Q: What are your thoughts on the regional transit plan?
I think the numbers will keep shifting until we have a complete plan down.We've been talking about light rail and doing something like this for 15 years now, maybe more, so when we here that people that never heard of light rail or they didn't have information, it's kind of like, 'well maybe the commissioners and staff and council aren't communicating that these discussion have been going on, but they really have been going on.
I understand the concerns that folks feel that they wouldn't use the light rail that it wouldn't benefit them but studies show that whether you step foot on light rail or not it will benefit the county. Let's bring it to the people, absolutely. Let the people vote on it. The county commissioners s can say they don't like it but if the constituents want light rail or if they want bus rapid transit let them vote on it. Let's see what happens.
My concern is we're getting a lot of opinions about how we don't want to do this because it's a lot of money and it doesn't benefit anyone but lets really see what the citizens have to say. I think this is one of those issues that we really have to take to the citizens.
… It puts that wedge in again between rural and the towns and I think it's unfortunate that we don't know how to explain things better.
We don't do a very good job of making sure al the information is out there and the benefits of having something like this out there.. UNC is going to just keep growing … we're going to be in big trouble, there's no way that we can continue in individual cars or even some of their small shuttles that they have going back and forth we've got to figure out a way to move people around.
Our air quality is going to suffer we've got to move forward … we're way behind our European counterparts when it comes t o light rail and moving people around. We're like a high tech place around here between RTP and Chapel Hill and we've got to start moving people around in a a 21st century way.
It's scary to take that first jump because it is so costly but if we don't get in line for it now that means we get in the back of the line for the federal money and we really shouldn't' do that. That's just not a good thing.
I think the county county believes that they're doing a good job but being a Town Council member who's in touch with the county all the time I feel like I'm left out too.
I don't know that they know how to move information properly..they've gotten awards for this technological communication thing but still sometimes I'm baffled by the fact that we don't know more about what the county is doing. I think they fly under the radar a lot and that's one of the things as a county commissioner I'd like to bring forward. I think a lot of people don't know what county commissioners do.
It's very odd here, I think, because our town governments are so strong that the county governments are laid back, but they're in charge of everything and people don't know what they do.
I'm on the mayors communications team here I think that would be something that would be a good thing to do if they didn't already have it.
That's another thing, you don't really know I think starting the communication up there not to put any more work on anyone but just to explain how they communicate.
I mean, I know when we did it citizens realize more that they can either get online they can sign up for newsletters, they can follow Catherine Lazorko who tweets, so just by getting it out there …. I don't know that anybody tweets for the county.
I know the county manager is a little bit frightened of modern-day technology and communications.
Q: Are you concerned that sales tax revenue, if a half cent increase passes, wouldn't cover costs?
That's why we have to secure this federal money we have to make sure that the county's been working on that for a long time we have to make sure to secure that and that in conjunction with the sales tax. If we put the money in, we're going to get the money back. It's too important to just ignore, especially if we're going to grow in the next 20 years.
You've got to remember we have 115,000 people a day in Chapel Hill, we only have 58,000 citizens here but we double that between the college students and people coming to work at the university.
If we can get people to commute into work another way it would clear up our roads for people who really need to be on the road.
I think the benefit outweighs any financial deficit that we might have to make up. I think we're going to be real careful about it too. I don't think the county is going to go head and put something in place if its going to break us.
We don't even have the environmental tests yet..even though things are moving its not like we're going to break ground tomorrow and suddenly build a light rail. Plus we have regional partners to deal with too so we're not doing this on our own.
The concern that Durham is going benefit more from one of the light rails than we are, there are ways around that. We've got to start working more in conjunction with our neighboring countries, we've really got to start partnering more instead of just thinking about us as a county we need to be thinking regionally.
Q: How can Orange County better compete with neighboring counties with economic development?
Orange County commissioners for a very long time even though they spoke the lingo of economic development they didn't really do anything.
So we've been sitting on land that we knew that could be developed for a very long time and it wasn't. We've got a big problem here in Orange County, it's not just Chapel Hill and Carrboro, it's the whole county. As soon as we get ready to move forward with something and do something, we've got petitions, we get neighbors that don't want it, so every time we take two steps forward we've got to take a step back because of citizen concerns, citizen objections. You see that happening in Chapel Hill, Charterwood was a perfect example.
Every time we get an economic plan down, there's a protest, you start seeing it in the 2020. You say here is what we think would be density and here's where we'd put mixed use, here's where economic development could happen, and we get letters , 'You can't put that there, this and that.'
So it's difficult, it's not only the government that's been attacking itself in Orange County, it's the citizens … so on one hand [they] complain that taxes are too high but on the other hand they protest any kind of development that goes down, so how do you get around that?
My goal though is not to copy what's going on around us because that would mean it's like the Starbucks effect on every corner there's a Starbucks..but they're competing agains themselves so it's a win-win situation for them. It wouldn't' be a win-win situation for us to copy our neighboring counties to keep up with them.
I think we have to be inventive and think outside of the box and Dwight[Bassett] was doing that. He was starting to work on some light manufacturing which I think would be great for Orange County [and] green companies, we're always trying to lure them here but we've got to be a little bit smarter. l'd like to see more incubator space so we can help start-up companies.
Start working and taking that innovative thinking and making sure we keep it here after that year or 18 months when that incubator has to move out.
We also have to be getting people to working these companies and that's why I like the idea of a private public partnership with Durham Tech.
Let's do some training at Durham Tech that when these companies are ready to go, let's give them some incentive to stay here, stay here, open your business, not only that we give them Orange County residents to work here.
I would like to try to make Chapel Hill that innovative thinking that innovative business model for those start up companies and not necessarily retail because … retail comes and goes.
And during the recent recession we actually did OK because we didn't have so much retail its doesn't help in a norm time when we want more sales tax but because we didn't have to deal with our sales tax going down that much because we don't have that much, we did OK, we stayed level.
We need to think more long term what kinds of companies we can lure here what kinds of incentives we can give that not only benefits the county but benefits the company because we don't want to give invectives to companies that are here for three years then leaves, we want to make sure its a long term commitment.And because we haven't done so much economic development there's room to grow.
Everyone talking about speed, speed, speed we've got to go fast…because were getting into this last in the race. I don't know that we want to fast track everything. We're going to have really once change to do this and I think we need to do it right from the beginning.
Once we have a plan down and we really know where we're going you could have some developments fast tracked but I don't want to see every development fast tracked. And we dig a hold in the ground like Chatham and we put a Walmart in, I just don't think that's something that will benefit Orange County we can say it would lower taxes but we don't really know that. We have an unsustainable model now with our tax system and if we don't do something soon we are just going to be boring non-diverse town, non-diverse county.
Q: Should the rural buffer be reconsidered?
I think the rural buffer works. I think it worked in the past I think it still works. The idea of pounding the drums to get rid of the rural buffer is not a good idea at all. We have no proof at all that sprawl is going to make the prices of houses in Chapel Hill go down, there's just no proof of that, we do have proof that sprawl will destroy the environment.
And we rarely have to look at that picture hard and long to make sure that that's what want to happen. I think we need to be really clear that there is a reason that we have the service boundary area and the rural buffer. You tart sprawling we will not have enough water for everybody. There's a reason that the buffer is put in place. I'm a strong proponent of keeping that rural bugler in place. We can do studies, we can do studies to see what would happen if that rural bluffer goes away and we start sprawling away, I bet you can't guarantee it would lower the price of the home. I think that's a false assumption.
I don't think we can look at it that way. What we're doing is making sure we can take car of the homes we have here if we sprawl we need to lay water for everyone, we will no longer have enough water. We'd have to go to Jordan Lake and the cost of water is going to be outrageous. It's a double-edged sword you can't just say we're limiting where we build, we're limited within our means of what we can take care of as a town and as a county.
We're not building beyond our means. We need to build density, we do we need to have infill, we do need to be creative about how we have our infill. That's what we need to do if people want to come live here, that's what we have to do. We've pretty much used up the land in Chapel Hill and Carrborro has a few spots left, but we've pretty much used up the land so if we don't' creatively use infill and start getting that mindset to change also we'll have to do studies and consider the rural buffer but its more than just homes its services, it's fire departments, it's police, there's a lot that goes into it.
I would beg to differ if the prices in homes would actually change.You can't just take one issue and consider one issue you have to think about everything and that I think people are not considering in the rural buffer they're just thinking about that prices of homes would go down but we don't know that.
Q: How is the county going to deal with costs of solid waste once the landfill closes?
The landfill issue is the largest mistake that the county has ever made. You want to talk about dropping the ball, in general, how they've handled it from the beginning, they have dropped the ball every step of the way on this. There's a new committee that's been created on that committee about Rogers Road mitigation but only to deal with the sewers and the community center issue because those are two issues that are not allowed to be paid for with monies from the [solid waste] fund.
But basically going to Durham is a huge mistake. I think that the county this is where you have that problem. You take two steps forward you have to back because every time you come up with something, someone petitions you someone says, 'no you cant do it." We have to be realistic. We have to take care of our own trash. It's crazy we're going to send it to Durham so it can get sent to a poor, probably African American neighborhood and we're doing the same thing all over again that we did to Rogers Road, it's ridiculous that we don't learn our lessons but it's out of sight out of mind. It's going to cost the town 750,000 more year to bring our trash to Durham and the county made that decision even though the town said we don't want to do this and that's why the town is exploring other options and maybe getting out of the trash business, letting someone else, an independent contractor come out and do it.
For the county to say, oh the towns have the most trash, the town gave the county 7.5 million when they took over this [landfill]. So to put the blame back on towns, 'well you have to take care of this,' It's not the towns if the county's in charge of trash. That's what you have to do you have to be in charge of trash, don't throw it back on the towns, that's really one of the things that got me … you can't keep throwing the ball around once its in your court. You cant say 'oh well you're the ones that put the most stuff in there.'
So I think a number of things are being proposed and have been thrown out by the county I think we should partner with other people and should figure out how to turn our waste into fuel. Instead of looking at waste as a bad thing lookout it as a good thing, be a little bit more entrepreneurial with it.
Apparently we don't supply enough waste to make it into something that would benefit to turn it into fuel of some kind so thats why we start doing some private public partnerships and we get it to benefit us.
I don't know how we go about doing this and now we're hearing about as far as the sewer lines are concerned we don't even know how that will work if we cant dig up these landfills that the county refused to dig up. OWASA isn't going to take on that liability so the sewer lines could be a nice discussion but in reality they may never happen because of these illegal dumpsites.
The county was saying, 'Well if there's going to be a transfer station it has to be down where the most trash is,' OK well help us,then. You're in charge of it you've got to help. I think [Carrboro Mayor Mark] Chilton came up with a good idea because if were going to ship our stuff to Durham and pay really high tipping fees yeah we're cutely helping them build the transfer station and then we its like becoming a drug addict once you start going there, you'll never change. It's just you become addicted to doing it and you're at their mercy because they can change the tipping fees at any point.
Q. How high of a priority should EMS be in this year's budget?
A. It's a little disappointing we don't keep up with technology on a timely basis and I think that's problematic. I think if you invest money up front you don't have to invest large chunks later and we see that happening with the EMS. We're going to see it happening with the schools, we are falling behind with technology in the schools.
In one of our Assembly of Governments about a year ago we first heard that response time was 17 minutes when it could be 8 or 9 minutes or even less. It's the first time that it hit me in the face that we were not being prompt with our ambulance and it comes down not the fact that we don't have the technology, we don't have the people power that we need and we need to find solutions to this and it was on the back burner. It was one of these things that has been on the back burner.
Instead of being on top of it we have to play catch up and it seems to me that is an ongoing theme in the county. We are almost always doing the catch up instead of being ahead in the game. And that is something that I would really like to get a grip on in the county, whether it be the EMS or the schools andI know it takes money, but again, if we invest upfront I keep going back to the was model they've always tried to stay in front of infrastructure. I don't think citizens are paying enough attention to this until they need to use it and they they realize an ambulance is not there.
I like studies, appropriate studies. I think sometimes when we say lets form a committee it kicks the can down the road as opposed to lets do it now, and that's what happened to Rogers Road.
Q. How can communication between the towns and county be improved?
At the Assembly of Governments we kind of yell at them and they don't like that, so what you see now is they don't want to discuss these topics up front and it starts, simmers and everyone starts distrusting each other and then it blows up and thats what happened with the library issue. It has been festering for years and we've been asking them for more money for years and years and then it came to point where we can't do this anymore.
And we finally got together and worked something out but it should have never gotten to that point where we had to have that threat of cutting off Orange County people coming into the library. I actually hate that the threat was there. That is not the way we should be doing business."
As a communication thing and I think it's gotten worse with the current staffing. I don't want to pick on anyone but I would like to, actually, if and when I do get onto the county commissioners I would like to do more than that reaching out with the mayors. A goal of mine is really to bridge the gap we have. Sometimes I think county staff like to put that wedge between the rule and town perspectives. Putting wedges between people that live in the same county is just not a good idea.
You cant forget about where you came from and I think we have lost our voice up there ..the towns have lost its voice there we don't hear it strong enough. Valerie [Foushee] did a good job of making sure we're heard but sometimes we have lost voice up there the rural voice got a lot louder. There's no one on the board of county commissioners right now who was a municipal leader and I think has a missed voice also you don't get that feeling.. that why it's important we get someone there I think it's import to have that sort of perspective that's lacking now.
Q. What other issues are you concerned about?
I think we have a lack of interest in taking care of our homeless people right now. The IFC is charged with that …the model worked for sometime time and it worked successfully and bot the town and the county give money to the IFC but the IFC is building the new Community House but it's not a homeless shelter the community house is a transitional homeless facility.
I think the county has to take a good look at that and say 'what do we do about our homeless people and do we need to build a county homeless shelter.' And I think we do.
The IFC has taken care of things long enough … I think we have to take a long hard look at this and decide what we're going to go.
We know the poverty rate has gone up in Orange County even though we live in a pretty affluent town.
We're not really focused in on this. If we have another dip we look like we're flat lining with our recession now but if we have another dip there are many people who are a paycheck away from being poor. We keep talking about economic development and taxes and that we have a real issue here that we're not focused on.