CHAPEL HILL- While many are focused on next year’s school budget, members of Orange County Voice are looking ahead to the county’s long-term building plans.
At a public hearing on Thursday, Orange County Voice President Bonnie Hauser asked the board to rethink the list of projects in the county’s $172 million dollar five-year capital investment plan.
“We fear that the county is too focused on new buildings, new campuses and new facilities and there’s not enough attention on the the quality and effectiveness of services,” said Hauser.
She critiqued both the $6.5 million dollar expansion of the Southern Human Services Center planned for 2016, and next year’s $1.5 million dollar renovation to the Whitted Building to provide a permanent meeting space for local governments.
“We’re hearing way too much from architects and designers, and not enough from the major stakeholders and experts on the ground including the professionals, the agencies, the schools, and the everyday users of the county services,” said Hauser. “We ask you to change the way the county plans for our future and make service, not buildings, a priority.”
Marilee McTigue argued in favor of improving cooperation between the Chapel Hill and Orange County library systems before the county invests $7 million dollars to build a library just a few miles away from Chapel Hill’s.
“So the question needs to be asked, should we make significant investments in library facilities, just because it’s been difficult to work with Chapel Hill?” asked McTigue. “What about the rural residents need for library services, many of whom travel more than 15 miles to get to a library. How will there needs be met, and where will the money come from?”
In both cases, Orange County Voice members asked the board to consider creating stakeholder work groups to assess community needs before committing funding to the projects.
The board also heard from those seeking funding for a variety on nonprofits. Northside resident Keith Edwards said Habitat for Humanity’s Brush with Kindness program has proved invaluable in her neighborhood. Volunteers helped repair her house in May.
“The experience was amazing. I know sooner or later I’m going to break down in tears of joy, because I’ve been asking God, ‘Why me?’” said Edwards. “I had a choice between getting dental work done or fixing my house. I chose the dental work, didn’t know how I was going to fix my house, and God blessed me with a brush of kindness.”
Commissioners will continue budget deliberations at a work session next Thursday at the Southern Human Services Center on Homestead Road.