CARRBORO- It’s been five years since Orange County residents have seen a property tax increase, but the question of when the rate might rise was on the minds of voters at last week’s county commissioner candidate forum hosted by the Orange County Democratic Women.
Barry Jacobs is seeking his fifth term on the board representing the county at-large. He told the audience that despite recent efforts to trim the budget, future tax increases might be necessary to fund what he called Orange County values.
“Schools are expensive,” said Jacobs. “People in Orange County want quality public education, we raise taxes to pay for the schools. We don’t apologize for it. Not everybody likes it.”
Challenger Bonnie Hauser said she’d try to avoid a tax increase by re-prioritizing county spending.
“In the short term I’d work to re-prioritize our spending to meet the needs of our schools and avoid raising taxes,” said Hauser. “To me, that means funding schools first and cut or delay funding to government facilities and non-essentials to free up capital and revenue.”
Incumbent Earl McKee faces Mark Marcoplos for the District 2 seat representing Hillsborough and rural Orange County. McKee said he hopes to hold the line on property taxes for at least one more year.
“I’m not going to stand here and tell you all that we’re not going to raise taxes this year, or that we will never raise taxes again. Everybody knows I will be telling a bald-faced lie if I do that,” said McKee. “But I will work to try to find areas where we can do reductions, areas where we can wring a few more dollars out of different funds.”
Marcoplos said recent boards have been judicious in their budget decisions, a trend he’d continue if elected.
“I can’t think of anybody who has wildly raised taxes or wildly slashed taxes,” said Marcoplos. “It’s a process that has been done reasonably in the confines of the realities of the day, and I would be in that tradition.”
The future of recycling and solid waste disposal was also a hot topic, as the county is currently trying to find a new funding model for curbside recycling pick-up, while also searching for a long-term solution for solid waste disposal now that the landfill has closed. Marcoplos said he’d make solid waste a top priority.
“One of my key goals as a commissioner will be to work towards that comprehensive end-game,” said Marcoplos. “We need a [waste] transfer station in Orange County and we need a recycling station right next to it which will simplify the picking up of trash and recycling.”
McKee agreed, saying his thinking on the issue has evolved during his time on the board.
“I’m going to be quite honest with you, I don’t know how we’re going to do it,” said McKee. “I don’t know what the best way is, but I’m coming to the conclusion that we need to step back and look at this in a holistic way. We need to put it in a task force, to hire a consultant, which is something I opposed in 2010.”
Hauser said she’d like to see greater cooperation between the towns and county to reduce waste at schools and other institutional facilities, with an eye to regional solutions in the future.
“I’m disappointed that two years after deciding to close the landfill we still don’t have a plan for solid waste and recycling,” said Hauser. “In the short term, I’d like to focus on an interim plan to reduce waste that includes an inter-local agreement with the towns.”
Jacobs said the county is on the verge of signing a five-year contract with Hillsborough, Carrboro and Chapel Hill to collaborate on recycling services, but that going forward, locating a site for new solid waste facilities will be a challenge.
“One of our problems has been, especially recently, the towns have not wanted to work with us; they weren’t sure they wanted to have an agreement,” said Jacobs. “We’re about to sign a five-year agreement with the towns and the basis of doing planning going forward is, how do we do, in a cost-effective and socially just way, solid waste in Orange County?”
All four candidates are Democrats and there are no Republican challengers, meaning the race will be decided in the May 6 Primary. The candidates will meet again to discuss the issues at a forum hosted by the Orange/Chatham Sierra Club at 7:00 p.m. Wednesday at Carrboro Town Hall.