CHAPEL HILL - Editor’s note:
This is the first of two stories interviewing candidates for the Orange County Board of Commissioners on the May 8 primary ballot.
Three candidates are competing for two District 1 seats in Democratic primary for the Orange County Board of Commissioners. With no Republicans running in District 1, representing the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area, the May 8 primary will likely fill these seats.
Incumbent Pam Hemminger is running for a second term. Town Council member Penny Rich and former Carrboro Alderman Mark Dorosin are also running.
The second open seat is now held by Commissioner Valerie Foushee, who decided to step off to run for state House District 50.
If Rich is elected, the Town Council would accept applications and appoint a replacement.
“A number of people asked me to run,” Rich said. “No one has said to me, ‘Well you’re cutting out on Chapel Hill. I (would) still represent Chapel Hill; I just (would) represent them in a different way.”
Election day is May 8, with early voting under way. You can read fuller version of the candidates’ answers on the OrangeChat blog. Q
: What is your position on Triangle Transit’s regional transit plan? Should light rail be included? Are you concerned that a new tax, if approved, may not fully fund the plan? Mark Dorosin
: The commissioners have done a really poor job selling the comprehensive nature of the transit plan and its importance for the whole county. They’ve really let the debate shift from this argument about who’s going to get to ride on the train or on the bus. That’s a really short-sighted way of looking at transit. There will be clean air, reduced reliance on fossil fuels; there will be reduction in sprawl, opportunities for transit-oriented development. We’ll be able to be better able to take advantage of the fact that lots of people come into the county to work and lots of people go out of the county to work and we’ll be able to move those people around more effectively. Pam Hemminger
: We need transit improvements desperately for both the rural and towns and it’s got to be a regional approach. Increased bus hours for me was enough to say I would like to put this sales tax option out there for voters because we need these bus hours no matter what we do and nobody has that in their general fund to do. Bus hours are expensive and the light rail is a fabulous option. I’m not sure how real it is; I don’t know that the federal government or the state is going to back us up on this. We could end up with bus rapid transit; we could end up with commuter lines. I think the options are out there, but we need to pass the tax to fund anything. Penny Rich
: We’ve been talking about light rail for 15 years now. 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 commissionerss 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. Q
. How should the county deal with its trash and how will it pay for it when the landfill closes? Dorosin
: [To] take the trash and truck it to another Rogers Road in another community is unacceptable and inconsistent with the values that the community holds dear. There’s going to have to be a decision made of how and where to dispose of the waste in Orange County. We’ve got to be thinking beyond our individual self interest and be thinking about what’s in the best interest for of the community as a whole and consistent with our values of equity and social justice and social responsibility and what s most consistent with that. And that is finding a way and a place to dispose of that here in the county. Hemminger
: I’d like to see us have our own transfer station so we can have more control, but also as future technologies come along we’re going to have to have a space and a site for that. Solid waste is becoming harder and harder to use, people either have their landfill and use it, and not let anybody else in, or you’re going to truck it to another state. The county, because of the convenience centers, doesn’t have a major financial situation with garbage, it’s more the towns. To be partners with the towns, in figuring this out together, no one was really willing to come to the table until we said ‘This is the date we’re going to close.’ Rich
: The landfill issue is the largest mistake that the county has ever made. They have dropped the ball every step of the way on this. Going to Durham is a huge mistake. It’s crazy we’re going to send it to Durham so it can get sent to a poor, probably African-American neighborhood. 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.’ Q
. Should the rural buffer be reconsidered? Dorosin
: There’s a lot of development pressure to try to open that up a little bit. The idea of having a transition area or boundary to go from town and urban area to a rural area is a good one. The service boundary has been an important tool in maintaining that. We do want to contain sprawl not just to ensure the kind of higher density development in the town, but really to maintain the rural quality of the northern part of the county and that’s a goal that would be worthwhile. I think the rural buffer and service boundary has helped us achieve that. Hemminger
: Some of the rural buffer space along the highway needs to be put to better use. You’ve already got a natural boundary with the highway there. I’m not sure I see the need to keep [it]. You’ve got a natural boundary there with the highway and you can restrict what goes in it. You can totally review what goes in and what’s acceptable. Rich
: I think the rural buffer 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. We do have proof that sprawl will destroy the environment. 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 Q
. How can Orange County more effectively compete with the economic development going on in neighboring counties, like northern Chatham? Dorosin
: One of the things we have to do a better job of is selling Orange County. Everybody wants to recruit environmentally friendly industry and high paying jobs but we have a tremendous amount to offer to recruit the kind of economic development we want to see here and I don’t think we’ve done a good job of that. We need to look at whether we can create incentives in the process to help expedite the kind of business growth an recruitment that we want to see (and) do a better job of nurturing and growing the businesses that are naturally occurring here. Hemminger
: We’re still behind, we have a lot of ground to make up. We’re not just talking about it though, we’re putting in the water sewer up in economic development zones right now. We also have to streamline our review process, which we’ve been working on. This recession has given us time to work on those things. We’re ready to go, we’ve been making great contacts, we’ve been getting on some lists from the state department, short lists of companies looking. We’ve been talking to our existing companies trying to figure out what they need for expansion. Rich
: 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. Charterwood was a perfect example. Every time we get an economic plan down, there’s a protest. Q
. What needs to be done about the county’s Emergency Medical Services response times? How high of a priority should that be? Dorosin
: It’s a very high priority. EMS is kind of a basic public service, it’s a public service for everyone. I think again there was a missed opportunity. It’s the kind of service that residents really don’t think they need until they need it. It’s not like the schools where people say, ‘I see my kid go to that school everyday and I know they need new computers.’ It’s like police and fire protection, it’s got to be a high priority. We have to look at the range of possible funding sources, grants from the state, and federal monies that we can try to tap into, and whether there’s more opportunity for closer collaboration with UNC Hospitals. Hemminger
: We’re just very lucky. [We’ve] pulled together different partners in this to figure out what kinds of steps to take. As you know, the call logs and the bounce backs and not enough cell space has been a big issue and were working on those and the technology. The cell issue itself needs to be enhanced but what is the best system for our area? What are our neighbors doing? We want to make sure we’re working towards something that’s working best for everyone and we know that we have not increased the EMS staff in a very long time yet the calls have tripled and they’re just going to continue to grow. Rich
: 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. 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.