, there would be no fare charged to riders. The universities, for example, would subidize.  

Another concern is the additional tax on top of the 1/4 cent sales tax.  People in our county still are hurting from the national financial crisis. The exclusions are insufficient for many families. 

Thus, we still have questions and concerns that need to be addressed before the transit tax can gain widespread acceptance--particularly for residents living in the rural areas.  We need the answers and then begin to educate the community of the benefits of mass transit, the benefits that they will realize.

The voters will decide.

As you know, the schools in this state took a big hit in the recent state budget. What will you do as commissioner to mitigate the impact of these and potential future cuts here in Orange County?

One issue we need to be on top of is Charter schools.  When the Lee Charter school was recently approved, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools lost 4.5 million dollars. In the middle of an economic downturn, we cannot afford to have this funding taken away from our public schools. That goes against everything we know about making our schools better. We also need to make sure that each student, regardless of school system, is treated equally in terms of funding so that every Orange County child has an equal opportunity for a top notch education. We need to figure out a way to make this happen. Finally, we need to ensure that SAPFO is not ignored, as economic development should support our schools.  We cannot build, build, build without investing some of the proceeds into our school systems.

In response to Penny's comment about SAPFO, we need to remember that Mebane is experiencing a lot of growth and is not part of SAPFO.  The BOCC plans to reach out once again to Mebane on this issue.  If we have to build a school when we face our debt limit, we face extraordinary challenges for operational funding.

Throught the last few years of budget cuts, we did mitigate the impact by not decreasing the per capita operational budgets of the schools.  We also dedicated half of the quarter-cent sales tax to capital needs for the schools.  As we increase our non-residential tax base, we are providing a steady source of supplemental capital income for the schools, which we hope will grow over time. All of us need to actively work with the General Assembly to restore the use of lottery funds, restore operational expenses, to the schools and elect representatives who will support funding for education.  We have not yet seen the proposed county budget and it is difficult to say what other specific actions are to be taken at this point in time.  

As a parent of three children in the public schools I know that continued support for core school programs is vital. The BOCC should look for ways to promote collaboration between the two districts that may serve students more effectively (shared programmatic opportunities) as well as save money through better pooling of resources and negotiations with contractors. The county must also take a forceful position against the legislative attacks on public education. That means advocating through our legislators and opposing charter schools, which drain resources from the traditional public schools, rarely serve a diverse student population, and have a segregative effect on the schools from which they draw students.

Orange County dedicates nearly 50% of its budget to funding the public schools.  With the other demands on county resources, it is unlikely that the percentage will grow.  Therefore, we need to continue our efforts to increase the overall level of revenue available to fund all county obligations.  We can only do this with a sustained commitment to creating opportunities for businesses to locate and grow in our county.  We must also encourage our residents to advocate with their state representatives for restoration of the state funding that has historically provided supprot for public education.

Our county has always funded schools at one of the highest levels in the state.   After serving on the CHCCS school board for four years, I have first hand knowledge of the funding it takes to educate children.  The state has drastically reduced funding to our schools, including withdrawing expected lottery funding.  We have attempted to mitigate decreased state funding by planning ahead, and raising funds.  For instance half of the 1/4 cent sales tax revenues are designated to support the schools.   We have remained committed in our support of capital improvement program funding for the schools, even putting them ahead of some county projects.  We meet with the schools leadership teams on a regular basis and talk about funding levels, so that we can plan ahead.   Most counties in NC have suffered major cutbacks to school funding at the county level, while in Orange County because our planning and communications, we have been able to maintain a high level of funding for the school systems.    We have worked hard fiscally.  For instance our director of finance has worked with the schools, and we have been able to refinance outstanding school debt to allow for more funding to be available for future projects.   I remain committed to education and funding it as the highest level possible.  It is critical to developing our workforce and new leaders.  I believe our county has a bright future for education.  

Public education is our of our greatest assets, and unfortunately,
the legislators with the greater power in Raleigh have taken action to
devalue our school systems.  We do indeed need to continue to support
our state legislators in their efforts to restore funding for public
schools.  As for mitigating the adverse impacts, I would propose
more cooperation and collaboration among local stakeholders, more
partnerships with nonprofit organizations to maintain excellence in our
public school classrooms.  We care about our children and we can work
together to assure necessary services to our students, our rising
stars.  Again, I would continue to lobby our state legislators for funding that belongs to our children, their teachers and school staff.

Do you support or reject reopening the discussion on extending the life of the current landfill in the Rogers Road/Eubanks Road neighborhood?Do you support shipping our waste out of Orange County?What’s the long term solution? How are we going to move forward on this issue?

First, I vehemently reject extending the life of the current landfill. An attempt to justify further solid waste uses in Rogers Road by claiming any costs savings would be used to fund water and sewer would be another betrayal of the neighborhood and of the values that our county purports to hold dear. Infrastructure improvements have been recognized by local governments as compensation for prior decades of bearing the burdens of the county’s solid waste operations. It would be unacceptable to re-offer these same remedial measures as consideration for expanding solid waste uses.

While I and many community advocates were thrilled that the Rogers-Eubanks neighborhood was taken off the table, the 2009 decision to use the Durham waste transfer station was made in a reactive fashion and without full consideration of the impacts, including not only the costs but whether we would merely be victimizing another African American community. At that time, I worked closely with Rogers Eubanks Neighborhood Association and the Coalition to End Environmental Racism. That September, two years after the search process began and the community had long been eliminated from consideration, a last minute site in the neighborhood was presented by county staff. Consideration of this site ignored the established criteria and months of community input, and circumvented the selection process.

The county needs to make the full measure of mitigation to the Rogers Road community. This includes providing water and sewer connections to homes without cost, full investigation and cleanup of all illegal dumpsites, and support for the community organization. It is unconscionable for the county to refuse to investigate the dumpsites for fear of liability. No other community in the county would accept that explanation and neither should Rogers Road.

In addition, the county should work together with Carrboro and Chapel Hill to revisit the annexation and land use plan that divides the community, and also develop and implement zoning, development and tax policies to prevent gentrification or pushout of current homeowners.

I do not support reopening the discussion on extending the life of the current landfill.  I also do not support shipping our waste out of Orange County. "Out of sight, out of mind" is not an effective waste policy. Creating a situation in another community like the one faced for the past 40 years by the Rogers Road Community would mean that we learned nothing from that social inequity. Shipping our trash out of county is also cost prohibitive. It will cost District 1 a minimum of $750K more a year than it would to keep our trash in Orange County. We need an aggressive waste management policy that sets attainable goals. Our approach should start with waste reduction, including an outreach and public education campaign about recycling, composting and waste reduction techniques. We should find new markets for recyclables and decrease unsustainable waste streams such as take out containers and individual packaging. Our waste policy will also necessarily include a plan for disposing of our waste in county. Although the Commissioners have been researching alternatives over the years, they did not aggressively work toward the development of a plan for the closure of the landfill and now, at the eleventh hour, they have rushed to judgment. The overriding fact is that solid waste is a County Department and the County needs to move toward a sustainable 21st century solution. I look forward to being a part of that process.

The landfill closure is a settled issue.  We now must search for another method for handling our solid waste.  Certainly, continued efforts towards waste reduction must be maintained, but reduction alone will not be enough (even "zero-waste" allows about 10% residue).  If, as I think most Orange County residents believe, we want to handle Orange County waste within Orange County in an evironmentally responsible, yet financially sutainable way, the solution must lie close to the source of waste generation.  I have pointed out that any waste handling method requires a collection point, and to minimize the adverse impacts of long distance hauling, that collection point must be within easy reach of the municipalities.  It must also be in a relatively undeveloped area with the opportunity to adequately screen and separate uses.  I believe the only reasonable site is somewhere within the Carolina North property. 

We will not make progress on this issue until we have a unified effort that includes not only the county and the municipalities, but also includes UNC.  Given the difficulties we have faced as individual agents, an independent Solid Waste Authority might provide a structure to move towards a solution.

I do not support reopening a discussion on extending the life of the landfill.  It is time to move forward on addressing long term solutions and not delay this effort. I do not like shipping waste out of Orange County.  Numerous members of the public have expressed the same sentiment.  The only circumstance wherein I would favor shipping waste outside the county was if we had a regional waste disposal plan with a neighboring county.  Moving forward will require at the very least the willingness of the Town of Chapel Hill to partner with others in the county.  None of the other bodies have sufficient waste to explore any of the alternative technologies. I await the results of Chapel Hill's study currently being undertaken by a consultant.  This study may very well provide some suggestions for all of us in Orange County and hopefully we can continue to work collaboratively on waste issues.  I have been to a number of presentations on a technology which could be implemented in Orange County (perhaps through a public/private partnership).  It will take all of us, including hopefully UNC to collaborate.  This technology would not require us to sacrifice our recyling efforts, which I think is of utmost importance.  I suspect there are other similar viable technologies demonstrating cost effectiveness.   Given the (hopefully) temporary solution of using the Durham waste transfer station, it is time to think are ways of further reducing our waste stream.  Why don't we have pay as you throw.  The financial incentive would motivate those who now don't recycle or pay attention to their waste stream.Aside from technology, the challenge will be to find an appropriate location. This will also require collaboration between the county and towns, and even perhaps a neighboring county.  

There is an emerging community consensus, which I support, that Orange County should be responsible for its own trash. If we have learned anything from our experience in Rogers Road, it’s that we don’t want to victimize another Rogers Road in another county. That means the commissioners will have to make a decision on locating a disposal facility of some kind in Orange County. That decision will undoubtedly engender significant opposition and invariably alienate some voters. Nevertheless, this is an issue on which the commissioners must lead and must engage the community in thinking beyond our individual interests and to focus on the greatest good for the county as a whole.

With the landfill scheduled to close next summer it is vital that the search process for the next facility begin immediately.

If folks are interested, here's more about my work with the Rogers Road community from the recent Sierra Club forum.


I absolutely REJECT the reopening the discussion to extend the life of the landfill.  The people of the Rogers-Eubanks community have carried our burden far too ong, 40 years too long. Case closed.

Transporting our solid waste to Durham could result in a disaster, as our trucks are ill-equipped to travel the interstate with heaps of garbage.

Orange County must take responsiblity for its own waste, which means that we will need to find a site somewhere in Orange County, close to where the bulk of the waste is generated.  We have done an excellent job on recycling; we also need to promote waste reduction. Reduce.

Our future is based on technology, and I would advocate that we continue with serious research on waste-to-energy.  The technology is still in the development and experimental stages, yet we should begin our own investigation of a model or alternatives because time is running out. 

Orange County waited too long to resolve its solid waste issue.

We have to close the landfill.   Both for social justice reasons, and because the landfill is at capacity and must close soon.  Going to the Durham transfer station is only a short term solution.   The towns and the county now realize they have to face this issue together, and are now working towards a better long term solution.  We need our own waste transfer station site, so we can monitor our waste stream.  It is inefficient and costly to transport our trash to Durham using neighborhood collection trucks.  We need to have control over our trash (waste stream). This will allow us to continue to improve our recycling efforts, and to reduce our waste stream.  (the Durham transfer site does not support recycling to the level that Orange county does, and will not be monitoring our shipments).   Having our own transfer site will also allow us to support future improved technologies for handling our waste stream.   Having our own transfer site will also provide for efficiences in collecting and hauling our garbage.  The county is very interested in working with our muncipalities to co-locate a site.   We will continue to run our construction and demolition waste site, and our recyclying centers.   The county is making efficiencies in its convenience centers, to better handle both recycling and waste materials.Waste disposal is a important issue.  Using the Durham transfer station is a short term fix.  It is critical that we have control over our waste stream so we can prioritize our counties values, like waste reduction and recycling.  All the partners must cooperately work together to find a good long term solution.    

Moving the county's dental clinic to Hillsborough created a hardship for many residents in the southern part of the county who use the clinic. Do you support a clinic in the southern part of the county? Also, if the state cuts dental care from its Medicaid coverage should the county pick up the tab?

There should be a dental clinic in the southern part of the county. Dental care is a basic public health service, one that those of us with means would never ignore for our children or ourselves. The county should prioritize dental care in its budget if state funding is cut. The county should also work closely with the UNC dental school to bolster and expand the provision of dental services for our lower-wealth residents.

When the Board of Health recommended consolidation of the dental clinics in Hillsborough, it also advocated for a dental clinic to serve the southern part of the county to be constructed within 10 years.  Recently, the BOCC has renewed its commitment to dental services at the southern human services center as soon as resources will allow.  Currently, the consolidated clinic is serving more patients more efficiently with very few concerns about transportation from the southern part of the County.  The County clinic is dependent on Medicaid to fund much of its operation.  Obviously any reduction in Medicaid will make it substantially more difficult to maintain services at the clinic without a significant increase in local funding, which is limited to property and sales tax alone.  Support for the dental clinic would have to be considered along with all other County programs. 

Yes, I support a clinic in the southern part of the county.  As a Town Council member, I wrote the resolution against the closure of the Carrboro Dental Clinic.  The Town Council passed the resolution, but the clinic was closed nonetheless, due to financial restraints. There are plans to build a new dental clinic on Homestead Road, contiguous to other social services in that area. We do not know when that is going to happen however, because of funding. We need to put a target date on this project to ensure that it happens in a timely manner, as citizens in the southern part of the county should not have to travel to Hillsborough for emergency dental work. Regarding the second question, I think we should work to find more public-private partnerships like the one we have with Piedmont Dental. Creating more partnerships like this, whether with UNC or with other private providers, will ensure that county citizens continue to have dental care covered even if the state cuts dental care from its Medicaid coverage.

Moving the dental clinic indeed created a hardship and inconvenience for the people of southern Orange.  I would propose maintaining clinics  in both the northern/central and southern parts of the county.As for Medicaid, should the state try to place the burden on local governments, the county should lobby--along with other counties-- to prevent such action.

The move of the dental clinic was made in difficult circumstances which allowed us to maintain service levels while cutting expenses.  The longer term plan is to add a dental clinic to the Southern Human Services Center (SHSC).  We just discussed a draft of the overall plan for expansion of our Health and Human Service facilities at the SHSC campus at our joint meeting with the Town of Chapel Hill.

With the numerous state cuts to education, Smart Start, mental health, etc., I don't think the county can consider picking up the tab every time the state decides it wants to save monies.  It is not a financially sustainable system.  We need to focus our efforts on ensuring that the state maintains the services that are expected to be funded at the state level (unless that is, the states want to decrease the income tax rate and give the counties more flexibility in raising revenues!!!). Since counties are dependent primarily upon property taxes, the counties cannot afford to dramatically increase the types of service provided without negatively impacting the very individuals who need the services.

The long-term challenge for counties is to diversity the source of revenues and work together to advocate for common concerns of counties with the General Assembly.  I am active in several N.C. Association of County Commissioner committees, for that very reason. 

This is a great example of one of the many tough decisions we, as county commissioners, have to make in these difficult economic times.  By consolidating the two clinics (the southern clinic was only open 2 days a week), we were able to use the substantial cost savings and upgrade the dental clinic equipment at one site and provide more services to more citizens.   We offer free transportation vouchers to faciliate residents in the southern portion of the county.   Noneless, this isn't a perfect solution.  It is less convenient for citizens in the southern part of the county.  We are actively pursuing, by designing and permitting, a new dental site at our southern campus off Homestead road.  If the state cuts funding, we will have to re-evaluate how much dental services we can afford.  We will gather input from the health department, other dental service providers, and citizens.  Our goal is to provide the best quality services to the most citizens we can. 

County Manager Frank Clifton seems to have taken a strong leadership role in county policy making. Do you feel that the board is doing an adequate job of guiding policy?

The County Manager is often the most visible member of County Government and thus can be seen as having a policy role.  However, while the Manager often can provide alternatives based on his knowledge and experience, policy decisions are exclusively the purview of the BOCC.

I feel that the County Commissioners are relying too strongly on the County Manager for decision making, to the point where it appears that the County Manager is the one making the decisions for the County. This is not how productive government works. For example, all questions directed to Department Heads must first go through the County Manager. By contrast, in Chapel Hill, Department Heads are easily accessible to both elected officials and citizens. I would like to see the BOCC take stronger positions even when it goes against staff's or the County Manager's recommendations.

Frank Clifton has taken a strong leadership role in policy-making because the BOCC members have allowed him to do so.  The commissioners are the representatives of the people and have the duty to listen to and respond to the people.  The BOCC can do a much better job in serving as leaders and guiding policy.The county manager has a specific task based on a specific expertise, separate and distinct from a commissioner.  While Frank Clifton hears our concerns during public meetings, commissioners are expected to be more engaged with their constituency and to bring their concerns to the table.   

I have heard the comment made about our manager.  The county manager is outspoken and shares his viewpoints with us and the public. I value professional staff who give us information from their varied experiences and their recommendations.  However, it is the Board of Commissioners that makes the final policy decisions.  The Board has not always followed the manager's recommendation.  I think that some of the perception that the manager is making policy is a reflection of several factors:  1) the county and towns are facing fiscal challenges and 2) the county manager is looking out for the county's interest as a whole 3) many issues were left incomplete and he has brought them to our attention for us to make the policy decisions.  For example, the manager has encouraged us to complete the water and sewer promised to Efland and encouraged us to develop a written agreement with Chapel Hill regarding the library.  He has encouraged us to develop the policies which we as a board have voted upon.  If the public studied all our meeting records, they would see that the Board has often asked the manager to come back to us with recommendations regarding a particular issue....that is, we are directing the policy issues.  

I see that is 9:00 p.m.!!  I just want to say that I thought the questions were good ones.  I have enjoyed participating in this forum.

Frank came to our county with extensive prior county management experience.   He has been instrumental in helping enact the board's policies.  The county has many inefficiences, which Frank has done an outstanding job of rectifying.   He has made many improvements in organization, efficiencies, and communications.  He has helped manage the difficult budget situations very well.   BOCC makes the policy decisions, and instructs the manager to carry them out.

No I do not. There has been a dearth of engaged leadership on the board in recent years and in the absence of a strong, clear, vision for the county, the manager has taken a more direct role in developing policy. This is troubling. He is not accountable electorally to the people, nor does he connect as directly with them as the commissioners do or should. Local government is the closest to the people. The commissioners are responsible to promote, reflect and represent the interests of the residents. While it is reasonable to depend on the expertise and experience of the staff, the commissioners must not only articulate a vision for the county but ensure that the policies they implement reflect that vision and are accountable for its effectiveness.As a former Carrboro alderman and as a civil rights lawyer, I am familiar with the challenges of reviewing large amounts of complicated and technical materials and the importance of making sure that they will best serve the goals for which I am working. I will bring that skill to the board.  

This was great. Thanks so much for participating. We’ll keep this forum open until 9:15 p.m. If you want to add something to your answers or post a closing statement, feel free to do so.

Thank you Ruby, Kirk and all the OP Administrators for a great forum. Thanks to the other candidates for your participation. I look forward to engaging the citizens of Orange County on these and other issues.  Feel free to email me: pennyrich.oc@gmail.com or visit the website: www.pennyfororange.com and you can also find me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pennyrichncGood night! 

Thank you for sponsoring this forum.  If we had more time (or stronger typing skills) we might have an actual debate!

Thank you. This online forum is an example of the kind of community engagement I am so proud of and hope to help broaden if I have an opportunity to serve on the board of county commissioners.

This was indeed an experience.   Many thanks to OP for giving me the opportunity to express my views.  And thanks to all who were reading.I look forward to serving Orange County in many ways in years to come. We must continue to work toward building community for a sustainable future. I believe in "we the people" and I will strive to assure that your views are heard (or read) and your values respected.  Please visit my website www.reneeprice2012.com to learn a bit more about me.   Good night.

I already posted that I enjoyed this forum.  I also want to thank everyone who made this forum happen and craft good questions.We should find more ways of communicating with the public. I hope a large group of citizens will read the comments posted here.

Thanks again.The action's over on this page, but OP has an open thread on tonight's forum at http://www.orangepolitics.org/elections-2012/forums/county-commissioners-forum-open-thread.You're welcome to drop in there and post any follow ups.


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