OP Live Candidate Forum: Orange County Board of Commissioners

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Thanks for joining us here at Orange Politics for another 2014 election forum.Tonight we’ll be seeking to learn more about the views and ideas of five county commissioner candidates. Running for office is never easy, so thanks to our candidates for stepping up.Here’s the first question:We often hear the complaint that we are overtaxed here in Orange County. Are we?

I guess it would depend on your perspective.  For someone with children in our excellent schools they may feel they are getting a good return on their taxes.  For our lower income folks and seniors that are living on fixed incomes and paying a large percentage of that income in taxes it is a completely different situation.

Compared to places like the northeast, Orange County taxes are low - but our taxes are the highest in the state and our workforce, seniors and minorities are leaving to live in a more affordable community.  The other issue is that our residential taxpayers are bearing the burden since we have virtually no commercial tax base. The real issue is value - are Orange County taxpayers getting good value for their tax dollars?  I believe we can do better - especially if we fix how we fund our schools and start working with the towns to share resources and infrastructure.  We need to do a lot more to align all our services and spending with growth and simplify/streamline services and reduce costs.  We proved this with Emergency services and need to do the same with trasnportation, solid waste and other services.  It would be interesting to move this question"are we over taxed?" to how does Orange County compare to other counties in terms of services, costs and effectiveness.  We don't need to be the cheapest - but a closer looks suggests that our services are outdated and if we worked with our towns and communities, we'd do better for less money.    Bonnie Hauser

There's no question we're highly taxed here in Orange County. About 75 percent of our tax revenues come from property taxes, which makes the bite hurt all the more. But we are also committed to certain values and a quality of life that require an active, well-funded county government. Our residents value quality public education, environmental protection, a strong social safety net. They have voted in the past for bond issues that funded those efforts, along with senior centers. Often we have asked voters to approve bond issues that funded these functions, particulary capital projects for education. Those monies paid for construction of 14 schools in the past 20 years and meant -- quite clearly -- that taxes would increase. This was a choice voters made directly.Over time the federal and state governments have steadily decreased their funding, intentionally forcing downward the responsibility and burden for taxation necessary to provide needed services. This means county and town governments fund more, and raise taxes.To balance these demands we constantly seek efficiencies in operations, look to refinance debt (we have among the highest county bond ratings in the state), and are aggressively engaged in promoting a range of economic development to broaden our tax base.But make no mistake -- we at a local level are the unfortunate recipients of actions by others to which we must respond in the best manner possible.    Barry Jacobs

The Orange Board of County Commissioners funds the programs that the County's citizens value. My priority is to diversify the tax base away from our current dependence on residential property tax with the intent of increasing revenue in the long run. With this change we will continue to honor our citizens' values regarding excellent education, compassionate human services, and environmental stewardship as our State's leadership turns away from those priorities.

Complicated question. Each taxpayer pays a substantial amount of money to state, federal, and local governments. That tax money is increasingly being withheld from real human needs at the community level. At the federal level, enormous amounts of money are spent in questionable wars and bail-outs of corporations. The state of NC has been cutting back on the amount of money that goes to education, health care, unemployment, etc.We are getting squeezed despite the fact that, if there wasn't so much corruption at the state and federal level, our overall tax contributions would more than meet our needs. So we are left to consider how to take care of our children's educational needs, our neighbors who need assistance in tough times, and to protect essential resources like water and farmland. The majority of Orange County citizens value our educational systems. They understand the importance of environmental protection and helping those going through tough times. So there is a collective desire to do the right thing. Although fiscal times are tougher now, they have always been challenging. The county commissioners have traditionally done the best that they could by balancing needs with availability of funds. I don't recall any recent commissioners that have been tax slashers or profligate spenders.  I worked on seven budgets when I was on the OWASA Board. I run my own business. I'll do the best that I can.

A kind of follow-up. Can we do anything to really move the needle on taxes without digging into school funding? 

Over the past few years we have not dug into school funding and in fact for the past 2 years we have increased funding for the school systems.  This has been due to a better than expected level of income from property and sales taxes.  In addition savings have been realized through refinancing of bonds and efficiencies within county departments.  In order to avoid restrictions on school funding we are going to need to grow the tax base and the best place to do this is on the business and commercial side. 

What does that mean?Bonnie Hauser 

Can you lower/reduce/ taxes and not touch the school budgets?

I sincerely doubt that we will be able to reduce residential property taxes without hurting the quality of public education in our County. The real question is: can we avoid having to constantly increase those taxes going forward? We need to make decisions in the near and long term that will diversify the tax base so that we won't get back on the trajectory of constant tax increases that we had before the Great Recession started.

Rather than reducing the tax rate I think the discussion will center around avoiding a tax increase.  The need to maintain the quality of our school systems and meet the capital needs as well as ever-increasing maintenance costs will continue to drive the school budgets higher.  It will require careful consideration of all spending needs in order to avoid a tax increase.

I can't imagine lowering taxes. I beleive we need more money for our schools especially since we've not been funding maintenance and our schools are in disrepair.  Plus we need to fund teachers and curriculum changes. In the short term, I'd like to reallocate funds from other places to meet the needs of our schools in the short term.  In the long term, I'd like to work with both school districts to fix the school funding formula to assure that we are properly anticipating long term needs.We need to pull capital (schools, additions, maintenance) out of the per pupil allocation and fund capital based on need.  For operations, we should assume that the state will not meet local expectations for teacher pay and support services.Our schools need more money.  The trick is to get our schools funded -- without raising taxes.  Economic development should be part of the long term funding solutionBonnie Hauser

Maybe. Understand that, among the reductions in support I mentioned earlier, the state has eliminated school construction funding and cut our share of lottery proceeds. But because Orange County is a desirable place to live, we continue to experience growth in school population. This necessitates greater spending simply to meet per pupil needs. Also the more students we generate, the faster we need to build those beautiful, green-designed, expensive schools.Where we can perhaps make a dent is to continue what we've been doing since the merger discussions of a decade ago -- talk among ourselves. Meet with the school boards to find ways to achieve economies of scale by working together. Plan even more rigorously for capital projects within each school district than we have.However, the uncomfortable fact is that, with 48.9 percent of our budget devoted to schools last year, and more to come, as long as the state is so penurious we will be hard-pressed to reduce school spending. With human services and public safety then combining to require an additional 30 percent of the budget, there's not much wiggle room left. Add the demands for many other important services -- senior centers, libraries, land-use planning, parks and recreation, housing and community development, information technology -- and those who think we can find the funds to significantly offset school funding within our existing budget are fooling themselves.Barry Jacobs

If we don't protect school funding our communities will suffer. Our children will not get the education that they should. Efforts to facilitate economic development will be stymied. We cannot let this important asset back-slide.It looks to me that we will have to make the difficult decision to have a bond referendum for school maintenance, student body expansion, and appropriate teacher salaries.

The other side of the coin so to speak. As the economy and housing comes back and sales taxes pick up you might just see a little extra in revenue in the the next year. What are some of the things cut in recent years that should be restored? What should we catch up on?

Right now our schools need more money to catch up on maintenance, teacher pay and other issues.  Not just because of the state - but because of shortfalls in prior years.  Its hard to imagine extra funds, but I'd like to see more investment in joint planning and shared infrastructure for transportation, solid waste, and community based services.  I'm  in no rush to spend money - especially on fixed capital - until we have done better planning for the future - lest we find ourselves investing in outdated ways of workingBonnie Hauser

I believe that the "new normal" will have tantalizing upturns followed by downturns. If we have the resources, we need to invest in affordable housing, mental health care, and senior services. The costs of providing social services in the future  will be huge if we do not look for opportunities to pro-actively address these areas. 

Both districts have dire needs. For example, the Chapel Hill Carrboro district spread Edujobs funding over three years with the assumption that the state would begin restoring funds to schools by this point in the recovery. Sadly, the new leadership in the General Assembly is intent on continuing to squeeze schools. Without increased funding from the County Commissioners this year, the district will have to eliminate positions.

If we are talking about schools we are going to have to address the reality that our teachers have gone without significant salary increases for years. Maintenance on school buildings in some cases can no longer be delayed.  Reductions in teacher assistants over the past few years have created a more difficult learning environment for many of our students.   On the county side, reductions in staff have meant that many of our employees have had to pick up additional duties in order to cover the workload.  We have parks and other recreational facilities that have been delayed.  Considering the level of poverty in Orange County it is not a matter of restoring but more a matter of meeting the needs of our residents.  Affordable housing, accessible transportation services and expansion of our social safety net may need to be looked at as a priority.  

I'm not certain we're ready to restore much just yet. More revenues are apt to go toward school funding, to judge from what I've read about board of education budget requests. We know teachers and teacher assistants are hurting, and we all want to help. One of the things that's struck me the most during my time in office is the exceptional dedication that teachers bring to their profession, dedication the rest of us should better honor and reward.We do need to catch up on several things. One is strengthening the social safety net. We will soon probably consider a bond package in the $100 million range that will be driven primarily by school capital needs, but also should include monies for parks, recreation and open space and affordable housing. We did a great job leveraging the $4 million bond for affordable housing the voters approved in 2001; now we need to coordinate the affording housing plans of the towns and county and renew those efforts. Meanwhile we need to be investing as we can in new strategies, in supporting the nonprofits that help the homeless, the mentally ill, and others in need of safe, affordable living accommodations.We also need a position in our economic development office devoted exclusively to business retention and to working with our small business loan program. We have a very small staff. We successfully recruited Morinaga, the Japanese candy manufacturer, to the Buckhorn area where we have infrastructure. Our staff is working with others prospects that now want to come here.But we must remain mindful of existing businesses, large and small. What do they need? How can we help? One person working on this can quickly pay for the position, help keep jobs in our county, and generate more of the revenues we need to diversify the tax base.Barry Jacobs

About 20 percent of the children in Orange County live in poverty, a reminder that we are one of the most stratified counties in our state.If elected, what will you do over the next four years to address poverty in Orange County and especially poverty among our youngest citizens?

My entire professional career has been focused on improving the lives of people, particularly children, who live in poverty. I will draw on many years advocating and fundraising for human services agencies to work with the critical stakeholders, particularly the Health Department, the Department of Social Services, the Partnership for Children, the schools, and many other youth-serving nonprofits. The best bet for raising children out of poverty and detering them from making unwise behavioral decisions is to design/adapt programs to ensure we are addressing the whole child. A hungry child can't learn. A child with out hope for the future might not see the value of avoiding pregnancy. The only way to address those issues is to develop wrap around services, using the providers we already have, so that we can help each child on many fronts. The biggest challenge to this is siloed funding streams so it will take county leadership, such as that already exhibited by Colleen Bridger of the Health Department, to move this from conversation to action. I am interested in her proposal to look at the Harlem Children's Zone model although I would want to see detailed information about the evaluation of that model and whether it has been replicated successfully in other types of communities.

Since I work in a title 1 school and with "affordable communities", the greatest cry is to help communities become stronger.   So i'm interested in community building rather than program building.  I'm hearing a need for help with community based services including parent mentoring and local child care.We should start by asking - not at a BoCC meeting - but to meet with the communities and hear what they need.  Its not likely to be a program.  Its more likely to be access to simple resources like computers/internet, transportation, and support services.   I'd love to replace centralized social services, with services operating out of community centers.  I find  groups like El Centro Hispano and Rena are doing a great job serving their communities and I'd like to see how the county can better serve them rather that operate a social services infastructure that overlooks the important community assets that are available to families and childrenWe also need to strengthen the connection between our schools and our communities -and that will help in detection and support  Families also need help with job skills, transportation and housing so that they can be stronger  So I'd start by asking - communities, educators, social workers and others - HOW CAN WE HELP?  Bonnie Hauser

We already have begun those efforts. At our retreat in January we challenged the county staff to go beyond conventional programs, and to resist the temptation to do everything, to see what creative or at least different approaches we can take to the problem of poverty, especially for children and the elderly.This week we will receive the first presentation in that regard from the Social Services board and staff. In May the Board of Health and health department will present a recommendation for a plan they'd like to try.So the first things have been done -- identify the problem and challenge the professionals to do what they do best.Then we need to think more broadly about poverty and all that goes with it -- low pay and lack of jobs for parents, inadequate job training, inadequate affordable housing, inadequate public transportation options to the automobile. Parents, especially single parents, must be assured child care if they're to hold jobs. We've regularly supplemented funds we receive to provide child care, but we need more child care options in the county and more partners in the private sector willing to invest in child care and to take a chance on Work First and other challenged workers. The county and town governments need to be more inclusive employers too.Finally, we must coordinate with those in the private and nonprofit sector who devote their energies to these problems. Bring them into the discussion. Take advantage of their expertise. This is neither a simple problem, nor one that a single government can solve. But we can make a dent if we're thoughtful, focused, and collaborative.  Barry Jacobs

First we need to collectively understand the scope of the problem. It is essential that we identify community members around the county that know the most about the "on-the-ground" realities of poverty and involve them in our efforts. If I am elected, I promise I will do what I can to make this a priority. In fact I've discussed this with some elected officials and grassroots community leaders.A predictable hurdle will be to not get hung up on discussing a massive program that will be too daunting to comprehend. We'll need to start small and learn what works. Then we can expand our approach. One possibility is to begin by focusing on the Efland Cheeks Elementray School, which leads the county in kids that need school lunches.    

The announcement by Morinaga Foods, Inc. that most of the 90 jobs created would requre a high school education plus some technical school training will provide the opportunity for many our residents to access a well-paying job.  We must continue to support additional job opportunities by attracting companies large and small.  Education is the best ticket out of poverty so we must work to ensure educational and retraining opportunities for our adult population and work to ensure that all of our children receive the best education possible.  Immediate support to those most affected by poverty will require a multi-pronged approach involving DSS, our health department, and our many outside agencies.  I will continue to support programs that provide assistance to our families in need.  Given that state and federal support seems to be on a downward trend, we are going to have to be ever-more vigilant not to miss any programs or opportunities.

Can county employees expect a raise this year? Going forward, would you support an effort to raise the pay of the lowest paid county and school employees up to a true living wage? 

Orange County is one of the most expensive places to live in North Carolina and I would support pay raises for our employees.  I will look at the recommendation by our manager and finance department in order to understand both the level and distribution of potential salary increases. 

I'd love to say yes, but it's way too early in the budget process to make any definitive statements about pay for county employees, or for much of anything else. Budgeting is a balancing act between competing interests and imperatives.I will say that we have consistently put the needs of county employees -- and, until recently, county infrastructure -- second to those of the schools and their employees. But, as I mentioned about teachers having a wonderful commitment to their work, so I believe many in public service are similarly dedicated and engaged and should be treated fairly and not allowed to fall farther behind financially.We have increased 401K benefits, offer strong health benefits, a discount on memberships at the SportsPlex. Pay raises have been sparse for years, and it's a high priority to fix that, preferably this budget cycle.Orange County, in part with my leadership, became one of the first counties in the state to pay a living wage, which currently is approaching $10 per hour. The housing living wage, the cost of renting a two-bedroom apartment, equates to around $15 per hour. We gave that to sheriff's deputies years ago because they are required to live in the county. I would most certainly like to get to that level for all workers, but that should be a goal to which we work once we see a loosening of our economic constraints. Let's be clear: We already pay everyone a living wage. Years ago we eliminated all the lowest pay grades to bump up the pay of the lowest-wage workers. We could look at that again. But a "true" living wage is, to me, the housing living wage, 50 percent more than our current minimum. Barry Jacobs

Yes, we should raise the pay of the lowest paid county and school employees to a living wage. I suspect to really do that will cost a lot of money but I have not seen the numbers, if anyone has yet calculated them. This is yet another reason we need to diversify our funding base because if we rely on raising property taxes to fund this, we will make it impossible for those very same people to afford housing in our County.

We have been long committed ot a living wage polcy.  We've held raises in the past to protect jobs. That's a reasonable tradeoff.   We now have problems with salary compression (new employees getting paid more than proven ones), and turnover in some parts of the county - especially social services. I fear that teachers are starting to leave too. I don't know what a "true living wage" is - but I believe that we need to take a close look at salaries, career development, and working conditions.  The goal is to great a rewarding professional environment that pays well and rewards excellence in public service.  Looking at "a living wage" without looking at staff retention, work place satisfaction, professional development and collaboration is short sighted and will create mediocrity.    We have a great staff - they deserve more.Bonnie Hauser

When I was on the Economic Development Commission in the late 90's our most important accomplishment was recommending that the BOCC adopt a living wage for county employees. They eventually adopted it and have periodically updated it. I think it's around $9.90 now.I run Marcoplos Construction, a small-scale residential building & remodeling company. My minimum wage for young full-time emplyees is $12. I consider that to be a living wage in our local economy. That's the minimum. Most make quite a bit more.  It is a myth that a living wage hurts the economy. In fact the data proves otherwise. There is a professor at UNC-Chapel Hill named William Lester who has studied this extensively and has proven that the increased prosperity and reduced need for social services improves local economies.The county's current living wage is too low. Granted, it does not affect very many workers, but the county needs to lead by example. Commissioners can also use the "bully pulpit" to work with the local business community to promote a living wage.   

Providing a living wage is a viable economic development contribution.

Well, we closed that landfill. Now what?

 The key to solving our costly solid waste fiasco is to gain control over our waste resources by siting a transfer station near Chapel Hill and I-40. The ideal location is next to the Chapel Hill Operations Center. An access road can come in where the Eubanks Rd. park and ride lot is. This will keep traffic off of Millhouse Rd.I visited the transfer station in Durham and it is surprisingly low-impact. I have no problem defending my proposed location.We also need to site a recycling transfer station on the same site so that, in the future, we can pick up both household waste and recycling in dense neighborhoods where this is practical. The convenience centers are working well for most of us.It is costing over $1 million per year to truck our waste to the two Durham stations. The excess pollution compounds the problem. There has been a lack of leadership. No-one wants to step up and site our own transfer station. We don't need consultants or another time-consuming citizen committee. Our solid waste staff knows what we need to do. It's time to take action. 

I also went to the Sampson County landfill where Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and UNC waste is dumped. There is a poor African-American community right on the border of the active landfill, closer than the Rogers Rd. community. I'm talking less than 50 yards from the waste hill. The road ditches for a mile or more approaching the landfill entrance are full of litter. So while folks around here are patting temselves on the back for closing the Eubanks Rd. landfill and serving the greater goal of environmental justice, we are contributing to another poor community over the horizon getting the shaft.

Short term (for the next 5 years), Durham is a reasonable option.  Our best plan is to work with the towns to further reduce trash.  I'd start with curbside composting in towns and suburban ETJ. That should help with costs too.  Short term, I'd also fix the confusing and expensive fees.  We need clarity and transparency around solid waste - and try to find ways to lower the costs of the department which no longer has a landfill.I would wait on any capital investments - including (especially) the new Eubanks convenience centers - until we have a real plan that includes costs and likely fees/funding for the next 5 years.  Lets not forget that Chapel Hill is exploring a transfer station at its operations center - in  a different site than the one they dismissed back in 2008  Since they produce most of the trash, that might be a good option - especially if its worked into their new land use plans at the "Edge" .   Again - we need to be talking - and not assume that the solution is "the county".   The towns have interests too.   Long term  (5 years plus)- lets start planning now  with Durham, UNC and Duke to explore options to produce energy from waste. I envision a public-private partnership to create an eco-industrial park.  Its a truly zero-waste solution that handles household trash, medical waste and even sewage sludge.  To me, its where economic development meets environmental justice and stewardship.    NO WASTE FACILITIES IN ANYONE"S BACKYARD.  If we site an eco-industrial park - it needs to be in an areas suitable for industrial zoning, heavy traffic and no adjacent residential communitiesBonnie Hauser

In the short-tem (not sure how to define short-term) we are goingto be hauling our trash to the transfer station in Durham.  This creates a situation of sending Orange County trash to some other neighborhood and paying a high cost in fees  and operational expenses.  We are going to need to figure out how to handle our own waste.  All options need to be on the table and this must a joint effort by Orange County and its towns.  I watched as a prior board tried to site a transfer station in several areas only to receive little support from the towns and be beaten back in every location.  We must continue to focus our efforts on recycling in order to reduce the tonnages that will need to be disposed of.  New technologies may be the eventual answer but in the short term we are going to need to build a transfer station.

The area beside Chapel Hill Operation Center is near one of the prior sites that was beaten back.  Unless the towns provide the lead on this I do not believe it will fare any better in the future.

I've talked to some town officials and I'm convinced it's viable. Plus, we hopefully will do a better job of providing accurate information to the public before beginning the siting process. The last process was a PR disaster.

Stop generating waste, and ride off into the sunset.Just kidding.We need to move expeditiously on two fronts.First we must continue addressing the needs of the historic Rogers Road neighborhood, which bore the burden of the landfill for all these years. The towns and county done some good things recently to make a start -- the county funded a community center, Chapel Hill and the county agreed to fund an engineering study preparatory to providing water and sewer. The county also applied to the state for $3 million in CDBG grants that became available to perhaps pay for much of that infrastructure. We still have legal hurdles to surmount, but the commitment and momentum are there to make things right. Or righter.The second area to be addressed is combining the efforts of Carrboro, Chapel Hill and Hillsborough with those of the county to tackle solid waste issues. Next month the county commissioners will consider a draft interlocal agreement with the towns on every aspect of solid waste from recycling to construction and demolition waste, a transfer station to public education on waste issues. (One person's waste is another person's resource, after all.)Hopefully, once we are partnered again, we can set up a group of elected officials, local staff, state staff, and interested residents to begin formulating short- and long-term strategies for handling and reducing solid waste. I'd like to see a special Assembly of Governments meeting devoted exclusively to solid waste matters at which we can formulate the perameters of the work ahead and hear from experts and expert entities such as WasteZero and Green Stream that are in the business, respectively of waste reduction and conversion of food waste into energy. We also need to approach UNC and Durham about considering partnership options -- Orange County and its municipalities simply don't generate enough waste to accommodate cost-effective disposal solutions.Ultimately we need to get away not only from shipping waste, but from burying it. Continuing our historic and proud emphasis on waste reduction is a must. Since the early 1990s we've seen a reduction of nearly 58 percent in the waste generated by Orange County residents. Now we need a new goal, a new challenge, a search for new solutions. And we must do it together. Barry Jacobs

We need to consider siting a waste transfer station in Orange County. While I am new to this issue, I have demonstrated the grit during my tenure on School Board to vote my conscience regardless of the heat generated by folks who don't want to see change that might have an impact on them. I will listen to a wide range of folks as well as the professionals in order to determine what I believe in best for the public good. Then I will work with my Board colleages to forge a consensus on what we can pass with a majority of votes and will tolerate the political heat that arises with the assistance of good friends who make me laugh.

What should the county do about its curbside recycling program?


There's no one size fits all solution.   The county and the towns need to work together and with our communities to offer choice and equity.   Urban and suburban neighborhoods like curbside services; rural areas like convenience centers.   There needs to be a conversation - but I'd like to see if Waste Industries (WI) - who already serves the towns- would extend services to the unincorporated areas on a voluntary subscription basis.  WI already serves a large part of the community and might be better equipped to handled the volatility than the county. In the remote rural areas, there are about 4-5 companies that provide trash and recycling curbside services using small trucks and trailers.  They could supplement the service where the big trucks dont want to go. Extending town services into the unincorporated county is becoming a bigger policy issue.  We saw it with the fire service district and now recycling.  If the towns and county worked together - they could figure out who's got the best resources to serve the communities - without duplicating assets and inflating costs.  Bonnie Hauser

If this challenge hasn't been addressed by next December, and should I be elected, my priority will be to find a solution that will fit with a long-term, comprehensive solid waste strategy that includes our towns and regional partners. I will use my skills honed on School Board to find a solution that a  majority of Commissioners can support so that this issue does not remain unresolved for more than another year.

We should consider the curbside -- or roadside -- recycling program within the larger context of all our solid waste challenges, programs, and opportunities.That's why, when faced with a pair of options that were either inequitable or insufficient, the county commissioners deferred the decision until we could appropriately place it within a larger context. We also want to examine all legal funding options, not just the two that were presented. When we first began considering the next steps in curbside recycling, we were without partner entities. The draft interlocal agreement we'll be considering changes that. It also means we need to work in tandem with our partners, explain our thinking, and test assumptions with them before moving forward.For instance, residents outside the towns and some within love the convenience centers. Yet a vocal few in the community advocate doing away with them and going to more managed systems. How do we reconcile those views dispassionately and effectively? How do we envision the future of our recycling efforts?The convenience centers are taking food waste and other materials that previously eluded recycling, and are amenable to collection. What's the best way to do that? We each think we have an answer, but to find the best solutions the county and towns need to work together toward a common future. Barry Jacobs

The state has an onerous law that recycling districts need to be contigous. So we have dense neighborhoods in the rural areas where recycling pick-up works okay. But between these dense areas are streches of rural highway where a lot of folks have long driveways and it makes no sense to them to be charged for something they just won't do - haul their recycling a few hundred yards or more out to the road. Especially when they are planning on hauling their household waste and everything else to the convenience center anyway.Household waste and recyling cannot be decoupled and still have an effective program. I think it's Cabarrus County that has the most successful pick-up program. The recycling pick-up is free as long as the household waste pick-up is paid for. So, going back to my comprehensive plan proposal, we need to site a transfer station and a recycling station on the same site, near Chapel Hill and I-40. Then we can create an effective pick-up plan. In the meantime we could work with municipalities to extend pick-up to neighboring dense areas close to their borders. 

Technical glitch took the answer completely out.  All options must be on the table including the 2 that were subject of the public hearings.  Will try to return to this question if time permits.

Urban curbside recycling is well on its way.  Rural curbside recycling is a bit more complicated due to the difference in the area covered.  What works well in towns does not work as well with long driveways and long distances between houses.  This was the main reason that I supported the subscription service proposal. The discussion about rural curbside recycling centered on how to pay for the service and involved 2 proposals, neither of which had enough support for approval on April 15th.  Therefore we will take another look at the district tax, subscription service, and any other system that might work.  The failure to move forward with either proposal does not signal waning support for our recycling programs.  It is my intent to resolve this issue as well as looking at how we might improve our entire solid waste operation. We will continue to enhance recycling options as we upgrade the convenience centers.  The collection boxes for recycling located around the county will continue to provide additional ways our residents can recycle.The thing that we cannot continue to do is kick this issue down the road.

Please be brief yet thoughful.Do you think the county should add more transit routes within the county?

We absolutely need to add more transit routes within the county.Orange Public Transit and Triangle Transit must add routes that better link employment and residential centers in the county. The commissioners are pushing hard for an east-west bus route linking Mebane, Efland, Hillsborough and Durham, preferably through our economic development districts along US 70. That would link with an existing north-south, Hillsborough to UNC Hospitals route.We can add a second cycle to the Hillsborough circulator to make that system more user-friendly. We should begin moving to better connect Waterstone in Hillsborough and the new UNC Hospital there to Chapel Hill. Then we can consider additional routes that bring folks in from a park-and-ride at the Cedar Grove Community Center and perhaps from the White Cross area into the CHT system.More money from the half-cent sales tax will go toward adding CHT routes, but I'm assuming "in the county" means outside Chapel Hill and Carrboro. Barry Jacobs

County needs to work with CHT and TTA to revamp the hub and spoke system to create true connectivity to CH 2020 focus areas, county economic development districts, and down town centers. We need special attention to transit dependent communities in Efland, Rogers Road and elsewhere - and service to RTP, Mebane and Chatham Bonnie Hauser

Yes - in fact this initiative is in progress. Staff is looking at the best way to add more bus hours. Folks involved in this tell me that they intend to be flexible and adapt the routes and scheduling based on how well it serves people.

Absolutely!  These routes must align with our most transit dependent populations.  The proposed East/West route must run on Hwy. 70.  Additional park and rides sited in various areas of the county would provide better access to those using public transportation to access their jobs. 

Yes, we need to continue add rural connector routes that increase citizens' access to employment and amenities. We also need to expand services on Saturdays and, eventually, Sundays. While some funds may be available currently for these services, we will likely have to roll them out over time due to the aforementioned budget constraints.

Should the county do more to increase the stock of affordable housing in Orange County?

It’s time to explore the “tiny house” model. The tiny house movement has shown that people can live very comfortably with less space. I propose that the county experiment with a tiny house co-housing development. There could be 800 sf homes for families of 3-4, 600 sf homes for couples, & 400 sf homes for individuals. The development could include a shared garden space, laundry facilities, tools, etc.I’d like to highlight the word “experiment”. Too often we get bogged down when exploring a new approach by thinking of all the things that could go wrong if we instituted it in a big way. So let’s experiment. Let’s try a small ten house development and see how it works. Big systems fail in big ways. Little systems fail in small ways. (Thank you Stewart Brand.)Orange High students have been building an affordable house each year. It’s in the mini-McMansion style, maybe 1800 sf. Why not build three small homes instead? Also, it would be far easier for volunteers to build smaller homes. Maybe get other schools involved. Students could not lose by learning a little about construction and helping people who need a home. Additionally, these homes would be more affordable.A living wage is crucial. As a builder I know that houses are expensive. To state the obvious, houses are not affordable because a lot of people cannot afford them. Our economy is out of whack and people are not getting paid a fair wage that enables them to purchase what should be available to them in exchange for their hard work.

The county should continue to work with its affordable housing partners such as Habitat for Humanity, Community Home Trust and CASA to support and increase the availability of affordable housing.  This should include workforce housing and affordable rental.  Public/private partnerships should also be included in our efforts.

Before we jump into Affordable housing, we need to be sure we are offering an affordable community that includes housing, transportation, affordable places to shop and decent services.  That's one reason I worked so hard to get affordable sewer rates in Efland. We do have intereting opportunities in Efland and other parts of the county where its easier to provide affordable housing than it is in tow.  I'd start by working with the Efland community to develop a comprehensive plan for economic development, growth and services .   Bonnie Hauser

We should be proud of the job the county has done to this point to increase the stock of affordable housing, even if it seems a mere drop in the bucket.Much of that effort has been in support of others. We've given monies to Habitat for Humanity to buy land on which to build low-cost homes. We have an annual appropriation to support the operations of the Community Home Trust. We reimburse impact fees to affordable housing providers. We partnered with a private developer to build Eno Haven in Hillsborough, affordable rental for seniors. We supplemented funding for Manley Estates, another affordable living arrangement for lower-income seniors in Chapel Hill. And so forth.As stated previously, I believe we need to plan for another affordable housing bond to seed new projects once we coordinate county and town thinking and initiatives.I'd also like to see us turn more aggressively to offering affordable rental options, and to creating a definite strategy for the future of manufactured housing communities (generically called mobile home parks). We need to develop a land-banking strategy for possible accommodation of owner-occupied manufactured housing when and if folks are displaced due to redevelopment in the towns.All of this takes money, of course. So while it's easy to say we should increase the stock, how we get there is the big challenge.Barry Jacobs

This is a regional issue with many key players already working at solutions. These include the towns as well as the non-profits such as Community Home Trust, Empowerment Inc, the Jackson Center and Habitat. We need to ensure that they have the funding to maximize their success. In addition, I understand the Commissioners directed the County Manager to lay the groundwork for increased collaboration with the towns to find regional solutions to this issue. Additionally, improved transit will help folks get access to good jobs as they will not need to live as close their place of employment. (Some teachers actually prefer to live far away from their students and more importantly, their students' parents!)

Do you think we'll ever have a county fair?

If I get elected, the odds go way up. I'm totally in favor of it. It can be economically viable like hundreds across the country. It is a great local economic devlopment project. It will bring rural & urban folks together to better appreciate the artistic, culinary, agricultural, etc. aspects of our diverse county.Furthermore, when it comes to a county fair, a vote for me is a vote for fun. 

I am amenable to learning more about establishing a county fair here eventually but this is not the time to do it. I have heard the cost of $250,000 bandied about which in my mind translates to about four teaching positions. We can't afford to spend these funds on this right now until we are able to fund the schools and basic human service needs adequately.

The community was not properly involved in the discussions about a fair. We had no idea what volunteer efforts could contribute. Plus the staff didn't present very compelling info. I was at the meeting.

The best way to get a county fair started is to aim modestly, and build from there. I'm supportive of the concept, and think an event like our celebration of the county's 250th birthday in 2003 would be great. I'm not as enamored of committing large funds to the project until we grow the idea and better assure partnership with nonprofits that might be interested in participating or taking over the event. Barry Jacobs

If a group of individuals or an organization should decide to sponsor a county fair I would support some funding.  Hog Day has been picked up by a gorup of civic-minded individuals and there is no reason that a county fair could not be operated along this same line.  There are many other events that civic organizations sponsor including the Efland Rodeo, the Junior Livestock Show, and the car show at the old racetrack.   With the many demands on our budget that involve direct impact on people's lives I cannot support the county taking on this expense at this time.  

I love the idea of finding ways to unify the county - rural/urban/suburban.  its our genius and what makes Orange County great.  I believe discussions about a fair are premature - until we've heard more from the many events that already are occuring in the county.  I'd be looking at the livestock show, Hogg Day, all the artist events, and others.   Of course there are many goals of the events -but with better coordination, we can make many of these events stronger. Start slow, talk to people, connect with events that we are already doing Bonnie Hauser

The county has a parks and rec department and so does every town. Do you support finding a way for them to better coordinate?

Had not thought about this. Maybe. I'm sure there are ways they could coordinate on stuff. I also think they value their own programs and would worry about losing them. I've coached baseball and basketball in the rec programs for fourteen years and served on Carrboro Rec & Parks Committee as an outside county rep. Basically I got on the committee to successfully promote better and safer baseball fields. 

Why not a master parks plan that each town and the county contribute to. Today's master plan is supplemental.  With one plan, then we'd be sure to align parks to needs.  While we're at it - maybe consider consolidating the advisory board with representation. Its time to start working together.  I'd like to see the schools involved since there's growing interst in urban schools and it would be great if parks also served the schools.   Bonnie Hauser

I've long advocated looking at ways the towns and county can better work together. Parks and recreation is one opportunity. So are solid waste, transportation, libraries, affordable housing, and public works.When we formulated the 2001 bond package, we coordinated with the towns and put in funds for greenways in Chapel Hill and Carrboro. The mayors of both towns identified their highest recreational priority as an aquatic center; we have that now at Homestead Park.Looking forward, the Blackwood farm across from Chapel Hill's public works facility can accommodate soccer fields, something we can do with the town. Similarly, Twin Creeks Park off Old 86 can be developed for soccer and other uses with Carrboro.Plan and develop and administer together, and the opportunities and cost-savings increase.  Barry Jacobs

As our budgets become more strained by ever-increasing demands we are going to need to find better ways to coordinate our efforts. 

Five years from now, what can I expect to see when I visit the Rogers Road-Eubanks Road neighborhood? 

The historic Rogers Road community has, through adversity, strengthened an already-strong identity and cohesion. I think folks there will have clean water, available sewer, and a vibrant community center.When the county pays the solid waste enterprise fund for its 60 acres of prime forest on the Greene Tract, the neighborhood will have a park with hiking trails. And when the towns and county develop the rest of the Greene Tract that we own in common -- adding a school site, affordable housing, active recreaction, and perhaps a small commercial center -- the historic Rogers Road area will be as attractive as most anywhere in our community.All that being said, members of the community and the governments working toward its betterment must be mindful of the dangers of gentrification that could upend the traditional fabric of the neighborhood. More amenities drives up land values, and while folks should sell if they so choose, too much land speculation will threaten undesirable changes. Barry Jacobs

Five years form now I expect a vibrant, thriving community.  The community center will be a hub of activity for adults and children.  With utilities in place the community will not only be a healthier place but a more attractive area for its current and future residents to live. 

The County approved funding for the Community Center so that will be up and running in a couple of years. After five years, I believe that the County and RENA's conflict over the EPA complaint will be a distant memory, the Community Development Block Grant application will have been approved and the sewer service will have been provided. I am an optimist because it does appear that all these pieces are coming together.  That said, it will be a very high priority for me to make sure all this closure takes place if these issues are not resolved should I be elected and sworn in next December.

A vibrant community center -- controlled by the community and a demonstration site for community based services supported by (but not controlled by) the county.   Water and sewer infrastructure will be underway. An updated small area plan that includes affordable housing, possibly a school, and a health clinic operated by Piedmont Health Services- which allowed the county to eliminate its plans for a dental clinic at Southern Human Services Center. the community will see an improvement in bus transportation, emergency response and other essential services.  Bonnie Hauser

When I think back to 1991 when I began my involvement in the solid waste issue and the Eubanks landfill, I never imagined that 23 years later the solid waste issue would be so unresolved and problematic. Based on the BOCC's poor handling of this issue down through the years, I could not predict with any confidence what may happen. The best we can do is forge ahead to finally at long last get water & sewer installed, complete the community center, and fortify the BOCC to make the necessary, if somewhat unpopular moves, to site our transfer station. I've publicly made the call and I'm prepared to act. We are losing money, credibility, and creating unnecessary pollution. I can make a significant difference on the BOCC.

What a great bunch you've been. Thanks.We'll leave this open until 9:17 for you to add any remarks or clarify an answer or two. Good luck in your respective races and, again, thanks for your willingness to serve the good people of Orange County.

Thanks Kirk - good questions! Bonnie Hauser

Kirk, thanks for your pithy questions that, as usual, cut to the heart of the issues. Posse, thanks for fixing our stray replies and for taking OP into the future!

Thanks to Kirk, an outstanding observer and analyst of our community's issues and trends, and the folks at OP who provide a welcoming place for us to gather, if only electronically. I feel like I just ran a sprint. Quite invigorating.Barry Jacobs

Thanks for the opportunity to participate in this forum.  It has been a new experience for me and I have enjoyed it.  Please ignore the spelling mistakes.  Hard to type under pressure.

and sorry for teh occasional dyslexic typing.



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This Week in Orange Politics

It'll be a busy week across Orange County this week. The Carrboro Alderfolks will discuss bicycle-friendliness and the Lloyd Farm propery mediation process, while the Chapel Hill Town Council will get an update on UNC-related development. Both school boards will review the student performance data recently released by the state, while the Hillsborough Town Board will get an update on the Colonial Inn. The county commmissioners will meet with the Mebane City Council on public transportation and the Buckhorn EDD, and will get an update on Southern Branch Library in a serperate meeting.

CHALT and the Sierra Club/Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce/WCHL will hold candidate forums for Chapel Hill candidates.

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