By Donnabeth Leffler

Why Chapel Hill is Lucky

By Donnabeth Leffler Posted December 3, 2011 at 1:18 pm

 

     I’ve had so much to say over the past few weeks that I’ve found myself virtually (!) tongue-tied.  
 
      I couldn’t seem to focus my thoughts about so many less-than-savvy spenders:  the staffer of Kansas Gov. Brownback who decided public time and money should be spent threatening a high school student over a tweet.  Not a gun… a tweet.
 
     Then there’s the possibility that longterm unemployment benefits will run out on almost 2 million people just after the first of the year if Congress doesn’t authorize an extension.  If those in Washington aren’t going to worry about someone’s rent and food bill, they might think about the added drag on the economy and social services if these are not extended.  Not one member of congress will ever lack for healthcare and I doubt any will lack for food nor shelter.  
 
     Speaking of Washington, the failure of the so-called congressional supercommittee to reach some kind of compromise toward it’s goal of cutting more than $1 trillion from the federal budget deficit left me more than tongue-tied.  I was and am angry about the intransigence of people we elect.  Beyond the Beltway the country is littered with states where solutions to budgetary problems are being found in the pensions of public workers.  Did you hear any member of the not-so-supercommittee offering up congressional pensions to fill the gap?  I didn’t think so.  
 
     I was startled out of my virtual silence by the presentation of the fiscal conditions of Chapel Hill, given Thursday evening at the 2020 Comprehensive Plan working session.
 
     What startled me is not that Chapel Hill and its residents are facing tough choices, but the absolutely adult and respectful way this was conveyed.  The examples above from Kansas to Washington are teeming with disrespect for the electorate and that makes me angry.  In contrast, Town Manager Roger Stancil made it absolutely clear that – in his words- “we are at the crossroads of financial sustainability”.  He approached an informed and engaged population and demonstrated how the town has made it through the recession thus far and why we are coming to a crossroads.  His words again: “Some strategies used to balance the budget are unsustainable”, “we’ve run out of rabbits in the hat; there are no more easy strategies” and very specifically if any of us had missed his point: We “can’t sustain paying for road paving out of bond funds”.  
 
     To further point out the respect Chapel Hill shows its own, all this took place at a meeting where anyone was welcome to come contribute to the future of the town.  Attendees were sent off to work groups knowing the fiscal future of the town requires at least one of the following options: 
  • Change expectations for services
  • Raise taxes
  • Find new revenue
     I had previously attended a town council work session where council members were given a primer on retail sales leakage out of our county and how the town can prevent future leakage.  Also offered in full detail that night was a critique of the town’s arduous, expensive and capricious development process.  The zoning consultant did not advocate approving everything that came through; rather he said it should start from the town writing a set of development standards.  Standards would allow people looking to invest in the town to understand what was expected from the get-go and not be expensively surprised at various steps in the process.  
 
     It seems that all my silence has led to some circuitous thinking.  I’ll try to straighten it out:
  • Chapel Hill is engaged in writing its own future at the very time when the economy is requiring that we re-write the rules.  In that sense, we are very lucky.
  • Chapel Hill’s leaders have educated themselves thoroughly about the options and plans for changing the revenue picture and hold the power to do so according to the vision of the residents (thanks to 2020). 
  • We are respected enough to be told of the tough choices.  Not for us the pablum from Washington.  If they were listening, even those who prefer Chapel Hill not change heard this week that it will, one way or another.  The good news?  It’s up to us how it will change.
 
Tell me what you think by leaving a comment below or by writing to me at Donnabeth@Chapelboro.com

 

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