CHAPEL HILL- The Rogers Road remediation plan has been in the works for nearly two years, but recently Chapel Hill and Orange County each took steps to move the plan forward.
On Tuesday night, Orange County Commissioners unanimously signed off on an operating agreement for the yet-to-be-built Rogers Road Community Center.
Once completed, the facility will be operated by the Rogers Eubanks Neighborhood Association, or RENA. Minister Robert Campbell is the president of RENA. He told the board this is an important step forward for the neighborhood.
“We have an opportunity to bring our community into the future,” said Campbell. “Our children in the summertime have nowhere to go. But now we have the opportunity to help shape and mold them right here in the community.”
Commissioners committed $650,000 back in January of 2013 to build the center on land leased from Habitat for Humanity, but the project was delayed last fall when constructions bids came in over budget. County staffers say the building has been redesigned and the rebidding process should be complete by April.
The community center is part of a remediation plan agreed on by representatives from RENA, Orange County, Chapel Hill and Carrboro, to help make amends to the neighborhood that bore the burden of the county and municipal landfill for forty years.
The plan also includes extending sewer service to 86 parcels in the Rogers Road neighborhood, at an estimated cost of approximately $5.8 million dollars.
Carrboro has already set aside its portion of the total, about $900,000. Chapel Hill, however, is struggling to find a way to pay its share, as the area is outside of town limits. Town staffers are currently investigating the possibility of creating a new utility district or extending the town’s extraterritorial jurisdiction to include Rogers Road.
In the meantime, the Chapel Hill Town Council voted last week to spend up to $77,400 on preliminary engineering studies and community outreach to determine exactly where sewer lines should go.
Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said this is work that will need to be done no matter what.
“What this does is, this moves the ball even though Commissioners and Council members just keep talking,” Kleinschmidt told the Council.
The engineering studies and outreach are expected to take up to 10 months to complete. The Chapel Hill Town Council will revisit the question of the extraterritorial jurisdiction on June 16.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/local-leaders-make-progress-rogers-road-remediation-plan/
CHAPEL HILL- Both Orange County Schools and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools are facing multi-million dollar repairs to fix up aging facilities, but Orange County Commissioners worry there’s not enough time to put together a $100 million dollar bond package before a September deadline to get it on the ballot for the General Election.
“I’m a little concerned that if we shoot for 2014 we’re not going to do a very good job of getting everything in place and take a chance that it will not pass,” said Board Vice-Chair Earl McKee.
He and fellow board members are also wary of taking up bond planning while the county is in the process of searching for a new manager, a search that’s taking longer than expected.
At a work session on Tuesday, commissioners expressed little interest in pushing to meet the deadline for a ballot measure this year, instead eyeing the timing of future referendums.
But some, including Mark Dorosin, worry rural residents would be disenfranchised if the county-wide bond went to the voters in 2015, when only municipal races are on the ballot.
“If you look back at the turnout for an “off” year versus an “on” year mid-term election, there’s more than 25 percent greater turnout,” said Dorosin.
Instead, commissioners said they’d consider May 2016, when turnout is expected to be high for the presidential and gubernatorial primaries, though the board did not rule out the possibility of putting the measure up for a vote next year.
Commissioners say they want input from staff on the timing and process of crafting a bond package, as well as more information from both school systems about what projects are top priorities.
The last bond referendum in 2001 netted the county an additional $75 million for school, parks, senior centers and housing. The proposed $100 million dollar bond would be the county’s largest in recent history. But even that would be a drop in the bucket, as the school districts’ combined list of repairs is estimated to be more than the county’s entire $192 million dollar annual operating budget.
Board Chair Barry Jacobs said voters should know the upcoming bond referendum could be the first of several.
“The needs are too big for one bond cycle, so we say that we’re going to have several bonds over a period of time to address several hundred million dollars worth of school needs for both systems,” said Jacobs.
The board will discuss creating a possible bond planning task force in the near future.
Meanwhile, the Chapel Hill Town Council is eyeing its own $20 million dollar bond package to replace or upgrade aging facilities. That measure could potentially go on the ballot in 2017.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/orange-bocc-backs-2014-bond-referendum/
HILLSBOROUGH- Even before the start of the filing period, more than a dozen local candidates have declared their intent to run for office in 2014.
Long-time Orange County Commissioner Alice Gordon announced she won’t be seeking re-election, prompting Chapel Hill-Carrboro School Board Vice-Chair Mia Burroughs to seek the seat representing District 1.
Bingham resident Mark Marcoplos says he’ll challenge incumbent Earl McKee for the District 2 seat representing rural Orange County, and Bonnie Hauser will take on Board Chair Barry Jacobs for the at-large seat.
For the first time in three decades, there’s no incumbent running for Orange County Sheriff. Lindy Pendergrass announced he’ll be retiring after more than thirty years as the county’s top lawman. Already several challengers have put their names forward, including Charles Blackwood, Andy Cagle, Larry Faucette and David Caldwell.
The Orange County School board has four seats up for grabs- that race will be determined in the May primary.
At the same time, the Town of Carrboro will hold a special election to fill the board seat Lydia Lavelle left vacant when she was elected mayor last fall. To date, planning board chair Bethany Chaney is the only candidate to come forward, but others are likely to run.
At the state level, newly-seated House District 50 Representative Graig Meyer will stand for office for the first time, and State Senator Valerie Foushee will be running to keep the seat she was appointed to when Ellie Kinnaird stepped down. House District 56 Representative Verla Insko will be seeking her tenth term.
Last but not least, Superior Court Judges Carl Fox and Allen Baddour are up for re-election, as is District Court Judge Joe Buckner and District Attorney Jim Woodall.
The filing period opens at noon on Monday and runs through the end of the month. The primary election is May 6, the general election is November 4.http://chapelboro.com/news/election/local-candidates-gear-2014-election/
HILLSBOROUGH- In their 2013 report to the board, Triangle Transit officials offered Orange County Commissioners both good news and bad regarding funding for the Orange County Bus and Rail Plan.
John Tallmadge is Triangle Transit’s director of regional services development. He told the Board on Tuesday that sales tax revenues are up, but state and federal funding is down.
“We’re expecting less federal and state dollars to provide these services that are promised in the plan and the projects that are promised in the plan, and that is offset by better actual receipt of sales tax revenues,” said Tallmadge.
The bus and rail plan was adopted in 2012 after voters approved a half-cent sales tax to help fund the plan. Transit planners originally estimated the sales tax would generate $5 million in 2014, but they’ve since revised that estimate up to $6.2 million.
Orange County Interim Manager Mike Talbert said that’s because the economy has bounced back following the Great Recession of 2008.
“We did do these original estimates coming out of the Great Recession and we were very cautious on those estimates,” said Talbert. “From what we know today, that $6 million dollar number on an annual basis is fairly realistic with what we anticipate to happen in the next few years.”
Other sources of transit funding are less certain. The bus and rail plan calls for the expansion of bus service throughout Orange County during the next five years, but Tallmadge said both the state and federal funding models for new buses and park and ride lots have changed substantially in the past 18 months.
The original plan relied on federal grant money to cover 80 percent of the cost to purchase new vehicles. Triangle Transit now estimates that will drop to 30 percent. State money, which was anticipated to provide 10 percent matching funds, is expected to be cut in half. Tallmadge said transit planners hope to continue with the bus service expansion by relying more on local sales tax dollars than grant money.
“We know we’re not going to have the grant funds to do everything we thought we were going to do, but now we have a more optimistic forecast of how much sales tax we’re going to use,” said Tallmadge. “The first thing we should do with that is make the plan whole so that we can deliver what we promised.”
Commissioner Earl McKee questioned the revised financial projections, saying he’s not comfortable with the moving targets in the plan’s funding model. Triangle Transit General Manager David King replied that the financial projections are undergoing constant scrutiny and revision.
“We budget one year at a time, and if we err on the liberal side and end up in the hole, we correct every year for that mistake,” said King. “It’s a very dynamic process and I think the early results are quite good.”
Further, King stressed that none of this is expected to impact planning for either the Hillsborough train station or the 17-mile Durham-to-Orange light rail line included in the transit plan.
The light rail project has been submitted to the Federal Transit Administration for permission to begin environmental impact studies. King said a reply is expected in the next 10 days.
Meanwhile, Triangle Transit and Orange Public Transit are currently developing a plan for new rural bus routes which should be implemented in the fall.
HILLSBOROUGH- Local food, crafts, music, an agricultural expo and a midway- these were some of the plans laid out by a work group that spent the last six months exploring the idea of hosting an Orange County Fair.
But commissioners voted 4-3 on Thursday to put those plans on ice, citing concerns about cost.
“Sure it would be fun, it’s a great idea. But it costs too much right now,” said Commissioner Alice Gordon. “That’s why I’m having a problem with it.”
Gordon, along with Bernadette Pelissier, Penny Rich, and Earl McKee argued the potential $189,000 price tag to plan the event was too high, despite assurances from the workgroup that the fair would likely break even.
The work group proposed a two-day event in the spring of 2015 at the Blackwood Farm between Chapel Hill and Hillsborough.
The group estimated funding would come from event partners, corporate sponsors, local governments and donations, but Commissioner Pelissier questioned if the committee’s budget was realistic.
Commissioner McKee said the county can’t afford to take on new projects at a time when schools are relying on more local dollars to compensate for state funding cuts.
“Part of our responsibilities is to make hard decisions. Every good idea does not have to be moved forward,” said McKee. “I’m not saying this is a bad idea, it probably is a good idea, if there were not other considerations for me that were not overriding considerations and education overrides everything.”
Commissioners Mark Dorosin, Barry Jacobs and Renee Price supported the fair concept, saying it would build community through out the county. Dorosin says he’s been hearing from people interested in the fair idea since he first suggested in during his 2012 campaign.
“Why I believe this is important is that there is not something that is for the entire county, and that is what this would be,” said Dorosin. “Everything about this is to focus on the local, to celebrate it, to highlight it, and also to show it off beyond the county.”
Former Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton and current Board candidate Mark Marcoplos also spoke in favor of the plan. Marcoplos urged commissioners not to get hung up on the logistics early in the process.
“I’m definitely pro-fair, I think it’s a great idea,” said Marcoplos. “It would be a great celebration of the county’s business, its agriculture, its history, its culture, its dance and music. It would be plain fun, and I think that’s a hard thing to measure.”
Nonetheless, the board voted not to continue planning efforts or hire a consultant to vet the workgroup’s plans. While the current plan was scuttled on Thursday, the board could revisit the topic of future funding for a county fair during the budget planning process later this spring.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/bocc-nixes-orange-county-fair/
CHAPEL HILL- A recent court ruling means Orange County will have to find a new way to fund curbside recycling pick-up for rural residents, but commissioners say they aren’t sure what is the most equitable way to pay for the program.
At their last meeting of 2013, Orange County Commissioners debated whether to create a new service tax district to pay for rural recycling pick-up or give residents the option to sign up for the service.
Some on the board, including Penny Rich, worried that switching to a subscription service could lead as many as 20 percent of participants to opt out.
“The subscription service just doesn’t sit right with me,” said Rich. “If we’re a county that is encouraging recycling and we have a program, it should be a program that everyone should use.”
Currently the county provides curbside recycling pick-up to 13,700 rural homes, but county leaders want to expand the service in the future. Pick-up is estimated to cost $630,000 annually and officials say they’ll need an additional $1.3 million to buy 96-gallon roll-out carts and two new trucks this year.
The proposed subscription service would cost homeowners approximately $58 yearly, while a service district tax could add as much as 1.5 cents per $100 of valuation to property tax bills.
Under the subscription model, only those using the service would pay the fee, but if commissioners approve a county-wide service district, all property owners in the unincorporated areas would be charged, including those who own undeveloped land or live outside the bounds of the pick-up routes.
Though she said it’s not a perfect solution, Commissioner Bernadette Pelissier favored the service district plan. She said because increased recycling is a community goal, it is appropriate to fund the program using tax dollars.
“If you think about our taxes in general, we pay for the whole array of services and we don’t necessarily use them all,” said Pelissier. “We have made a commitment to recycling in this community and I want to maintain that commitment.”
But Commissioner Mark Dorosin said he’s concerned about the impact a new tax might have on rural residents.
“I think the argument about the value of recycling as a value of the county is counterbalanced by trying to maintain affordability in the county,” said Dorosin. “We’re talking about a 1.5 cent tax on rural areas of the county. That’s troubling.”
Board Chair Barry Jacobs said that if the county adopts the service district plan, officials would need to act quickly to expand the program.
“I see no equity in charging people for something, then having a minimalist or gradual approach to expanding the services,” said Jacobs. “For all these discussions about tax equity, if I’m paying for it, I should get it.”
Commissioner Earl McKee was not convinced. He argued that Orange County residents have prioritized recycling in the past and they aren’t likely to give that up.
“I’m still more comfortable with trusting our citizens to do what they are already doing,” said McKee. “I’m much more comfortable with providing an option that will allow folks to do it for a fee rather than do it under what I view as a system of coercion.”
The board voted 6-1 to get detailed information and hold a series of public hearings about the service district plan. McKee opposed, saying while he’s a strong supporter of recycling, he couldn’t support a plan that doesn’t offer residents the option of opting out.
The board will discuss the issue again on January 23, and public hearings on the service district tax plan will be held in the spring. If approved, the service district would be put in place by July 1.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/bocc-eyes-rural-recycling-district-tax-plan/
CHAPEL HILL- Despite heated debate at Thursday’s Assembly of Governments, elected officials are still at an impasse when it comes to the Rogers Road remediation plan.
Leaders from Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Orange County met together to discuss how to move forward with a plan to bring sewer service and a community center to the Rogers Road neighborhood, which has lived with the landfill for forty years.
Chapel Hill Town Council member Matt Czajkowski pushed his peers to commit funding to the plan as soon as possible.
“Until we start talking about funding, all we’re doing is talking,” said Czajkowski. “And it is about time we stop talking.”
The Historic Rogers Road Task Force came up with a plan to provide sewer service to all 86 homes in the neighborhood at a cost of $5.8 million dollars. The plan has widespread support among local leaders, but the towns and county face two major obstacles, namely, a pending federal investigation into the county planning department, and no clear method for Chapel Hill to contribute its share of money.
The EPA announced this summer it was investigating claims filed by the Rogers Eubanks Neighborhood Association, or RENA, that the county discriminated against the largely African-American neighborhood by failing to apply for federal grant money to fund sewer service.
At the advice of the county attorney, commissioners have held off on endorsing the Rogers Road remediation plan until the investigation is complete. Commissioner Mark Dorosin said that’s a mistake.
“We’re at the point where we should move forward,” said Dorosin. “I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, I think it is a disastrous idea to sit back and wait until the EPA makes its decision.”
Carrboro Alderman Damon Seils agreed, suggesting formal approval of the remediation plan could bring the investigation to an end. He said the solution may lie in recent correspondence between the county attorney and the attorney representing RENA.
“It’s right here before us. The county attorney says a commitment can be made if RENA agrees to withdraw the complaint and we now have a letter from RENA saying they will withdraw the complaint [if the plan is adopted],” said Seils. “We’ve got the solution right here in front of us, folks.”
But the question of what to do about the EPA investigation got sidetracked by finger-pointing between town officials about who pays what when.
The task force approved a cost-sharing plan based on the 1972 landfill agreement. According to that plan, Carrboro would pay 14 percent and Chapel Hill and Orange County would each contribute 43 percent of the nearly $6 million dollar sewer project.
To do that, Chapel Hill has to find a way to spend town money outside town boundaries. One solution is to absorb the neighborhood into the town’s Extraterritorial Jurisdiction, a process that’s already underway. Another option might be to create a sewer district that includes Rogers Road and extends into Chapel Hill.
While Chapel Hill is struggling to figure out how to contribute, Carrboro has designated $900,000 to cover its portion of the plan. Mayor Chilton lambasted Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt over the town council’s failure to commit to funding.
Nonetheless, Council Member Lee Storrow urged the group to put their differences aside and accept the task force’s recommendation as the best solution.
“All of our governments have been at fault and all have done things that we’re not happy about regarding this neighborhood and there’s no perfect magic bullet funding formula that’s going to make everyone happy,” said Storrow. “Maybe the county’s number should be slightly higher, there are concerns about Carrboro and there are concerns about things Chapel Hill has done, but I think this funding formula best gets to the root concerns that we all have about the impact that we’ve have made on this neighborhood by dumping our trash for forty years.”
Town and county managers asked to be granted authority to start planning for the implementation of the sewer plan, if and when the towns and county commit funding. In response, the boards and council asked for the managers to return with a report next spring evaluating all the options.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/despite-debate-rogers-road-remediation-plan-still-stalled/
ORANGE COUNTY – County commissioners meet Tuesday to discuss the next steps in narrowing down a site for a southern branch of the Orange County Library.
The board has identified three possible sites in Carrboro, but county staffers say two are not feasible.
A property on Hillsborough Road next to the Martin Luther King Jr.Park would only work if Carrboro Aldermen agree to a land swap to place the library at the entrance to the park, but town leaders have indicated this is not what they have in mind for the property.
A second site adjacent to the cemetery on Fidelity Street could require blasting to move large deposits of underground rock. This would drive up the price of the project and runs the risk of disturbing nearby burial plots.
However, the idea of placing a branch library inside a proposed mixed-use development on Brewer Lane is gaining traction among town and county officials.
Commissioners will discuss which locations to drop from consideration before proceeding to the next phase of evaluation, which could cost $15,000 per site.
The board meets at 7:00 p.m. at the Central Orange Senior Center in Hillsborough.
CHAPEL HILL- Carrboro Aldermen on Thursday pushed Orange County Commissioners to move forward on a plan to bring sewer service to the Rogers Road community, despite an on-going EPA investigation that has dragged the process to a halt.
Alderman Michelle Johnson said she’d like to see commissioners take a stance on the issue, even if the board is hesitant to take action.
“I hope the county will get some clarity from their attorney, I hope you all will discuss it soon, and discussing is different from voting,” said Johnson.
A task force of elected officials and neighborhood representatives has recommended that Carrboro, Chapel Hill and Orange County share the $5.8 million dollar cost to extend sewer service to the area, as part of a remediation plan for the community that’s lived with the landfill for four decades.
But this summer, just as the three local governments were poised to sign off on a funding plan, the EPA launched an investigation into claims that the county discriminated against the largely African-American community by not applying for federal grant money to fund infrastructure improvements.
Since then, the county attorney advised commissioners not to take any action on the plan until the investigation is complete, but after three months and no word from the EPA, county officials sent a letter asking the agency to either speed up the process or drop the complaint.
Orange County Board Chair Barry Jacobs summed it up: “We haven’t heard anything in three months from the EPA, how about just letting us move forward and accepting that we have reached an agreement?”
Commissioner Mark Dorosin sided with the Aldermen, urging his fellow board members to discuss the two possible funding scenarios laid out by the task force and make their intentions more clearly known to federal investigators.
“I think if we could provide some more specifics to the EPA as to what our intentions would be, were this complaint resolved, that might go much more expeditiously than saying ‘dismiss the complaint, we generally assure you that we’re going to possibly implement the task force recommendations,’” said Dorosin.
Although some commissioners signaled they’d be open to more discussion, Jacobs reiterated the board won’t likely be taking action on the plan any time soon.
“It bothers all of us that the EPA complaint is delaying taking any action,” said Jacobs, “We’re not doing this happily, readily or even willingly. We’re doing it because this is the advice of our attorney.”
In the meantime, both boards are waiting to see if the Chapel Hill Town Council will extend its extraterritorial jurisdiction to Rogers Road, in order to fund the town’s portion of the sewer project.
The town council will hold a public hearing on the ETJ plan on Monday.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/aldermen-push-for-action-on-rogers-road-plan/
CHAPEL HILL- Masao Hoshino, President of Morinaga America, Inc., told Orange County Commissioners on Tuesday that state and local economic incentives played a significant role in the Japanese company’s decision to build its first American production facility in Mebane.
“We decided to locate in Mebane, Orange County because it has a remarkable business environment: access to transportation, access to raw materials, infrastructure, et cetera,” said Hoshino. “Additional encouragement is the incentives. It obviously supported our decision.”
By a unanimous vote, the Board of Commissioners agreed to offer Morinaga performance-based incentives including a $1 million dollar grant to be paid out over the next five years. The grant money would represent three-quarters of the annual tax value of the $34 million dollar facility.
In addition to investment from Orange County and the City of Mebane, the state will contribute slightly more than $1 million dollars to the project.
Located just outside of Mebane, the 21 acre site, which up until recently was used to grow soybeans, lacks water, sewer or direct road access. The county will partner with the state to cover the cost of extending water and sewer infrastructure, which could total $700,000. The state will pay 75 percent of that; the county will pay 25 percent.
NC DOT will chip in half a million dollars to build a road to access the plant, and Durham Technical Community College will offer training to new workers at no charge.
The nearly 100,000 square foot production facility is slated to employ 90 people in the production of Hi-Chew candy. Hoshino told the board it will be a green facility.
“At the planned facility we will cook sugar and syrup, add fruit juice, vegetable oil and other ingredients to make chewy candy,” said Hoshino. “In the process, we do not produce harmful materials, there is no chemical pollution. It is environmentally-friendly.”
Board Chair Barry Jacobs said this project represents the culmination of 20 years of planning to bring new businesses to the 400 acre Buckhorn Economic Development District.
“We have just started as a county to embark of the course of providing incentives to companies to either stay here or locate here,” said Jacobs. “This has been a very amicable and collaborative process and we feel it will be a very fruitful process for everyone concerned.”
He also thanked Orange County voters for approving the quarter-cent sales tax, as proceeds from that will likely be used to cover some of the cost to extend water and sewer to the plant.
The board also unanimously approved a $140,000 contract to hire an engineering firm to design the road, water and sewer extensions. Planners estimate the facility could open for business in July of 2015.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/bocc-approves-incentives-to-bring-morinaga-to-mebane/