Hillsborough candidates address economic, housing issues

Raleigh News & ObserverSeptember 30, 2013 

— The three candidates for the Hillsborough Town Board presented their ideas for economic growth and sustainability Tuesday at the town’s economic development committee meeting.

Meighan Carmichael, Kathleen Ferguson and Jenn Weaver are running for seats on the six-member board now held by Frances Dancy and Mike Gering, who are not seeking re-election. Mayor Tom Stevens is unopposed in his re-election bid.

Hillsborough’s property tax base is about 60 percent residential and 40 percent commercial. That’s far better than Orange County’s overall property tax base, which at 18 percent commercial and 82 percent residential places a heavy demand on homeowners to pay for county government services.

Still, some town residents struggle, the candidates said.

“It’s great that people want to move to Hillsborough. We love that,” Weaver, 39, said in an interview. “But property taxes, they’re not going down.”

Ferguson, 50, said the limits of growth – such as land and water – put more pressure on the laws of supply and demand, raising prices and taxes.

But, she said, the town needs not just a reasonable quantity of affordable housing but an acceptable quality of housing.

“You’ve got to have a healthy economy for healthy neighborhoods,” she said at the meeting. All of the candidates spoke in favor of Habitat for Humanity and Empowerment, Inc., organizations that support affordable housing.

Joe Kosich, a Chapel Hill resident who works in Hillsborough, said the affordable housing conversation should focus less on the houses themselves and more on how to help low-income residents.

“You want people to move up the economic ladder,” he said. “Give them a fishing pole as opposed to giving them fish.”

Hillsborough’s median household income was $52,400 between 2007 and 2011, and 25 percent of residents were below poverty level, according to U.S. Census data. Overall in Orange County, 17 percent of residents were below poverty level.

The median value of owner-occupied housing units was $200,100 in Hillsborough, more than $70,000 below the median value in Orange County.

Weaver said in an interview that she is interested in restrictive covenants that would save older, smaller homes from being torn down and replaced with larger ones that would raise the value of the land and neighborhood.

She also hopes to find creative solutions to save residents money. She is interested in green energy grants, which would help residents lower their energy bills.

A sustainable community focus, she said, would benefit the town developmentally, too.

“Imagine if Hillsborough was known not for (being) a place for historic preservation but for historic preservation and renewable energy,” Weaver said.

Carmichael, 38, said the town should attract businesses for the 21st century and maintain a balance with its tourism industry. She said the town’s current breadth of industries helped it weather the recession five years ago.

To attract a variety of businesses, Carmichael said she wants to streamline the business development process.

“One of the best things we could do is actively seek feedback from those who’ve gone through the process,” she said in an interview.

Ferguson said she hopes to better use the town’s incentive policy and to implement a recruitment/retention fund. She said that while Hillsborough was already a draw for businesses, existing and new businesses have room to grow.

“We have fertile, fertile soil for our business community,” she said.

The candidates agreed the town needs more business and housing options. Ferguson said businesses small and large would support the various needs of residents and workers.

“The diversity of our neighborhoods, that’s what’s home for the majority of our citizens,” she said. “That’s where roots are.”

Strange: deborahjstrange@gmail.com


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