I have always been active in my community. Now, I would like the chance to continue to serve the citizens of District 2 in Orange County as an Orange County Commissioner.
It is crucial that we maintain our exceptional school systems for our children. We must continue to provide adequate law enforcement, fire protection, and emergency medical services for all our citizens. It is also necessary to provide waste collection/recycling and disposal in a fair, equitable, and responsible manner. Essential county offices as well as county agencies such as public health and social services must continue to operate. I believe we can do all this while still being frugal with your tax dollars.
At this time of economic uncertainty, we must encourage non-residential development to diversify our tax base and ease the burden on home-owners. With two major interstates and a main rail-line with passenger and freight service, Orange County is well-positioned to attract companies both large and small. A well-educated work force and several top tier universities within driving distance serves to make Orange County even more attractive. In order to attract new companies to Orange County, we must (1) continue the expansion of sewer and water systems into existing economic development districts located along the major transportation corridors so that project-ready areas are available, (2) work to develop a reputation that is more open to business development, and (3) accept that Orange County can accommodate business projects like Moringa American Foods without losing its many smaller companies. Failure to attract industrial, retail, and business development will result in ever increasing dependence on residential property tax and a possible outflow of people as they decide they can no longer afford to live in Orange County.
I remain committed to the idea that education provides the basis for a successful future for all children and will continue to strongly support our schools. I have consistently worked to ensure that funding was increased for our school systems. During my tenure as chair of the board, school funding was the primary focus on a bond proposal despite efforts by some to reduce the amount dedicated for the schools.
Many challenges will present themselves in the coming years including: state funding cuts, capital improvements and new schools, pressure from charter schools and virtual schools, as well as the usual increase in expenses due to inflation. These issues have been brought up in the Schools Collaboration meetings and will be part of our budget discussions this spring and for many years to come. I believe that it is going to require a calm, rational, fact-based review of options to ensure that the hard choices in the future do not limit the educational opportunities of all of our children.
EMS and Fire Protection
As co-chair of the EMS Taskforce I was determined that response times for ambulances and coverage areas for fire protection be improved. The recommendations for EMS included more ambulance units and crews which increased our budget but was offset by sharply reduced run times and improved outcomes for patients. Recommendations were also sent forward for building free-standing ambulance stations. I opposed these stations, both as a taskforce member and later in board discussions; because I did not feel that it was a wise use of taxpayer funds. As an alternative I put forth the idea of co-location in existing fire stations and that concept was approved. At this time we have co-located three ambulance units and crews in Orange Rural, Orange Grove and Carrboro’s No. 2 station.
Recommendations also came forward on the issue of fire protection district lines. This issue involves areas more than six road miles from a station and we are addressing these areas with a variety of solutions.
Planning and Inspections
We must streamline the planning and permitting process to make it user friendly. A complaint that I have heard over the years is that it is difficult for the average person to navigate through this process when building a home or making changes to their property. I believe that the role of county government should be to assist citizens of this county rather than hinder their efforts to improve their lives.
To this end I will continue to push for a simple one page document that would outline the steps required for a citizen’s project and a timeframe needed to complete each step. I believe that we can and should shorten the timeframe required for almost all types of development projects. Keep in mind that dividing a small parcel from an existing tract for a child is considered a subdivision and can take months to accomplish. I also feel that it is essential to set fees at a level that is not oppressive to the average citizen. As everyone knows, fees are another form of taxation and as such affect many people’s ability to continue to live in Orange County.
I feel it is essential that we reduce dependency on outside consultants whose studies often go unused and rely on our staff who are qualified to do the job. Departments with similar or overlapping responsibilities can be combined in order to achieve reductions in operating expenses.
I believe we must develop a budget based on available revenue instead of trying to find ways to generate tax monies to match spending. Unless we limit unnecessary spending, we will be faced with future tax increases. We have been able to reduce expenses by reductions in staff and refinancing debt. Improvements in the economy in general and increased building in Orange County have resulted in increased revenues which helped prevent a property tax increases. Careful budgeting will be required to meet our obligations and I believe that I have the ability and experience to help direct that effort.
Although I remain an opponent of light rail, I recognize public transportation is a public need for many of our citizens. In order to address the needs of students, our growing elderly population, those with limited access to private transportation options, and many citizens who prefer public transportation, we can not focus on any one transportation system. I still believe we must first build out an urban bus system starting with the university centric system that now exists. In addition to adding routes and buses to the Chapel Hill Transit System, we must also connect to varies communities of the county. It is only by doing this that service can be proved in an equity and efficient manner.
As we look into the future, all available options must be considered but we must develop our transportation system in a deliberate and logical manner a buildout of extensive and effective bus systems must our next step.