Story originally posted April 11, 2014, 5:02 p.m.
As Orange County Commissioners eyed their five-year spending plan at a work session on Thursday, Chair Barry Jacobs said it’s time for the board to vote on the specifics of the Southern Branch Library.
“We’re talking about $8.2 million dollars and I don’t think that’s a realistic number for what we’re envisioning as a library,” said Jacobs. “I don’t know why we keep using that number.”
The 2014-19 recommended Capital Investment Plan outlines $1.1 million to be spent on planning in the next two years, and $7,775,000 to build and open the branch by 2017, but Jacobs argued those numbers represent a size and style of library that the board has not endorsed.
“If we’re not going to build a 20,000 square foot library, then we don’t need to fund one,” said Jacobs. “If we have to vote, then we should put it on a regular agenda and vote on whether this board of commissioners thinks we’re building a 20,000 square foot library. Because it was not driven by this board, it was driven by staff. It’s just not realistic.”
Currently, county officials are in the process of vetting an 18,000 square foot site in Carrboro, at the yet-to-be-built Brewer Lane mixed-use project. Although this is the only site under consideration, the board has not settled on a location for the branch, and is actively soliciting input from the public.
County Manager Michael Talbert said the $8 million dollar figure represents a place-holder in the budget that will be revised by the end of the fiscal year.
“This is the best number we have at this point. The board has not revisited this issue since it was originally introduced about three years ago,” said Talbert. “We’re continuing this in light of not having anything better. By this June we may be in a position to improve on this. If the Carrboro location we’re investigating works out, we can come back to you and adjust these numbers.”
Jacobs said once the cost projections are revised, that will free up other money in the county’s spending plan. The board will hear the results of the county’s investigation and the public outreach effort at a work session on May 13.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/bocc-seeks-revised-cost-estimates-southern-branch-library/
When it comes to financing the Ephesus-Fordham renewal plan, Chapel Hill leaders say they have a unique investment opportunity to offer Orange County Commissioners, if they act fast.
“We’re letting you in on a really good thing,” said Council Member Maria Palmer, at Thursday’s joint meeting of the Chapel Hill Town Council and the Orange County Board of Commissioners.
“I’ve heard that before and it doesn’t always work out so good,” replied Commissioner Mark Dorosin.
“What you guys need to keep in mind is the cost of not doing it right,” Palmer countered.
Council members hope Commissioners will sign on to the financing plan for the Ephesus-Fordham revitalization project, which calls for $10 million dollars worth of road and infrastructure improvements to the Ephesus Church-Fordham Boulevard intersection, as well as the rezoning of 190 acres to spur economic development nearby.
The improvements would be financed using Chapel Hill Town Hall as collateral, and paid off with the increased tax revenue expected to come with residential and commercial growth in the area.
But Chapel Hill’s Business Management Director Ken Pennoyer said there’s a lag between the time the town will reap the rewards of the investment and when the bills come due. He said paying down the debt will cost the town an estimated $800,000 each year, but the additional revenue won’t match that until 2030.
“That’s one of the things that we’re trying to solve for, is that gap between the town’s tax increment and our expected debt service cost,” said Pennoyer.
The town is asking the county to chip in by donating a portion of the county’s tax revenue from the redevelopment to help pay that annual debt service, a contribution of up to $400,000 each year.
Although the town has money in its debt management fund that could cover the shortfall, Pennoyer told the board Orange County’s participation in the project is vital.
“Our ability to do it would be marginal. It would be much tighter,” said Pennoyer. “The county’s participation creates the strength of a partnership that basically is a very strong, marketable debt structure. It creates a synergy there that makes it work a whole lot better, but if the town needed to do this on our own, we may be able to squeak by.”
Commissioners questioned the phasing of the plan, which anticipates mostly residential growth in the short-term and commercial development in later years.
County leaders also questioned the impact the project would have on school enrollment. Orange County Interim Manager Michael Talbert said adding 1,000 apartments would cost the county an additional $1 million each year in school funding and likely accelerate the need for new schools.
“That could also put pressure on our building capacity and may move future schools that were maybe five or ten years out up in the schedule,” said Talbert.
Commissioners expressed cautious enthusiasm about the Ephesus-Fordham project, but Chair Barry Jacobs said the board needs to know more before committing to the plan.
“It’s clear that y’all are excited, and as partners, that makes us at least somewhat excited, but I think we need to do our due diligence from our perspective,” said Jacobs.
The Chapel Hill Town Council is looking to vote on the rezoning portion of the plan in mid-April, but the financing would not need to be in place until June.
County Commissioners will discuss the plan at a future work session yet to be scheduled. The Town Council will meet with Chapel Hill-Carrboro school district administrators on April 9 to discuss the project’s impact on enrollment.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/town-council-seeks-county-buy-ephesus-fordham-plan/
HILLSBOROUGH – Thursday night, the Orange County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to conduct two more public hearings on a contentious recycling issue in Orange County.
Orange County Solid Waste Management Director Gayle Wilson told Commissioners Thursday that a proposed tax for expanded curbside recycling would not hit residents too hard in the wallet, compared to past fees for the service.
“At this rate, a property valued at $250,000 would pay about $37.50,” Wilson said. “Those properties that are currently located within our service area used to pay $38, so it’s fairly close.”
Wilson broke down the preliminary cost estimate for a proposed service district that would add about 8,000 parcels to the existing 13,750 households, with residents that had been paying a fee for curbside recycling.
That was until a court ruled in December 2012 that the county has no authority to tack the fees onto property tax bills.
Wilson reported that the estimated cost to implement expanded curbside service is $630.000, or about 1.5 cents per $100 of property value.
It’s meeting with some resistance from people that live in rural areas, where gravel driveways can extend the length of a road sometimes. That’s a long way to push the roll carts that would have to be purchased and distributed.
Early in Thursday night’s discussion, Commissioner Earl McKee expressed skepticism about the plan, after reading in the report that only 57 percent of people who paid the fee set out their recycling at the curb regularly.
“My point is that there were multiple thousands of people that were paying the 3R curbside fee that were not using the service,” McKee said. “They either were not recycling, or they were taking it to the convenience center.”
Solid waste convenience centers, such as those in Efland and Hillsborough, are a popular choice than curbside recycling for some rural residents.
That constituency was well-represented at Thursday night’s meeting in Hillsborough, where several citizens spoke out against the proposed service district, and just one citizen spoke in favor of it.
That brought Commissioner Bernadette Pelissier to conclude that the county failed to advertise to the public that recycling would be on the meeting agenda Thursday evening. If it had, more of those in favor of the tax district may have shown up.
“Part of the problem that we face is that there isn’t really good data on some of the things we’re considering,” Pelissier said, “because it sends up being opinions – people’s opinions or perceptions about what may happen, what has happened, and why, etc.”
On February 4, the Board will decide on the dates and locations of two more public hearings about recycling. Commissioners say they want more information from staff on alternatives to the district tax, including funding the program voluntarily through a subscription service or drawing from the general fund.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/orange-commissioners-seek-public-input-recycling/
ORANGE COUNTY – Long-time Orange County Commissioner Alice Gordon announced Thursday that she does not intend to seek another term in office.
“I thought it was time,” she says. “I had really accomplished most of what I set out to do…so I made my announcement in time to give other people a chance to consider running.”
Listen to Aaron Keck’s interview with Alice Gordon on the WCHL Thursday Afternoon News.
Gordon has served on the Board of County Commissioners since 1990; she’s stepping down after six terms and 24 years in office.
She says of all her accomplishments, she’s proudest of her work on education and the environment.
“I think the Lands Legacy program–which has protected over 3,000 acres of the county’s most important natural and cultural resources–is probably my most important accomplishment,” she says. “Because it’ll be enduring, and because people can enjoy those lands.”
In addition to her work on the Board, Gordon also served as chair of the Triangle Transit Board of Trustees, as well as chair of the policy board of the Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), the regional transportation planning organization for the western part of the Triangle area.
The filing period begins in February for candidates interested in filling Gordon’s seat on the Board; the Democratic and Republican primaries will take place in May.
Gordon offers this advice for her future successor, whoever that should be: “Be passionate about what you believe, have core values and try to follow those values when you get on the Board…you really have to focus to accomplish anything, because it takes a long time.”
In an official statement released Thursday, Gordon said: “I have had the honor and privilege of being a county commissioner for more than twenty years, and I wish to thank the residents of Orange County for their confidence and trust in electing me six times. I believe that we have made great progress in addressing the goals I set out to accomplish when I first ran for office.”
But of course Gordon still has one year left to serve on her final term—so although she won’t be on the Board in 2015, she says she’s not going anywhere right away.
“We have a lot of challenges,” she says. “So I’m not done yet.”http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/long-time-oc-commissioner-alice-gordon-wont-seek-re-election/
ORANGE COUNTY – Earl McKee announced this month that he is seeking re-election in 2014 for a seat on the Orange County Board of Commissioners.
McKee, who was first elected in 2010, is a lifelong resident of Orange County and represents District 2. In addition to his duties on the Board, he works on his family’s farm managing crops, hay and cattle.
During his time on the Board, property taxes in the County have not been raised—a fact McKee said he counts as an accomplishment.
“I ran three years ago, and I stated a concern over public safety, schools and our taxes and the impact that economic development could have on residential property,” McKee said. “I feel that I have attempted to address those issues from the perspective of the District 2 residents and would like to continue for a little while longer.”
Serving as Vice Chair of the County/Schools Collaboration Work Group, McKee said he was able to understand the needs of the district more clearly.
During his time in office, McKee said he is proud of the Board’s work to attract new businesses to the Buckhorn Economic Development District in Mebane.
The top-selling Japanese candy company, Morinaga, announced plans in September to build a new $48 million facility in that district, which will create at least 90 new jobs.
To land the project, Orange County survived five rounds of visits from Morinaga consultants since the county first tried to attract the company in February 2012.
AKG, a German-based radiator manufacturer, recently decided to expand it’s enterprises in the area as well.
“This is a continual progression of looking toward companies that are a fit for Orange County, that can provide jobs for our residents, and help with the diversification of our tax base.”
McKee also served as the Co-Chair of the Emergency Services Work Group.
“We have recommendations that have already cut the response times for ambulance service,” McKee said. “One thing that we are currently working on from that task force is the location of ambulances and fire stations which puts them more into the communities than they were before.”
Concerning the subject of public transportation, McKee said he believes there’s a need for more broad-based bus service in parts of rural Orange County. He added that the proposed Durham-Orange Light Rail plan is “premature.”
“We need to build out our bus service and then progress toward light rail sometime in the future,” McKee said.
If he is re-elected, McKee said he would concentrate on making progress on behalf of the County in the Roger’s Road remediation plan.
Leaders from Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Orange County are currently at an impasse as to how to move forward with a plan to bring sewer service and a community center to the Rogers Road neighborhood, whose residents have lived with the landfill landfill for forty years.
The EPA announced this summer that 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.
Based on the advice of the county attorney, commissioners have held off on endorsing the Rogers Road remediation plan until the investigation is complete.
“I would like for folks to understand that just because it is taking a long time and just because there are roadblocks does not indicate that there is a lack of commitment on our Board for that.”
McKee has been an active member of the community throughout his lifetime. He has held and holds elected positions in various organizations such as the Orange County Farm Bureau; the Caldwell Fire Department, which he helped form; the Orange County Planning Board; and outside organizations such as the Triangle Area Rural Planning Organization and the ABC Board.
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.
HILLSBOROUGH- Orange County Commissioners on Tuesday signaled they may be willing to shift the focus of a proposed $100 million bond referendum.
In a prior discussion, the board talked about getting voter approval to finance a new jail, and a fifth middle school for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools system. Those two projects alone total $73 million.
But school board members from both the Chapel Hill-Carrboro and Orange County districts say aging schools are badly in need of repair, and fixing those could cost as much as $230 million.
Commissioner Mark Dorosin said he’d like some guarantee from district officials that renovating older schools would increase student capacity, delaying the need for new buildings.
“I think if we’re going to put any money into the renovation of these older schools, which is much needed, I think we should demand that any renovation increase capacity, whether it’s in the middle school or the elementary school,” said Dorosin. “Whatever those plans are, that money should have as an additional benefit that it is going to push out the next elementary school, the next middle school, the next high school, whatever it is.”
If voters approve a $100 million dollar bond package, Assistant County Manager Clarence Grier told the board that could mean raising the tax rate by 4.18 cents for the next 20 years to cover the $6.7 million annual debt payments.
In order to get the referendum on the ballot for the November 2014 election, the school boards and commissioners must come up with a list of priorities by early June.
Chapel Hill-Carrboro administrators have already completed a detailed assessment of the district’s older buildings, while Orange County school officials have a study underway. County Commissioners will discuss the timing of the possible bond package at a meeting later this fall.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/bocc-eyes-older-schools-for-bond-referendum/
Photo Courtesy: Gourmet.com
CHAPEL HILL – A top-selling Japanese candy company announced plans Tuesday to build a new facility in Mebane, creating 90 new jobs and investing $48 million over the next three years.
Barry Jacobs, Chair of the Orange County Commissioners, says it is a sweet deal for the area in more ways than one.
“It will not only give a boost in becoming a large employer in Orange County, but we hope it will also help to stimulate other companies that would like to locate and identify with a quality, international company,” Jacobs says.
Morinaga and Company, the top-selling candy manufacturer in Japan, 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.
The company’s subsidiary operations in Mebane will consist of blending syrup, sugar, flavorings and other ingredients to produce soft candy, the Associated Press reports. The site, set to open mid-2015 in the Buckhorn Economic Development District, is the firm’s first American manufacturing enterprise.
The Orange County Economic Development Department, led by director Steve Brantley, fronted the efforts to recruit the manufacturer. To land the project, Orange County survived five rounds of visits from Morinaga consultants since the county first tried to attract the company in February 2012.
“We beat out 18 sites in approximately 12 North Carolina counties,” Brantley says “Other places outside the state that has been considered seriously included Toronto, Canada, Richmond, Philadelphia, Atlanta, and even Portland, Oregon.”
Brantley says Morinaga ultimately choose the Mebane site, near the Tanger Outlet mall, because of interstate visibility, a high confidence in the area’s work force, and the presence of UNC and Durham Tech, which will handle the critical training for the company.
Contingencies before the project can be finalized and construction begun include road accessibility, a supply of electricity and natural gas, and water and sewer extensions. Those improvements are planned to be funded by city, county and state performance grants.
Several other factors, Jacobs explains, played a key in making the project possible, including the rezoning of the district.
“Two years ago, the county made decisions to rezone it, and last year, the County Commissioners made decisions to rezone it, hoping that we would land a corporate client and it worked,” Jacobs says.
The 120,000 square-foot facility will offer health and retirement benefits for Morinaga employees. These jobs will be created over three years, offering competitive salaries, averaging more than $38,000 a year, according to a statement issued by Orange County.
“We’re trying in several different ways to use areas that we have previously zoned for economic development to provide more jobs and keep our non-residential tax base growing,” Jacobs says.
Jacobs also cites the use of the quarter-cent sales tax for funding economic development incentives.
“We owe a debt of gratitude to the voters who voted for the quarter-cent sales tax a few years back because half of that quarter-cent goes toward economic development,” Jacobs says. “The largest percentage goes to providing infrastructure, in this case water and sewer, for our economic development district.”
Jacobs says the company will be in the top ten employers for the County.http://chapelboro.com/news/japanese-candy-co-to-open-operations-in-oc/
ORANGE COUNTY – Chair of the Orange County Board of Commissioners, Barry Jacobs, and fellow commissioner, Penny Rich, said the news of County Manager Frank Clifton’s resignation did not come as a surprise. Both were candid when they said that there had been disagreements between Clifton and the Board.
“If we are fighting with our manager to get things done, that’s not a good environment to work in,” Rich said.
Clifton , in an email to the Board Thursday morning, said he would step down on September 29 of this year. He indicated he would continue to attend regularly scheduled meetings and work sessions.
“As County Manager, I recognize not all my recommendations and/or actions were viewed in a positive light by everyone. That is not unexpected. Doing the public’s business is not without criticism, ” Clifton said in his letter of resignation.
Rich said her main disagreement with Clifton was over the recycling program. The county was forced to look for a new funding model after a recent North Carolina Supreme Court ruling prohibited some of the fees that fund curbside pick-up service. She said Clifton wanted to introduce franchise agreements, but the board voted in April to take that option off the table.
“When it came time to face up to citizens, it was very uncomfortable. I felt we were being led down the wrong path in that area. I think there were a number of decisions like that which didn’t carry out Orange County values as well as our citizens expected,” Rich said.
The Board also faced tough budget decisions this year, with pressure to help the Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools make up funds for its steep budget shortfalls. In the end, Commissioners approved a $187 million dollar spending plan this month which increased school funding by $102 dollars per pupil and raised the Chapel Hill-Carrboro special district tax by two cents to help open the new Northside Elementary. For the fifth year in a row, the budget did not include a countywide property tax rate increase.
“I actually thought this was one of the smoother budget processes I’ve been a part of in my 15 years as a Commissioner,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs said though there were disagreements along the way, Clifton made a positive impact during his time as County Manager.
“He helped to lead us through a difficult fiscal time. He was brought in right as the economy was crashing. When knew we were going to have to batten down the hatches. He and his staff did a very good job of helping us get our financial house in order,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs said the differences of opinion gave the Board an opportunity to take a fresh look at their own views.
“We didn’t always agree with what the conclusion should be but it is always good to have your assumptions challenged,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs said the Board hadn’t planned to meet until September, but that will likely change. The next step is to come up with a process that the commissioners agree on to find Clifton’s replacement. The Board will then reach out to search firms to facilitate that process.
“When you start searching for a new manager, you weigh out what the citizen’s values are and what is most important right now. We need to be very careful in understanding what those values are and how that relates to who runs our county,” Rich said.
Rich said it was known this that position would be Clifton’s last before retirement. He was not available for comment Thursday.
Clifton’s Resignation Letter Sent to BoCC:
June 27, 2013
Chair-Commissioner Jacobs, Vice Chair- Commissioner McKee, Commissioners Pelissier, Rich, Dorosin, Price and Gordon – CC: John Roberts-County Attorney and Donna Baker-Clerk to the Board
Soon, I celebrate another anniversary of my 39th birthday. My wife and I have decided to pursue challenges and opportunities that allow us to achieve goals we value together. Hence, per my employment agreement (90-day written notice) I advise of my intent to resign as Orange County Manager effective September 29th, 2013 and register for retirement from NCLGRS thereafter.
As County Manager, I recognize not all my recommendations and/or actions were viewed in a positive light by everyone. That is not unexpected. Doing the public’s business is not without criticism. The intent always focused on the best interest of the whole County and its future. Together we faced difficult issues, with actions leading to successful outcomes. Not every decision pleased everyone. That is the nature of the activities in which we engage.
I will attend regularly scheduled meetings and work sessions of the Board through the end of September continuing to assist the Board as required during the remaining months of my tenure. I appreciate the opportunity to have served as Orange County Manager the past four years. It has been an interesting and a unique experience.
Public service (elected or appointed) is both a privilege and challenge that comes with substantial personal responsibilities to all that choose to participate. Private lives become too public. Innermost thoughts become targets for disagreement. Many may oppose a course of action, but only those serving roles as public leaders are held accountable for final outcomes. Anyone may offer solutions, but in the end a limited few are challenged with responsibility for the ultimate decisions.
When County Commissioners make decisions it is County Staff’s responsibility to make those decisions work. You need to recognize and appreciate the true foundation for successful Orange County programs, services and community outreach comes from staff that on a daily basis serve the needs of the residents of Orange County faithfully, with integrity and a personal commitment to meeting the needs of others. I hold the highest respect for County Staff’s ability to face every challenge in a professional and successful manner. They are highly qualified and dedicated individuals. The County Staff make things work for Orange County and its Citizens.
I appreciate the opportunity to have known each of you individually. Although we cannot always agree, I do think we forged outcomes that will last beyond our stay in the public light. That is something to value as a memento of our time together. My best wishes to Orange County and its Citizens always.
Frank W. Clifton, Jr.
Orange County Managerhttp://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/oc-commissioners-on-cliftons-resignation-decision/
CHAPEL HILL- Orange County Commissioners received the first draft of the Orange County Library’s three-year strategic plan on Tuesday, and although the project involved 800 contributors and took nearly a year to complete, some on the board said it’s not what the county needs to move forward.
“When are there going to be specific action items to implement these objectives?” asked Mark Dorosin. “This is a very lovely report and presentation, but it’s a very zoomed-out view.”
The study was paid for by a grant from the state.
It surveyed residents and library staffers about what services they value in the Orange County Library. Access to books, internet connectivity and youth activities ranked as top priorities. Respondents also said they want to see greater cooperation between the county library system and the Chapel Hill Public Library.
Orange County Library Director Lucinda Munger said she’s already collaborating with the new director of the Chapel Hill Public Library on how to better work together.
“We don’t know exactly what [that is] going to be, but that’s part of the 21st century library that we’ve all talked about and wondered about, a greater cooperation between libraries in a similar area,” said Munger. “Libraries, no matter what they are or how well-funded they are, can’t really stand alone anymore.”
The draft strategic plan did not address the Southern Branch Library currently being discussed by county commissioners and Carrboro Aldermen.
The aldermen recently added four possible sites to the county’s list of potential locations, and indicated that a site on Brewer Lane in the planned Butler mixed-use development is favored by town leaders.
When it comes to strategic planning, Board Chair Barry Jacobs said county leaders need more details from library staff.
“This is like the foundation,” said Jacobs. “But we have some decisions to make that are pretty specific and we’d like to do them in the next fiscal year.”
Munger told the board that the draft plan was only designed to set broad goals for the library system. She said she would return with a specific action plan for consideration in late September, along with an analysis of the potential branch locations.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/county-commissioners-call-library-plan-too-vague/