Support Our Local Farmers

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

A last minute request of support for Orange County’s agricultural community. The PFAP program is working “to create a strong base to help launch and grow new food-businesses in the Piedmont, focusing on a 75 mile radius in all directions.” Orange County is home to a wide variety of farms producing specialty items for the local market.

Strengthening our local choice is critical to our community’s long term success. Please take a moment to review the program, their grant with an eye towards lending your support.

Letters of support needed by noon tomorrow! The Piedmont Food and Ag Processing Center is collaborating with Piedmont Grown on a USDA/NCDA specialty crops grant . We could use a few more letters of support. The goal of the project is to increase knowledge and consumption of specialty crops by children and adults.

The project has four deliverables:

1) Monthly educational programs at PFAP,

2) Monthly outreach events across the 37-counties served by Piedmont Grown,

3) a public awareness campaign using mass media, and

4) a children’s activity and coloring book featuring easy to prepare recipes that use specialty crops.

Kindly send them to nranells@co.orange.nc.us by 2 pm on Friday May 20th to ensure they are included in the grant packet.

Whereas What’s The Best Use Of The Sales Tax Increase?

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

I’ve had several folks ask me about my suggested and rejected changes to the recent Democratic Party resolution supporting the 1/4 cent sales tax increase (Orange County Dems: Thanks for the Consideration…).

This is a terrible year to raise any tax yet the Orange County Board of Commissioners (BOCC) decided 4/5/2011 (VIDEO [my comments at 48 minutes and 103 minutes]) to hold another referendum, at a cost of $105K to $125K ($85K election +$20-40K “education”), trying to succeed where they failed just 6 months ago.

I and others appeared before the BOCC arguing that 1) scheduling the vote this year amounted to “vote shopping” and didn’t serve their professed commitment to “small-d” democracy:

“I do understand that there’s a need for the revenues sooner rather than later,” said Chapel Hill resident Will Raymond. “The turnout is not representative of what the impact is for this tax. You’re looking at dis[en]franchising the rural voters. In terms of integrity of the process and confidence in the process, it feels a little bit like you’re doc[k ]shopping, you’re vote shopping. The reality is that the referendum did very well down in the municipal areas.”

Not only did the referendum pass overwhelmingly in the cities last time, but turnout in the rural districts will likely be low, Raymond said. And, according to Orange County Board of Elections Director Tracy Reams, off-year general elections typically boast a lower turnout than presidential primaries—something to the tune of 25 percent compared to 40 percent, respectively.

“Doing it in November just doesn’t feel very democratic,” said James Barrett, Chapel Hill resident and member of Orange County Justice United, adding he supports the increase. “I think, as we see changes around the world, it’s important to make sure that everyone’s engaged in voting. We have a much greater opportunity to do that in May than we do in November.”

News of Orange, April 19, 2011

“Putting this on the municipal elections is a bad idea … the reality is [that] this did very well in municipal areas,” said Will Raymond, a Chapel Hill resident. “You’re vote shopping.”

N&O, 4/6/2011

and

2) that the County would be better served by altering the proposed allocation from 50% economic development/50% to education to 33% economic development/66% human services:

Will Raymond said that two-thirds of the tax should go for human services, where the real need is since Orange County is creeping toward an 18 percent poverty rate and the county has cut back on some of the services it provides to citizens who need the most help.

“The only way I’m going to support this is if I see a significant portion going to the human services deficit,” Raymond said.

Burlington Time News, April 19, 2011

By the way, that was doc, as in doctor, shopping and not “dock shopping” as reported.

If the County used 2/3rds of the anticipated revenue, $1.6+ million, for human services the impact on existing programs would be significant. Further, the County would finally have funding to address the emergency housing problem they long offloaded to the Interfaith Council (IFC).

Allocating $1.2+ million to bolster the multi-million dollar school budgets ,though, will not go as far. When you review last year’s proposed educational expenditures the contrast between priorities is stark – repaving running tracks versus bolstering our burdened community health service.

As of tonight (Tues. 4/19/2011), not only will the sales tax appear on the ballot (with a non-binding commitment to the proposed 50/50 split) but the BOCC has floated the idea of adding an additional 1/2 cent sales tax bump to fund regional transit initiatives (including light rail).

That’s an 3/4 cent increase from the current 7.75% to 8.50%.

That could drop to 8.25% if the requested extension of a “temporary” State sales tax hike, currently 1 cent, passes the Republican controlled legislature at Gov. Perdue’s suggest 3/4 cent rate . If that extension fails and both referendums succeed, the new Orange County rate would be lower than today – 7.5% – a possibility the BOCC might leverage to sell the bump to voters.

Last year the BOCC responded positively to a critique of the vagueness of their proposed economic development spending priorities by providing specific projects with fairly well established cost structures. One example – extending sewer and water service into 2 of the economic development zones. I expect them to develop a similar list of very targeted expenditures to fix creaking critical physical infrastructure at the schools.

That said, I don’t plan to support the tax because it further burdens folks during a worsening economic downturn, because scheduling it during an off-year election appears to be “gaming” the electoral process and because the allocation doesn’t address escalating demand for critical core services.

Of course, I remain open to the possibility that my mind could be changed by the BOCC’s new advocacy program.

Below is my revised resolution merged with the original:

(more…)

Easthom: Let’s Revisit Lake Jordan

Sunday, April 10th, 2011

Tomorrow Council member Laurin Easthom is petitioning her colleagues to sharpen up their decision to allow Orange Water and Sewer (OWASA) tap Lake Jordan for less than dire and near catastrophic need.

Several weeks ago Chapel Hill approved an amendment to language of the 2001 Water and Sewer Management, Planning and Agreement (WSMPBA) which gave OWASA much more leeway in tapping OWASA’s 5 million gallon per day (5Mg/d) allocation from Lake Jordan. At that time there wasn’t much sustained discussion of the long-term impacts or broader dimensions before adopting the amendment.

I attended the Jan. 27th OWASA Board meeting where the proposed loosening of the reins was first discussed and then approved [MINUTES].

In selling the need for the modification to his fellow board members, Gordon Merklein, the Chair of OWASA’s Board and UNC’s Executive Director Real Estate Development related a conversation he had with his colleague Carolyn Elfland, UNC’s Associate Vice Chancellor for Campus Services. He said that Carolyn expressed concern that UNC wouldn’t have access to that 5Mg/d allocation and desired an agreement that solidified UNC’s future ability, through OWASA, to get at Lake Jordan’s supplies.

That was a bit disconcerting as local policymakers had fairly consistently rejected tapping Lake Jordan for anything other than the most extreme of needs.

Not only have elected folks the last two decades worked hard to secure and protect the watersheds OWASA claimed were sufficient to supply our needs for the next 100 years but adopted land-use and building ordinances that conserve the resources we already have.

Of course, as I said at the time (Water,Water,Everywhere…), at the base of this discussion is a decision, which the community has supported, to live within our local footprint. Time after time the community has been in the forefront of protecting that valuable asset – most recently challenging the County’s siting of a trash transfer station in a critical watershed area and questioning OWASA’s proposed timbering operations.

The loose language of the adopted amendment puts that community-supported principle at risk.

Luckily Carrboro, a party to the agreement, stepped in and rejected the current proposal (Water, Water, Everywhere? Carrboro Holds The Line).

In light of their rejection and the continued concerns of local environmentalist, I applaud Laurin’s effort to put this decision back before her colleagues for closer inspection.

Council Member Laurin Easthom petitions the Council to place the Water and Sewer Management, Planning, and Boundary Agreement resolution (2011-02-28/R-5) recently passed by the Council back on the agenda for further Council discussion.

SWABbing Together

Sunday, April 10th, 2011

[UPDATE] Valerie said she was “appalled” not “ashamed”. Turns out so is the Chapel Hill News.

Tomorrow night Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt will petition his colleagues to appoint a representative to participate in discussions with the County’s Solid Waste Advisory Board (SWAB) on the future of the Interlocal Agreement on Solid Waste Management.

That agreement, coordinating waste management between each municipality and the County, needs to either evolve to meet the changes in our collective waste management plans or face dissolution.

For the good of our wider community, evolution is the better alternative.

Folks might recall that I asked Council several times over the last 6 years to fill the seat set aside on the SWAB for an elected representative from Chapel Hill – even offering to fill that position myself if appointed or elected to Council. Mayor Pro Tem Jim Ward took up that task, finally, less than a year ago.

Last year the Board of Commissioners (BOCC) agreed to ship our waste to Durham’s trash transfer station (which will subsequently ship it elsewhere). Even though this decision laid the groundwork for what I hope is a temporary solution to our garbage disposal needs, the time that decision bought hasn’t been used effectively by the SWAB to plan for the longer term.

There has been no real effort, to date, to find a local or regional solution that aligns more closely to our community’s fiscal and environmental policy objectives. Instead, the County contracted a new waste management consultancy that “discovered” three increased capacity options. Last week the County proposed extending the landfills life, again, irrespective of the commitments made to the Rogers Road community.

Commissioner Valerie Foushee, reviewing her inaction in tasking County staff to work the issue over the last 6 years, said she was “appalled” by the lack of progress – a sentiment echoed by all her colleagues.

Resisting expediency, taking that deceptively easy path of delaying the inevitable yet again, the BOCC finally took the bull by the horns and agreed to forge a solution themselves (Trash Talk: The Neverending Story…Ends?).

As the BOCC and County Manager noted, their partners in the Interlocal agreement have been MIA during the last few years, and though the County preferred a collaborative accommodation, they could no longer delay.

Tomorrow night, Mark moves Chapel Hill one-step closer to being part of the solution rather than the source of the problem:

This petition responds to a request from the Orange County Board of Commissioners for Towns to consider establishing a working group to address and resolve solid waste management issues. The Solid Waste Advisory Board (SWAB) recommends that this working group be comprised of elected officials and senior staff, and that the process should begin as soon as possible.

I wholeheartedly agree and expect the Council to expeditiously move the process forward.

My first suggested action – take advantage of the provision built into the 1997 landfill extension agreement, as County Manager Frank Clifton highlighted last Tuesday, and start setting aside part of the tipping fees for eventual mitigation of landfill related problems.

Orange County Dems: Thanks for the Consideration…

Saturday, April 9th, 2011

Among the many other activities going on today was the Orange County Democratic Party all-precinct convention. Quite a turnout with many familiar faces.

Local heavyweights US Rep. David Price, former State House Speaker Joe Hackney and House colleague Verla Insko along with State Senator Ellie Kinnaird (who changed a tire on the way to the meeting) attended.

Price, just returned from the budget breakdown nonsense in Washington, gave a rousing call to arms pointing out that the Tea Party express was bearing down on the nation – and last night’s buffoonery was just the first in many salvos aimed squarely at middle America. Verla and Joe sketched out the dire legislative morass they face in the State house and related how the turnover in control of the House has actually brought the Democratic caucus closer.

There were 44 prepared petitions put before the convention – a long list to dispense with in less than the budgeted 4 hours. Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt, who was running the proceedings, was able to work through a good chunk by getting collective assent upfront.

Though it has been a long time since I participated in a convention, I came prepared to offer an amendment to the petition calling for support of the Board of Commissioner’s [BOCC] recent plan to hold a Nov. 2011 referendum increasing our local sales tax 0.25%.

The BOCC has proposed splitting the anticipated $2.5M per year evenly between economic development and education. I asked the gathered folks to support a change in that allocation from 50/50 to 33% for economic development, which would adequately support the economic initiatives the BOCC has already laid out, and 66% to restore and support the many human service programs curtailed by the County these last 5 years.

My neighbor Tom Henkel seconded the call and an interesting discussion followed. Unfortunately, my suggested changes were completely shot down. It was great to get a strong dose of participatory democracy even if my effort was for naught. I appreciate the kind and thoughtful consideration the convention offered.

Afterwards, BOCC member Steve Yuhasz came over and graciously encouraged me to keep on pressing the BOCC to find money for human service programs. I told him I wasn’t going to give up.

Trash Talk: The Neverending Story…Ends?

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

[UPDATE:] WCHL’s Elizabeth Friend has a great summation here.

Over a decade ago, just as I was beginning to get involved in local issues, I heard then local NAACP President Fred Black and Roger Road resident Rev. Robert Campbell brief Council on the fairly extensive list of negative impacts our landfill was having on the Rogers Road neighborhood: rats, buzzards, landfill leachate spilling across lawns, tainted water, debilitating odors, broken sewers, dangerous roads, among others, plaguing the area for decades.

They referenced a 1972 unrecorded pledge (since disputed by local governments) by then Chapel Hill Mayor Howard Lee that the small community would get new services for taking on, at the time, Chapel Hill’s garbage burden. Further, they stated Lee claimed the landfill would only operate 10 years (1982) and that he promised obvious negative impacts would be mitigated over the whole lifespan of the project.

As of early 2000, after several extensions of the landfill’s lifespan, the small Rogers Road community still waited on those new services, necessary remediation and a time-certain for closure. Fred and Robert made a convincing case that given the dearth of leadership from the County that Chapel Hill should lead the way in finally addressing these issues. The Council wrung their hands but did little more than pass the buck back to Orange County claiming impotence in discharging that long held obligation.

The struggle to get some kind of reckoning has been long. Its been tough. There have been setbacks ( background).

Tonight, though, with unanimity the current Orange County Board of Commissioners vowed to finally make good on that 40 year old debt. What started out as a discussion of a proposal to extend the landfill’s life, again (through 2017), became a solid consensus to delay any further action contingent on the formulation of a firm, specific plan of remedying the Rogers Road community’s problems.

It started out with more than a dozen folks, including Rev. Campbell, standing before the Commissioners highlighting environmental problems like air and water pollution, describing the 42 illegal waste dumps surrounding the landfill, reporting on the 2+ tons of litter recently removed by volunteers from the nearby roadsides.

I focused on the process. Why, I asked, hadn’t the County included a specific mitigation plan in tonight’s proposal? A call Commissioner Valerie Foushee echoed minutes later. Where would the funds come from given the County hadn’t been setting aside funds as per the 1997 landfill extension agreement? Why hadn’t, given the breathing room last year’s decision to ship waste to Durham’s trash transfer facility, the Solid Waste Advisory Board (SWAB) taken on the task of capping of the landfill in a socially responsible fashion? What would the Rogers Road community get from yet another extension of their problems?

As I put it – irrespective of whatever promises made or not by Chapel Hill Mayor Lee in 1972, the County and the Commissioners now owned the problem.

The Commissioners, after taking in these comments, each took a turn explaining why they couldn’t endorse an extension that didn’t include a specific plan of action for mitigating the decades of harm caused by the landfill.

Relatively new County Manager Frank Clifton said as someone who hadn’t been involved in all the discussions, hadn’t heard decades of problems, as an outsider, he was mystified that the County Commissioners hadn’t taken advantage of the 1997 stipulations to fund mitigation. He said he and his staff had long been ready to take all the studies, advisory board reports, commission results, etc. and formulate a plan of action. He also said – clearly – that this had to be a County staff driven effort and that the County’s partners – Chapel Hill and Carrboro – would be advised but not counted on in moving forward (the municipalities have been missing in action for decades though the Council finally did appoint Jim Ward as liaison to the SWAB).

Brief summary: the BOCC accepts full responsibility for what should be an obligation borne by all the local leadership. They have instructed staff to create a specific plan of action and to seek funding for it. That plan will identify mitigation strategies the County can legally carry out. The municipalities will be advised but not relied upon (a sorry comment on current affairs) in moving forward.

Quiet elation – a strange feeling – and a reasonable outcome after a long, long haul. More than ten year’s in the making the final chapter, hopefully, is being written on the Rogers Road landfill story.

Zoned Out

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

Spent a tad more than 5 hours discussing zoning and zoning related issues today.

Had an incredible work session with UNC’s Counter-Cartographies Collective (www.countercartographies.org), who “seek to create collaborations for engaged research and cartography — transforming the conditions of how we think, write and map and the conditions about which we think, write and map.”

Got a quick refresher on ArcGIS and then got some excellent practical advice on how to work with our local GIS (geographical information) to tease out socio-economic trends within our community. The technical know-how of the UNC students is impressive, the commitment to rethink cartography’s role in shaping our world view even moreso.

Maps, as one of the CCC members noted, are presented as fact. We habitually consume their content without due consideration, assuming the scientific trappings they come bundled with convey a solid certainty.

But maps can lie. They are often stripped of social context and employed to force a particular narrative. The CCC is interested in expanding the capabilities of maps – integrating a wider community-based context – exposing a richer variety of stories within our community.

After the work session, I sped off to the Southern Human Services building for a review of the County’s Unified Development Ordinance (UDO).
(more…)

Comprehensive Plan Refresh, A New Toolbox

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

Probably the best Council comment during Monday’s Comprehensive Plan discussion came from Ed Harrison.

Ed, who often relates how his neighborhood straddles the Orange/Durham county border, explained how Durham has newly integrated a set of tools in its comprehensive plan to guide both developers and staff.

The effort was spurred, Ed said, primarily by the planning staff, who wanted a better “planning toolbox” to manage the sprawling growth we often associate with Durham. That refresh complements the joint Durham County/City UDO (unified development ordinance) and extends beyond simply affirming base principles by integrating specific small area, transit and economic development initiatives and plans.

During next week’s Council Planning Retreat, Ed’s colleagues should take a few moments ahead of time to review Durham’s work with an eye towards integrating “lessons well-learned” from our neighbor’s work into our own new effort.

Election 2010: Sales Tax Referendum

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

[UPDATE 2]

The referendum is shelved with a margin of over 1,000 votes. Next up, the transit tax referendum.

[UPDATE 3]

Just listened to a really inept analysis of the sales tax referendum problems on WCHL. WCHL is usually ridiculously deferential to Aaron Nelson of the local Chamber of Commerce – rarely calls him out on his BS – and tonight was no exception. They left unchallenged his contention that many local folks are too stupid to understand the consequences of voting against the tax or that it was a knee-jerk reaction (disregarding the likelihood that people knew that the BOCC DID NOT promise to keep property taxes down if the referendum passed).

Further, no one, including OrangePolitic’s Ruby S. questioned the difficulty of selling the necessity of increasing the local tax bite when the BOCC was able to find $610,000 to buy a new Library site in Carrboro last week or the BOCC’s lack of political will to redirect a one-time $4.6M windfall to projects outside those outlined in the referendum.

I like the crew at WCHL but tonight’s review of the referendum – their inability to probe the supporters contentions, not entertaining any contrary viewpoints – was a FAIL.

[UPDATE 4]

10:15pm and the crew at WCHL continues to suggest that the failure of the referendum was a knee-jerk reaction “my daddy voted against taxes and so will I”. OUCH!

Elizabeth Friend, thankfully, did make a great point about needs vs. wants – we want more technology in the schools, we need to improve EMS. That the next round of discussions should center on what absolutely needs to be addressed vs. what is a nice to have that can be postponed for better times.

Finally, Fred Black made the point that the school boards haven’t set aside sufficient funds for maintenance, that the lottery contributions can’t cover the expected costs and that money will have to be found. Unfortunately, he still suggests that we need to raise additional monies instead of finding it within the current budget.

[ORIGINAL]

As of 8:25pm, 36 of 44 Orange County precincts reporting, the sales tax referendum looks to be in trouble.

Of 38,980 votes, 48.18% (18,780) are for the incremental increase and 51.82% (20,200) are against it.

I’ve been discussing the issue with folks the last few weeks and had a sense that in spite of a concerted effort by the Chamber sponsored PAC (which was running interference for the NC Realtor association), the referendum could be defeated.

I thought this version of the referendum was flawed for a variety of reasons: not using the revenue in a focused manner for economic development, not dedicating the lions share of the allocation to human services (which includes EMS), sugar-coating the measure by sending a chunk to the schools, etc. (read more here, here [ChapelHillWatch], here [CHW] and here [CHW]).

What happens if it goes down?

If the County plans to reintroduce the measure it should reassess the purposes it will be put towards – folks are looking for maximum impact not a diffuse flow of new monies.

The Board of Commissioners (BOCC) should also calibrate their rhetoric more carefully – avoiding claims like those by Barry Jacobs this evening that passing the tax would keep property taxes down – an unsupported contention.

If the Chamber or some other local entity sponsors a new PAC to sell the measure, I hope that the local media will probe the reasons why a group like the NC Realtor association threw so much money behind this year’s PAC – was it a cheap way to keep the land transfer tax off the table?

Finally, the BOCC should understand that if you plan to ask folks for more money to address critical needs because the budget cupboard is bare, they can’t turn around and plunk down $610,000 on a new piece of property or funnel $4.6M in debt savings to other purposes.

[UPDATE]

As of 8:43pm, 40 of 44 precincts reporting, 48.27% (19,576) FOR and 51.73% (20,977) AGAINST – 40,553 votes total.

A Busier Week: University Square Meeting, Aug. 18th

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

In listing the roll of important events this coming week, I accidentally left out one that promises to be quite interesting.

Cousins Properties Inc., which is leading the redevelopment of University Square for Chapel Hill Foundation Real Estate Holdings Inc., will host a public meeting Wednesday, Aug. 18, to discuss the long-term vision for the site and the proposed initial phase of the project. Representatives of Elkus Manfredi Architects of Boston will provide an in-depth presentation of the development plans, shaped in part by a previous public meeting on Oct. 15, 2009. The presentation will be followed by a question-and-answer session.

The meeting will begin at 5:30 p.m. in Suite 133-G of University Square, next to Ken’s Quickie Mart.

More information here.

Unfortunately I won’t be able to attend this or most of the other events I’ve highlighted and will be relying heavily on our local media and hyper-local media (‘blogs) for updates.

The list as it now stands:

Coming Events: Summer Slumber? Not!

Friday, August 13th, 2010

Summer in Chapel Hill can be somewhat slow as far as community initiatives. Council is on hiatus. UNC downshifts. Most folks have their hands full dealing with the heat, their jobs, kids home from school, vacations.

Summer, though, is not always a time for sluggish vigilance. For instance, I learned many years ago UNC’s favored tactic of launching potentially controversial development initiatives or making, quietly, substantial changes to existing development plans, during the summer doldrums. While UNC’s transparency has improved since the Moeser era, the record is sometimes spotty. For instance, as summer began the sharp contrast between UNC’s commitment to transparency during the Carolina North development agreement process and the quiet introduction of site proposals made June 21st to the Corps of Engineers.

While the cat is away….

UNC, of course, isn’t the only local institution to strategically start or stop potentially unpleasant, at least to the public, initiatives while most residents are off-line. The County, Town and other local groups have counted on a somewhat soporific citizenry ignoring substantial shifts in direction in the heat of the summer. While counter to the many pledges of greater transparency, the trick often works.

Mid-summer policy shifts, though, also happen as staff, freed from pesky community and elected folks intervention, make strides on the pile of work before them.

One good example, the local Municipal Planning Organization’s Hwy. 54-I40 corridor study, has moved forward at an accelerating pace. The MPO, a joint effort by Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Durham to manage regional growth, is formulating a set of development policies which will have wide ranging impacts on Chapel Hill’s eastern entrance (somewhat marred already by ugly East54, et. al.).

Public comment was to be cultivated during three outreach sessions but that input, at least based on my reading of the current draft, owes more to fitting public commentary to an established agenda than changing course based on valid public concerns. The clock is ticking on this initiative, which simmered during Spring and is reaching full boil now. Council will be asked to review the plan mid-September, and, as of now, hasn’t really set a schedule for Chapel Hill residents to weigh in (in other words, what is before us now might substantially be what is adopted).

While, at first glance, the Hwy 54/I-40 corridor study might seem a bit abstract, of little consequence now, its tenets will come into play quite soon when developer Carol-Ann Zinn pushes Ayden Court v2.0 this Fall. Ayden Court was a proposed development which ran afoul of fowl. Concerns about maintaining a local waterfowl conservation area played a role in v1.0’s demise.

There are many other pots simmering, some of which are beginning to emit steam.

Two meetings, the Glenn Lennox Neighborhood Conservation District which shifted from information gathering to its next phase and the presentation of the latest Campus-to-Campus Connector draft proposal, have already occurred (don’t worry, I made copious notes which I plan to turn into posts …. soon … ).

Here’s is a short list of coming events and meetings which you might want to consider attending as August speeds to an end:

  • Saturday, Aug. 14th, 11:30am-6:30pm. Rogers Road Back to School Bash. More here.
  • Saturday, Aug. 14th, 5:30pm-7:30pm. The People’s Channel Live from Carrboro’s Orange County Social Club. More here and WCHL1360 report here.
  • Monday, Aug. 16th, 5:15pm at Town Hall Council Chambers. Public Information Meeting: IFC Community House Men’s Shelter.
  • Tuesday, Aug. 17th, 5:30pm. 1st floor conference room. Civilian Review Board Council Committee. Controversial citizen review board to monitor Chapel Hill Police Department.
  • Tuesday, Aug. 17th.

    ORANGE COUNTY, NC – The Orange County Board of Commissioners will hold a Public Hearing on Tuesday, August 17, 2010 during its regularly scheduled meeting. The meeting starts at 7:00 p.m. at the Department of Social Services Office, 113 Mayo Street in Hillsborough.

    The Public Hearing during the meeting will provide an opportunity for the public to comment on the potential uses for funds from a possible one-quarter cent (1/4¢) additional sales tax in Orange County, NC.

    During the 2007 legislative session, the North Carolina General Assembly granted county boards of commissioners the authority to levy, subject to voter approval, an additional one-quarter cent county sales and use tax.

    On June 15, 2010, the Board of Commissioners approved a resolution calling for a special advisory referendum on November 2, 2010 on a potential one-quarter cent (1/4¢) additional sales tax in Orange County. The November 2, 2010 ballot question will ask Orange County voters to vote either for or against a local sales and use tax at the rate of one-quarter cent in addition to all other state and local sales and use tax.

    It is projected the one-quarter cent county sales and use tax would generate approximately $2,300,000 for Orange County on an annual basis. If the voters approve the referendum on November 2, 2010, implementation would not start until April 1, 2011 and generate approximately $575,000 during the remainder of current fiscal year (FY 2010-11) that ends on June 30, 2011.

  • Thursday, Aug. 19th, 5:30pm. HR conference room Town Hall.Planning Board Shelter Committee.
  • Monday, Aug. 23rd, 5:15pm. Chapel Hill Town Hall Council Chambers.Ayden Court Development review.

Let me know if I’ve missed anything!

IFC Community House: Balanced Social Services?

Friday, August 13th, 2010

One of the common criticisms of the Inter-Faith Council’s (IFC) proposed Community House site is that the Homestead area of Chapel Hill already hosts more than it’s fair (“a four letter word for responsible growth”) share of social services.

Is that the case?

The IFC and UNC’s School of Social Work put together this map highlighting many of the social services throughout Chapel Hill/Carrboro.

This contrasts with a more local snapshot of services prepared by the folks at A Better Site – an advocacy group asking for a more transparent siting process.

The Community House facility, as currently proposed, will serve two purposes.

The primary goal is to house men as they transition from a state of dependency to independence within a highly structured program. Entrance into this program is selective, adherence to its strictures mandatory, monitoring compliance integral.

The secondary function of the facility is to serve as an emergency men’s shelter. It is this secondary function which has caused, at least from what I can tell, concern within the wider community.

While Orange County is responsible for housing folks in emergencies, that responsibility has been IFC’s to shoulder the last few decades. The IFC currently operates a shelter along with a soup kitchen (and other similar immediate services) in the old Chapel Hill Town Hall on the corner of Rosemary and Columbia streets. The long term plan was to move the soup kitchen down to Carrboro and move the emergency shelter out of the old Town Hall.

As I’ve commented before, while I support the mission of the IFC, find the goals of Community House more than laudable, it is the emergency shelter component of the IFC proposal I find most difficult to accept. The logistical issues surrounding moving folks back and forth from the shelter, managing the access to the shelter, etc. seem to make this site unsustainable. I’d like to see IFC rethink this part of the plan and possibly consider combining, as it is now, the new food service facility in Carrboro with an emergency shelter component. If not that, at least split the emergency shelter out of the current plan.

Of course, meeting the needs of those struggling the most is not and never was the obligation of the IFC. It’s incredible that Chapel Hill has such a caring, committed organization that stepped into the vacuum created by a dearth of governmental attention.

In fact, both Carrboro’s and the County’s elected folks continue to sit on the sidelines, quietly keeping out of these discussions, showing little or no political leadership in meeting this joint community obligation.

We are poised to hear more of folks concerns as the Community House initiative starts to move forward.

Monday, Aug. 16th, 5:15pm at Town Hall, the Town will host a Public Information Meeting: IFC Community House Men’s Shelter followed by a meeting by the Planning Board Shelter Committee Aug. 19th, 5:30pm, HR conference room Town Hall.

The first meeting will provide a current overview of where the Community House proposal is within the Town’s development review process.

The second meeting, which on the face of it, appears tangential to the approval of various stipulations influencing the construction of Community House, might actually be the more important of the two.

The Council, loathe to adopt specific siting criteria prior to the IFC’s request for a special use permit (SUP) asked the Planning Board to create general criteria for siting shelters within Chapel Hill. This bit of maneuvering created a bit of smokescreen which lent nothing to greater transparency (given the rocky start of this project, it’s troubling, even to supporters, that Council missed an opportunity to provide clarity). The Planning Board initially kicked the request back to Council citing the “vagueness” of what they were being asked to do. Tossing the shelter hot potato back, Council suggested a few exploratory paths of consideration.

The sub-text of the discussions between this Planning Board sub-committee and the public, and quite possibly their work product, will influence further the direction the Community House project takes, which makes Aug. 19th the more interesting of the two public meetings to me.

Chapel Hill Library Funding: Orange County Commissioners Respond, Kind Of…

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

Final bit of business from this evening’s Orange County Board of Commissioner’s meeting.

A couple weeks ago, members of the Council, Commissioners, our Town and County managers, met to discuss increasing the County’s financial contribution to Chapel Hill’s Library.

As of today, the County’s current yearly $250K contribution is out-of-line with out-of-town usage. In effect, Chapel Hill subsidizes, and has subsidized by as much as $6M over the last decade, County residents use of our facilities.

If Chapel Hill elects to expand the Library (which it seems at this point Council will do irrespective of fiscal prudence), that subsidy will swell.

Now, it isn’t the County’s fault that Chapel Hill’s Council wants to take on another $1.3M in yearly operational costs (and another $2.3M in yearly bond payments) during the worse economic downturn since the Great Depression but they did commit to answering Council’s pleas for more bucks.

Tonight the County Manager proposed [PDF] to raise the contribution to $500,000 or %50 of Hillsborough’s main library budget (which services Hillsborough and beyond). The increase to $500,000 would be graduated over time and level out.

This is below the initial $700K figure thrown out a few weeks ago and well below the $1.1 million ( of an eventual $2 million OC library services budget) Chapel Hill calculates as the County’s “fair share” of support necessary after the expansion.

FYI, Orange County’s current library services budget – which was reduced by $162,000 in all areas EXCEPT for Chapel Hill’s $250,000 stipend – is now down to $1.2 million.

In other words, while the County’s budget for services outside of Chapel Hill dropped %11.7, Chapel Hill’s, as a percentage of the available funds, increased from %18.1 to %20 – a rare increase in this year’s County budget [PDF].

Below are my notes from this evening’s discussion (video here eventually):

Note: Southwest branch refers to a proposed new facility serving Carrboro and points west. Barry Jacobs suggested opening branch at the County’s Skill Development Center on West Franklin St.
(more…)

Brother, can you spare a quarter percent?

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

The Orange County Board of Commissioners (BOCC) opened up discussion this evening of putting a %0.25 increase in local sales tax before voters in November (Levy of a One-Quarter Cent (1/4¢) County Sales and Use Tax [PDF]).

The tax, if approved, will bump our local sales tax to %8 with all the additional proceeds going directly to the county (it seems like it was mentioned several hundred times that the municipalities would get NADA from the increase). Best estimates, and only if a pending state bill is passed, has the county reaping in $500K in 2011 rising to $2.4M in 2012.

I spoke before the BOCC on the issue – raising a few concerns, suggesting a possible course of action.

I acknowledged the Commishes quandary in filling the current $9.4M hole in the County’s budget and the near certainty of dealing with an even deeper one in 2011. I recognized the appeal in making a seemingly small increase in a tax that is spread across a wider arc than property taxpayers. I understood it probably seemed an easier sell especially given the recent turmoil over our hefty property revaluations and the failed attempt to create a land transfer tax.

I also pointed out even though it doesn’t apply to food or medicines that the increase represented an additional burden on those folks living here who can least afford it (the characterization in the press that “what the heck, it’s only a few more bucks week!” really bothers me).

By its nature, it is a regressive tax.

Given that increased burden, I asked the BOCC to commit in as legally a binding way as possible, to dedicating the new revenue to funding the rapidly growing demand on social services. That revenue should bolster the existing commitment and go well beyond this year’s baseline (not to rely on it, as many counties have with the NC lottery and education).

Steve Yuhaz and a few other commissioners suggested throwing this modest amount of money – $2.5M at best – at the schools or pouring it down the current economic development rat-hole.

Spending $2.5M on needed social services would have a much more profound effect than adding to the considerable school system overhead or to funding economic incentives during this downturn. And it’s the right thing to do given the rather dire outlook for next year.

Other than clearly dedicating the use of the funds, I also asked for two additional provisions:

  • that the tax increase be time limited – maybe 3-4 years at most – in order to emphasize that this wasn’t a case of avoiding fiscal discipline but a response to some very difficult circumstances
  • that the public be given plenty of opportunity to weigh in.

At the conclusion of the topic it was clear that public input beforehand will have to come quick – June 15th to be exact.

Some quick observations/comments.

Several counties, like New Hanover, were used as success stories for the referendum. New Hanover, of course, has much lower property taxes and with its tourist draws has much greater outside revenue flows. Orange County’s increase will be borne mostly by Orange County residents.

Comments by several commissioners that this broad 1/4 percent sales tax would bring revenues in from residents not currently “paying their fair share” made very little sense given that a pretty good chunk of the existing %7.75 sales tax paid by all residents ends up in the county coffers.

It was also strange how quickly the discussion settled on two options – raise sales taxes or property taxes. The obvious third option – raise no taxes – didn’t make it onto the table.

My suggestion to time limit the measure didn’t get traction. Long time NC residents probably recall that a fair portion of the existing %7.75 sales tax was supposed to be “temporary”. Like many of the current “usage fees” and other tax burdens, government claims on our income tend to take on a life of their own and rarely get rolled-back (at least on middle and lower income folks). The rates might get adjusted but the real outlays stay the same or increase.

It’s hard to dodge the appearance that raising the sales tax rate has more to do with an inability to prioritize spending than fiscal discipline when the increase has an open-ended expiration date.

Sales tax revenue is sensitive to prevailing economic conditions. Without a dramatic upturn in the economy or a steep expansion in the County’s commercial tax base – both unlikely in the near future – the dependability of this revenue stream is not sufficient to fund core services.

Finally, the oddest arguments of the evening circulated around the reason for raising and the commitment to restrict the expenditure of the funds. Many commissioners argued (and then voted for) a course of action that essentially boiled down to this: put the referendum on the ballot with little public discussion and then invite the community to speculate on what the funds are to be used for and how firm the obligation to spend them accordingly will be.

Strange inversion.

I pushed for public participation first, a clear statement on the use of the new revenues (I lobbied for human services first, debt reduction – as County Manager Clifton pointed out – a good second) and a legally binding obligation to use the funds for that specified reason.

That way the community would have a clear idea early on as to what they would be asked to vote into being.

Feels like, at least at this point (with June 15th weeks away), public participation is an afterthought.

“You Are Excused”

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

Of the few ways one can “exercise” citizenship directly, being chosen as a sitting juror seems most capricious.

Ever since I turned 18 I’ve waited for the call.

Master jury lists in North Carolina are randomly drawn from voter rolls and driver license records. Having been a licensed driver and voting maniac (all elections except one 2nd primary) for over 30 years, I expected to have been selected at least once before now, yet it was only last month I was notified of my first opportunity to serve.

Given my activist background, I imagined that being selected to serve in court was a long shot. Still, getting my chance to discharge this citizen obligation was rewarding enough. Yes, I know it might sound a bit crazy to many folks, especially those who have tried and possibly succeeded in ducking the call, but I was excited my turn finally arrived.

Orange County has a fairly efficient system. You get a letter a month beforehand. You’re instructed to call a particular phone number (919-644-4516 in Orange County should you happen to Google this post) the night before to check your status.

After returning from this evening’s Board of Commissioner’s meeting I made that call.

The disappointing recorded message was short, to the point – “All jurors are excused. This concludes your jury service.”

Excused, yes. Concluded? Just doesn’t feel that way.

Contact

Archives

RSS Feeds:

Government

Media

Local Politics

Categories:

Monthly:

Recent Comments

Recent Posts

AffordableHousing arts Campaign CarolinaNorth Carrboro ChapelHill Chatham CitizenWill CivilLiberties Community Development Downtown durham EconomicDevelopment Elections Endorsements environment Event Government Hillsborough LocalArts LocalPolitics Lottery Media MunicipalNetworking NationalPolitics OrangeCounty Orthogonal Ruminations sustainability SxSWi Technology Transportation UNC Uncategorized WeaverStreetMktLawn Zorch

Meta