OC Commissioners Nearing Decision On Naming Next County Manager

The Orange County Board of Commissioners is nearing a decision on naming a new county manager.

Barry Jacobs, Chair of the County Commissioners, said the Board will not make an official announcement within the next week, but that they “are on the interstate and can see the exit up ahead.”

“Before we could announce anything, we will have to negotiate a contract, and there are a lot of things that go into it before one would make an announcement. We haven’t even decided completely on the final steps in the process,” Jacobs said.

The Board will hold two closed sessions next week, one on Monday at the Franklin Hotel and another Tuesday at the Siena Hotel.

The purpose of the closed meetings are “to consider the qualifications, competence, performance, character, fitness, conditions of appointment, or conditions of initial employment of an individual public officer or employee or prospective public officer or employee,” according to North Carolina law.

The Board has been searching for a permanent county manager since last year when Frank Clifton, who had been in the position since 2009, announced in June that he would step down in September.

Michael Talbert was named interim Orange County Manager. He had previously served as the assistant County Manager since 2011.

Talbert told WCHL News in September that he didn’t plan to apply for permanent position.


Recycling Issue Brings Rural Residents Out for Orange Commissioners Hearing

HILLSBOROUGH – A public hearing on a proposed tax district for recycling pickup in Orange County brought a lot of people out to the Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday night.

Here were just a few of the comments from behind the guest podium:

“I loved Hillsborough in the past, but now I want to take my business and home elsewhere just because we are overtaxed, and I don’t get the benefits.”

“If it is a new tax, shouldn’t we be allowed to vote on it?”

“I find the argument that us rural folk are lazy and won’t recycle without this scheme disingenuous.”

“It’s not a matter so much of the cost. It’s a matter of principle.”

“Never mess with something that’s working. These convenience centers are working. Leave them alone.”

The proposed service district would replace an annual 3-R fee of $38 that was added to property tax bills from 2004 until 2012. That was when the county discontinued the fee over concern about its legality.

The tax district idea has sparked anger among some vocal residents of rural areas.

They contend that they can take care of recycling themselves, by carting it off to convenience centers, as they’ve been doing for a long time.

Some speakers said they don’t want to push big recycling bins down long, winding gravel driveways. Some insisted they don’t want to pay for a service they’re not going to use. And some said they’re already being taxed too much in Orange County.

There were also a few comments in favor of the service district:

“I just want to speak to this idea that people can selectively choose the taxes they want to pay or that they think benefit them. If that was the case in this country, we would not have a functioning society.”

That’s Tom Linden, a resident of the dense suburban Stoneridge neighborhood of unincorporated Orange County. He says that 300 households in his area “need and want” curbside recycling.

Terri Buckner lives on Yorktown Drive in Chapel Hill, in the southern part of the county. She said her neighborhood gets “forgotten a lot” in this discussion.

“We don’t have access to the convenience centers that you all here in the north have,” she said. “So, for me, hauling my recycling to the convenience center is really quite an inconvenience, even though I am paying for your convenience centers.”

Such arguments did not sway rural residents such as Steve Hopper of Efland.

“Those with curbside recycling access – 57 percent are using it,” he said. “In the rural areas without curbside recycling – 50 percent are doing it. That’s a seven percent difference. You’re going to spend how much money for seven percent?”

Commissioners must come up with a one-size-fits-all solution, because State law mandates that a service district must be contiguous. Targeting curbside pickup to those that want it most is not an option.

Mark Marcoplos, who’s running this year against Commissioner Earl McKee for the District 2 seat, spoke at the hearing. He faulted Commissioners for not opting to simply keep the 3-R fee in place.

“This worked very well, until the county lawyer offered his opinion that, based on a case involving Cabarrus County, the county might face a legal challenge on the fee,” said Marcoplos.

He was referring to a decision by the North Carolina Supreme Court in August 2012, which struck down school facility fees in Cabarrus County. Orange County took that as a precedent that invalidated county government fees if they were not approved by the General Assembly.

Bonnie Hauser, who’s running against Chairman Barry Jacobs for his at-large seat, also spoke at the hearing. She said that while she is not a resident of the proposed tax district, she cares about the issue.

“There is no option that I can see that takes me down a path of a service district tax as a fair or equitable solution for the county,” she said.

It was the second of two public hearings about the recycling district. Commissioners could make a decision at the April 15 meeting, to be held at the Southern Human Services Center on Homestead Road in Chapel Hill, starting at 7 p.m.


OC Commissioners Preview: Recycling District Gets Another Public Hearing

Tuesday at 6 p.m., Orange County residents will get another opportunity to present their views to the Board of Commissioners about a proposed Solid Waste Service Tax District for recycling pickup.

The meeting will be the second of two scheduled public hearings to address the issue.

The proposed tax district would replace the annual $38 Rural 2-R Fee that was discontinued after 2012.

The fee had been added to property tax bills for eight years.

In 2012, legal concerns about the fee forced Orange County to come up with new ideas. Last year, interim funding for recycling was provided from landfill reserves.

The Board of Commissioners will soon decide whether there’s enough public support and participation to justify creating a service district for unincorporated areas.

It would mean that residents would be taxed 1.5 cents per every 100 dollars of assessed land value for bi-weekly curbside pickup.

The Orange County Solid Waste Management Department has recommended that Commissioners make a final decision by April 15.

The Orange County Board of Commissioners meets April 1 at 6 p.m. at the Department of Social Services, located at Hillsborough Commons.

You can view the full agenda here.


Candidate Profile: Orange County Commissioner Earl McKee, District 2

Earl McKee is running for a second term to represent District 2 on the Orange County Board of Commissioners.

He insists that, just as when he first ran in 2010, his top priority now is the school system.

“We have a great deal of deferred needs with the school system — capital improvements and repairs,” he says. “But we also have immediate needs in the classroom.”

According to McKee, those needs include providing better wages for teachers, and keeping teachers’ assistants in classrooms. He points to recent actions by the North Carolina General Assembly as a source of some of the problems faced by Orange County schools.

“It has been a concern over the last couple of years,” he says, “with the cuts that have been coming from the state. And what I see is reallocation of the lottery funds, which causes more and more responsibility to fall on the counties.”

McKee says he will continue to advocate for modest funding increases on a per-student basis.

The Orange County Board of Commissioners has held the line on raising taxes for the past five years. McKee says the last four of those years can be credited to the ability of the Board to shift funding from year-to-year, as well as refinancing some long-term bonds, and deferring funding that was not considered essential in the short term.

But now, as those options seem to be running out, the question remains: Where is the money going to come from to keep schools running as parents and teachers expect? And how is Orange County going to resolve its solid waste and recycling problems?

Is the answer higher taxes? McKee says he won’t pursue raises taxes just as a means of “scouring up a few extra dollars.”

“But if we come to a position that we need additional funding to provide for the school system; if we come to the point where we need additional funding to provide for public safety issues, affordable housing issues…you can go right on down the list of things that are facing us. Then, in that case, I will consider it.”

McKee’s challenger in this year’s race is fellow Democrat Mark Marcoplos, a green builder from Bingham Township. There are no Republicans running for the District 2 seat, so the May 6 primary will determine the next commissioner for that district.

Marcoplos has twice chaired the board of Orange Water and Sewer Authority, and he’s long been active in environmental issues. He recently told WCHL that he would bring environmental experience to the table that McKee couldn’t match. McKee says that as a farmer, he would dispute that. He says one advantage he has over Marcoplos is his own “recent experience.”

“Mr. Marcoplos has had quite a bit of experience,” says McKee. “Most of it was in the nineties.”

(In the coming weeks, WCHL will reach out to candidates in all local races.)


Morinaga Candy Factory Construction In OC To Begin “In A Couple Of Weeks”

Construction on the new the Morinaga candy factory near Mebane will begin in about two or three weeks, according to Steve Brantley, Orange County’s economic development director.

County leaders pulled together state and local resources to offer a $2.5 million economic incentives package to entice the top-selling Japanese confectionary to open its first American production facility in the Buckhorn Economic Development District.

Brantley said the pressure is on to follow through on those promises.

“We really do not have much time right now to think about being happy with our success because we have a lot to do,” Brantley said.

The Orange County Board of Commissioners offered 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 April, Brantley said the County will begin utility work to deliver water and sewer services to the 21-acre property. The County is partnering with the state to cover the cost of extending water and sewer infrastructure, at an estimated cost of about $700,000. The state will pay 75 percent of that; the county will pay 25 percent.

In the next several weeks, the state Department of Transportation will begin building an access road to the property at a cost of about half a million dollars. Duke Energy and PSNC Energy will set up electric and gas lines as well.

The Orange County Branch of the state Division of Workforce Solutions will help Morinaga to staff the factory, which will create about 90 jobs. DurhamTechnical Community College will offer training to new workers at no charge.

The 100,000-square-foot factory, to be located off I-40 across from the Tanger Outlets, will manufacture the “Hi-Chew” fruit candy.

“By the end of this year, they hope to have a finished shell building and then spend the first six months of 2015 installing machinery, leading up to a June or July opening,” Brantley said.

Brantley said Morinaga leaders have indicated its operations in Orange County could be expanded multiple times over the next decade.

“This company is an illustration of what the county has said it has wanted to do over the past three or four years—which is to diversify the company into attracting non-residential business, both commercial and clean-light assembly operations [to the area],” he said.

Brantley said he believes that the new water and sewer infrastructure in the Buckhorne Economic Development District will attract more companies, both international and domestic, to the area.

“We are also trying to leverage our good news to new prospects that are aware of Orange County in terms of the Morinaga vote of confidence in us.”

Morinaga and Company was founded in 1899 in Tokyo. It produces a wide variety of confectioneries, including chocolates, cookies, and frozen desserts. Its products became available in the U.S. five years ago.


Barry Jacobs To Seek Fifth Term As Commissioner

ORANGE COUNTY – Orange County Board of Commissioners chair Barry Jacobs says he’s decided to seek reelection to make sure the changing of the guard runs smoothly.

“I thought about it; I had not intended to do so,” Jacobs says. “But, there are a number of things that need to be addressed—especially with the way that the government is changing at the state level and also the tremendous turnover in Orange County governement.”

The new faces will include four first-term commissioners, a new manager, and a new sheriff.

“I will serve as a bridge between the people who came before me who upheld a lot of the values and policies that we hold important and hopefully be able to bring those forward before I step aside,” Jacobs says.

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.

Jacobs was first elected to the board in 1998; he was reelected in 2002, 2006, and 2010.

He says the number one thing the board and the county needs to focus on going forward is remembering the issues that are the foundation of the county.

“We need to protect what’s important to us as the General Assembly tries to attack it,” Jacobs says. “Whether that’s education, or the environment, or helping those who are least able to help themselves; whether it’s the unemployed, or people who are on food stamps, or people who are just trying to make ends meet.”

The filing period runs from Monday through Friday, February 28. For information on filing locations and other details:

County – Click here

State – Click here


OC Commissioner Candidate Bonnie Hauser Breaks Down Her Platform

ORANGE COUNTY - Hillsborough resident Bonnie Hauser announced she will seek a seat on the Orange County Board of Commissioners.

Hauser said she will campaign for Commissioners Chair Barry Jacobs’ at-large seat. Jacobs has not announced whether or not he will seek a fifth term.

WCHL’s Rachel Nash spoke with Hauser Thursday to hear what issues rank at the top of her platform.

“Running for County Commissioner is a logical next step for me. I know how the County works. I see an opportunity to change how the County does business. Too often, from what I have seen, department heads and planners control the discussions,” Hauser said. “The Commissioners end up approving funds for new buildings and obsolete services. I would like to work to bring a real agenda to the table and explore new ways to address issues.”

**Hear the Full Interview with Hauser**

One of Hauser’s major projects in the county was the formation of Orange Voice in 2008, which opposed the construction of an airport and waste transfer station in the county. She has also been involved with the local social justice group, Justice United.

Hauser said if she were elected to the Board, she will work to make education the first item funded in the County’s budget.

“What happens is today, schools are funded last after the County has funded all of their pet projects. Schools are an easy way to ask voters for a tax increase. If schools are our priority, then we have to fund them first.”


Orange County’s Biggest Hidden Issue: Part II

A couple months ago, I asked: “What is Orange County’s biggest hidden issue?” What is the biggest issue in Orange County that ISN’T being talked about, in any way, in any news outlet?

There are a lot, obviously. Even in a county as per-capita prosperous as this one, there’s bound to be room for improvement in numerous areas—and as for “not being talked about,” well, I’ve already used this space to drone on about the limited resources available to modern-day media. Enough with that.

But of all the un-discussed issues in Orange County, what’s the biggest? What’s the most pressing?

Many of you responded.

Is it the old-boy network? Twitter user @W0CG0 wrote: “Quite simply, (it’s) the attempt by older residents to limit activities and access of those under the age of 50.”

Is it overpriced housing? “The subtle effect of the anti-development, anti-growth zealots is to keep housing prices inflated due to lack of supply. A good example is the Estes Road plan. People want less development to keep up home prices. The road needs to be widened.”

Or—related—is it the lack of workforce housing? “We can build a homeless shelter, but god forbid we build apartments or town homes for police, teachers & firefighters.”

(That’s all @W0CG0, by the way.)

Mark Marcoplos suggested home rule, or rather the lack thereof — the extent to which state law restrains local governments from doing much of anything without permission from the General Assembly. “I consider this to be the biggest obstacle to progressive policy that we face,” he wrote. This has come up recently in a variety of issues — most notably Chapel Hill’s attempt to ban cell phone use while driving or to update its towing ordinance — but Marcoplos said it’s more wide-ranging than you think. “It’s an unnecessary shackling of local governance.”

And another responder (who chose to remain anonymous) pointed to “administrative cover-ups (and) misappropriations in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools,” as well as an unequal distribution of resources from one school to another — both of which, the responder says, contribute to “poor working conditions (and) teacher dissatisfaction.”

But easily the most common responses revolved around the prevalence of poverty in Orange County — notwithstanding our status as North Carolina’s wealthiest.

“Poverty and children going hungry,” wrote Rachel Hawkins. “No excuse for it.”

Vicki Vars Boyer agreed: “Too many of our kids are on free/reduced lunch” — another stat that’s unequally distributed from school to school, incidentally — “and in need of backpacks of food to take home so they can get through the weekend.”

And it’s not just backpacks. “At Chapel Hill High this week they are running a granola bar drive,” wrote Kathy Kaufman (in November). “(T)he school social worker needs a ready supply to give to kids who don’t have lunch money and may not have had breakfast either. There are other ways hungry kids are quietly helped in the school as well.”

Ricky Spero took the issue beyond the schools. “With the recent drop in SNAP benefits, I’m curious to learn where we have food security issues in our community,” he wrote. “As a national issue, it’s a bit overwhelming to think about how our family could help, but as a local issue, it’s an area where we could pitch in.”

And George Cianciolo added that solving the problem would require more than just dealing with immediate food security issues. “As in many other areas of the country, the disparity in income levels continues to widen here with no easy solutions in sight,” he said, so “(m)ore jobs paying living wages are desperately needed.”

Poverty is something we’ve discussed on WCHL and on Chapelboro.com, but there are many facets of the issue that have gone unexamined — and even as it gets reported, that old notion still lingers that poverty’s not really an issue here.

So as promised, I’ll be writing more about poverty in the months to come. Thanks to everyone for their contributions.


Ellie Kinnaird Honored By OC County Commissioners

ORANGE COUNTY – The Orange County Board of Commissioners honored former N.C. Sen. Ellie Kinnaird Tuesday evening.

Kinnaird received a standing ovation and then spoke to the crowd, getting a little choked up as she reflected on her career.

“I have really appreciated representing the people of all of Orange County and all of the municipalities, and working with all of us to try to solve what we can for the people we serve. Thank you very much.”

Barry Jacobs, Chair of the Orange County Board of Commissioners, passed a proclamation thanking the nine-term senator for her years of public service.

“Senator Kinnaird has been a been a persistent advocate for the underprivileged, a dedicated protector of the environment, a champion of social justice, a resolute opponent of the death penalty, and a supporter of fulfilling employment and quality education,” Jacobs said.

Kinnaird also served as Mayor of Carrboro from 1987 until 1996.

“Orange County is unique, and so when you speak for Orange County, you speak in a very different voice,” Kinnaird said. “Our values are the ones that we know are so much a part of the leadership of the state.”

In total, Kinnaird served 26 years as an elected public servant.

“I never expected to be in government at all except as an advocate for things,” Kinnaird said. “What a privilege to work with all of these wonderful local governments.”

Kinnaird resigned her seat as Senator for District 23, which covers Orange and Chatham Counties, in August. She said she was frustrated over the policies passed by the Republican supermajority in the General Assembly and believed her time would be better spent countering the Voter I.D. Law.

Sen. Valerie Foushee was nominated in September to fill Kinnaird’s vacant seat.


Search Is On For Next Orange County Manager

CHAPEL HILL – As the date for Orange County Manager Frank Clifton’s resignation approaches, Barry Jacobs, Chair of the County Commissioners, says the Board hopes to have a permanent county manager in place by late winter.

Jacobs says the Board plans to hire an interim director within the next two weeks “if things go according to plan.” He wouldn’t specify if the Board is promoting someone within or bringing in an outside hire.

“That should at least get us through the period while we are searching with minimal disruption,” Jacobs says. “I feel confident that we can do this in an expeditious manner, but without having the pressure to change regimes too quickly.”

Clifton, who announced in June that he would step down on September 29, was hired as the Interim County Manager in 2009 and was found through the Association of County Commissioners. He then applied for the permanent position, but had to go through the process of reapplying and competing with other applicants found through a consulting firm, the Mercer Group.

The firm was used in the past two county manager searches in 2009 and in 2006, when Laura Blackmon was hired following John Link’s retirement after almost two decades of service, according Donna Baker, Clerk to Board of County Commissioners. Baker says the cost of using the Mercer Group in 2009 was between $20,000 and $25,000.

Jacobs says it is a hefty cost but can be worth it to find the best candidates.

“So with me personally spending it, I would say it is very expensive. If it is the County spending it, $20,000 out of an $180 million budget, it is surprisingly inexpensive,” Jacobs says.

The Mercer Group was also used for the county attorney search in 2009.

Jacobs says Nicole Clark, the County’s Human Resources Director, solicited a number of firms for bids and has narrowed it down to five firms.

“We have solicited proposals from consulting firms and hopefully before the end of September we’ll have someone [a consulting firm] in place to begin working with us to flush out the parameters of the search,” Jacobs says.

Jacobs says it is too early in the process to say which firms the County is considering at this point. He adds that once an interim director is in place, should they decide to apply for the permanent position, they will have to compete against other candidates found through the consulting firm.