CHAPEL HILL-Sustainability and citizen engagement were the key themes raised by candidates for the Chapel Hill Town Council at Thursday’s forum hosted by the Orange County Democratic Women.
Cuts to state and federal funding, as well as the persistent drain of retail dollars to surrounding counties have many in Chapel Hill looking for ways to grow the local economy.
Maria Palmer, who served on the Transportation Committee during the Chapel Hill 2020 process, said implementing the vision laid out in the new comprehensive plan will be the key to drawing new commercial development to the area.
“I don’t think any of us realize that the level of services we receive in Chapel Hill is unsustainable,” said Palmer. “We either pay a whole lot more in taxes or we cut services or we create new income, and that is one thing I really want to do.”
And 2020 co-chair George Cianciolo agreed. He said the town needs to focus on streamlining the development process and revising the town’s land use ordinances to provide guidance to developers to attract new business.
“There should be no reason that any applicant should have to wait more than a year to either get an up or down vote on their application,” said Cianciolo. “If we do those [revisions], I think we can get new growth, we can get thoughtful new growth, we can get well-designed new growth that will not only increase our tax base, it will bring in increased revenue from sales tax.”
D.C Swinton said he’d like to see new growth focused on job creation to help the approximately one out four Chapel Hill residents who live in poverty.
“There are a lot of people who are still in need of full-time jobs and I’d like to bring jobs through sustainable practices to Chapel Hill,” said Swinton.
Candidates also discussed ways to get the public engaged in town affairs. Loren Hintz said he wants to foster a proactive approach among town officials.
“So much of what local government does is complaint-driven,” said Hintz. “I want to create a new attitude where employees are going around town, council members are going around town noticing what the problems are and then pointing those out so they can be addressed rather than waiting for someone to complain.”
Current Council Member Ed Harrison said educating residents about the role of local government is one of the best ways to get the public involved.
“The more the town publicizes what the town actually does on a day-to-day basis, and what solutions the town can offer to people, the more people will understand that the policies of the town should matter to them,” said Harrison.
Only Democratic candidates were invited to Thursday’s forum. Cianciolo, who had previously been unaffiliated, recently registered as a Democrat, allowing him to participate.
Five of the nine candidates for town council were in attendance. Incumbent Sally Greene was out of town on a family matter, Planning Board member Amy Ryan was across town at the Central West meeting, and challenger Paul Neebe was absent. Gary Kahn, the ninth council candidate, was not included, as he is a registered Republican.
Election campaigning is well underway, with a slew of forums scheduled in the next six weeks. The local chapter of the League of Women Voters will host a forum for the Carrboro municipal candidates this Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon at Carrboro Town Hall.