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State Budget Cuts Pose Challenge For Mayoral Candidates

By Elizabeth Friend Posted August 2, 2013 at 3:38 pm

CHAPEL HILL- Chapel Hill and Carrboro’s mayoral candidates are running unopposed this year, but they say the real challenges will come from state leaders in Raleigh.

Lydia Lavelle hopes to make the jump from the Carrboro Board of Aldermen to the mayor’s seat, and given that she’s the only candidate, it seems like an easy win. But Lavelle says the actions of the General Assembly are likely to make her job, and that of other local elected officials, much harder in the coming months and years.

“It is going to be a tremendous challenge,” says Lavelle. “Not only the policy and laws that are coming from the General Assembly, but also in terms of financial cutbacks we might get. We have got to be on our guard and be communicating with other towns and counties about this.”

Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt agrees. As he anticipates his third term, he says reductions in funding from the state could be a major issue.

“It’s going to be a community-wide challenge and it is one that I don’t think is on everybody’s radar at this moment,” says Kleinschmidt. “I hope during this campaign folks will become more aware of these challenges and we can work to address them in this next term.”

Chapel Hill Transit and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system have already begun to wrestle with cuts to transportation and school budgets during this past budget season.

Lavelle worries the hands of local governments are being tied by lawmakers in the General Assembly in other ways as well.

“Not only the North Carolina General Assembly, but our Supreme Court seems to be seeking to curtail our authority to really do anything at the local level,” says Lavelle. “I think it is really important that we try to keep a gauge on the different laws that they are trying to pass, to try to speak up when some of the bills they’re debating can affect local government in a way that a lot of the General Assembly doesn’t understand, and that they really wouldn’t want their town and their constituents to be faced with.”

The legislative session just ended, and though the full impact of the new laws remains to be seen, there are at least two bright spots for the towns.

Kleinschmidt says Chapel Hill was recently granted the authority to pursue new public/private partnerships outside of the downtown area.

“Famously you know we engaged in a public/private partnership to create 140 West, but our downtown was the only area that we were authorized to do such agreements,” says Kleinschmidt. “Now we have the authority from the General Assembly to do these kinds of projects outside our downtown core.”

And thanks to a bill sponsored by Senator Ellie Kinnaird, the Carrboro Board of Aldermen now has the option of appointing a new member to fill a vacancy, instead of holding a special election.

Passage of Senate Bill 128 is especially relevant now, as Lavelle has two years left in her term on the board. When she’s sworn in as Carrboro’s new mayor in December, aldermen will likely begin the process of filling her seat by appointment.

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