BoCC Bunts On Rural Recycling Pick-Up Plan

Orange County Commissioners on Tuesday backed away from a plan to create a solid waste service district tax to pay for rural recycling pick-up.

“It seems clear to me at least, that a one-size-fits-all solution is not ideal,” said Commissioner Mark Dorosin.

The board side-stepped a vote on the proposed district tax in favor of what members called a more wholistic approach.

“On the 13th we’re going to be discussing a draft inter-local agreement which would bring us back into partnership, after several years, with our municipal partners,” said Board Chair Barry Jacobs. “That’s the time to start talking about what all of our options are, how they fit together, how they would be funded, to look at new ideas.”

The district tax would have replaced a fee the county attorney told the board it no longer has authority to levy. The rural curb-side recycling program currently serves about 13,700 homes, but funding runs out in July.

Residents of suburban areas outside Chapel Hill and Carrboro supported the district plan as a way to continue curb-side pick up. But rural residents protested, saying the service is not suited to areas with long driveways and no curbs.

Despite two crowded public hearings and a slew of emails, board members could not agree on the level of public support for the plan.

“I have to say that most of the emails I received were in favor of the tax,” said Penny Rich. “Most of the emails I received are people that wanted to take advantage and continue using the recycling.”

“I must be on a different email list, because the emails I received ran two to one against the tax,” Earl McKee replied.

Unlike the towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro, Orange County does not currently host a public email archive online. However, Jacobs proposed posting all emails related to the solid waste service district tax plan on the county website for readers to draw their own conclusions.

Only one member of the public spoke at Tuesday’s meeting. Bonnie Hauser, who is challenging Jacobs for his at-large seat on the board, called for the creation of a work group of citizens and elected officials to sort through solid waste issues.

“Please consider finding a simple way to fund rural curbside recycling for the short-term, possibly using reserves or the General Fund,” said Hauser. “Second, start a work group with professionals and citizens from the towns and county to work together over the next year or so to explore services, costs and fees for trash and recycling services.”

Though no board member called for a vote on either the district tax plan or its alternative, an opt-in subscription service, some, including Bernadette Pelissier, expressed frustration that the matter remains unresolved.

“While I understand that many of my colleagues want to have further conversations, and there may be fruitfulness to it, we are going to have an inequitable situation that’s going to be aggravated by not making any decision about some way to do this,” said Pelissier.

County leaders must still decide how to fund the program for at least the next year, and whether to move ahead with the purchase of roll carts.

The board will discuss the future of solid waste disposal, potential partnerships with the towns and the question of rural recycling in particular, at meetings scheduled for May 8 and 13.

Commissioners Want To Share County WiFi Far And Wide

When AT&T announced Thursday it plans to deploy a high-speed broadband fiber network across parts of the Triangle, it was reason to rejoice for many living in Chapel Hill and Carrboro. However, residents of rural Orange aren’t likely to see improved internet access as a result.

“One of the big things holding back economic development and also education is this digital divide,” said County Commissioner Mark Dorosin speaking at a budget work session Thursday night. “So what I would want us to think about is, is there a way we can start to bridge that digital divide?”

Interim County Manger Michael Talbert said the proposed fiber network will travel up I-40 and could enhance the Buckhorn Economic Development District west of Hillsborough. Planning Director Craig Benedict noted there may be other commercial efforts to expand internet access the county.

“AT&T is adding additional towers throughout the county or making connections on the existing towers, so their market plan is to provide better wireless and data coverage in rural areas using towers,” Benedict told the board. “But as far as the network in those primarily urban areas, no, they don’t have a plan to take some major trunk lines through the rural areas.”

To tackle the issue of connectivity right away, Dorosin floated the idea of creating public WiFi hotspots around every county-owned building.

“Why can’t we create free WiFi in whatever radius we can afford?” asked Dorosin. “Any place we own land… we can make a circle around each one of those, there are people who can access it, and we’ve done something good.”

County officials said this could be feasible, depending on how much the board is willing to spend. For locations where the county already provides internet access, it could be as simple as adding a signal booster to the outside of county buildings.

Board members were intrigued by the idea and requested a report from staff. Board Chair Barry Jacobs said this might be the impetus for some long-term communications planning.

“I think this is very interesting, and in fact, maybe we ought to flag this and talk about whether we want to have a strategic plan for telecommunication, for wired and wireless communication,” said Jacobs. “If we have a fund for economic development, we could theoretically include this as part of infrastructure.”

The board is set to receive an update on the feasibility of the Orange County WiFi project before the summer break.

APRIL FOOLS: Ellie Kinnaird Write-In Candidate For OC Sheriff?

There is no known campaign to place Ellie Kinnaird on the November ballot as a write-in candidate. Did this year’s April Fools story get you? Do you remember last year’s story? A special thank you to Commissioner Mark Dorosin for playing along and to Ellie Kinnaird for being such a good sport in our annual prank.

Ellie called the WCHL newsroom Tuesday morning after hearing the story and said, "you left one thing out: I'd look good in the uniforms!"

Ellie called the WCHL newsroom Tuesday morning after hearing the story and said, “you left one thing out: I’d look good in the uniforms!”

CARRBORO – Six men are vying to be Orange County’s next sheriff, and with no Republican challenger, most assume the contest will be decided in the Democratic primary next month. But a grassroots campaign to get a write-in candidate on the ballot in November is drawing attention county-wide.

“I think Ellie would make a great sheriff. I think she would bring to Orange County law enforcement the same kind of tough but fair-minded attitude she brought to both Carrboro and the General Assembly,” said Commissioner Mark Dorosin, responding to word that some are trying to draft former Carrboro Mayor and North Carolina Senator Ellie Kinnaird for the job as the county’s top law enforcement officer.

Dorosin says Kinnaird would likely bring significant changes to the department.

“The quality of the food served in the jail would improve, everything would be organic from the Carrboro Farmers Market, as well as I think you’d see the sheriff’s vehicles all switched to bio-diesel and the prison buses run on natural gas.”

After eight and a half terms in the General Assembly, Kinnaird stepped down from the state senate last year to pursue voter-outreach efforts, but supporters say they want to see Kinnaird take a more hands-on approach to bringing justice to Orange County. They’re mounting a campaign to collect enough signatures from registered voters to get Kinnaird’s name on the November ballot as a write-in candidate.

It’s not clear that Kinnaird herself has endorsed the campaign; she could not be reached for comment on this story.

Kinnaird has no law enforcement experience, but she holds a law degree and has served on the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Justice and Public Safety. During her time in the General Assembly, she gained a reputation as a tough negotiator, an attitude Dorosin says would serve her well as sheriff.

“You’d see a strong reduction in crime with Ellie as sheriff. She will take no nonsense.”

Escaped OC Inmate Surrenders

The inmate who escaped a low-security Orange County correctional facility Monday evening returned within about five hours, according to the North Carolina Department of Public Safety.

Forty-year-old Kenneth Lussier is serving 12 to 15 years for habitual felony, larceny, and felony breaking and entering. He was on an outside work assignment in Hillsborough when he walked away at about 6:30 p.m. He surrendered to officials at about 11:30 p.m.

DPS officials say Lussier will face additional charges related to the escape.

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.

Cold Front To Bring Frozen Precipitation

National Weather Service Senior Forecaster Scott Sharp says once the cold front moves through the Triangle between 7:00 and 7:30 Monday morning, we should expect rain to switch to sleet at about midday.

WCHL’s Ron Stutts spoke with Sharp during the WCHL Monday Morning News.

***Listen to the Interview***

OWASA Protected From N. Chatham Water Woes

UPDATE: Chatham County has cancelled the boil advisory, confirming that no leak occurred. Here is the county’s full statement, released at 3:04 p.m. Thursday:

“Chatham County Water Utilities has announced that residents in sections of North Chatham no longer have to boil county water before using it for consumption.  The State Division of Water Quality has verified that the water supply meets state standards and does not have to be boiled.
A boil water notice was issued yesterday due to an unexpected drop in water pressure affecting specific parts of north Chatham.  Utilities staff found no leaks or technical problems in the water system, but water pressure returned to normal levels.  This  points to the possibility that a private contractor doing utility work in the area may have impacted a water valve.”

Chatham County Public works director David Hughes says Wednesday’s advisory to residents in northern Chatham County was strickly precautionary and that he doesn’t believe there was every a break in the line.

“We don’t believe it was a break,” Huges says. “We suspect it was a contractor who closed some valves and shut off supply, so there was never a break in the line. Our tanks never dropped. We didn’t do anything particular, and the system regained pressure and went back to normal operating. So, the potential for contamination is very low. It’s possible but unlikely.”

Hughes says any time there is a drop in water pressure, water samples are taken to check for contaminants and safety measures are taken ensure no one consumes what is potentially hazardous.

While it takes just a few minutes more, he says the best course of action is to follow the safety instructions when they’re handed our—even when danger is not suspected and it’s just a precautionary step.

“They should boil the water for a minute to two minutes until we get the results back,” Hughes says.

In Orange County, Orange Water and Sewer Authority (OWASA) Board of Directors Chair, Alan Rimer says there are processes in place to protect from such an event.

“We have a number of storage tanks that contain several million gallons of water, and those tanks are managed by…a system of intercommunication between the treatment plant and these tanks,” Rimer says. “So, we can control the rate at which that water is put into the system at a pressure which would never allow for it to drop below a particular pressure level that would require a boil order.”

In fact, Rimer says it could be up to a day before the water system’s pressure drops below a safe level.

“We might ask folks to conserve, but certainly not to boil,” Rimer says.

Checking In With Your Community

Duke Energy Spokesperson Megan Musgrave

Chapel Hill Transit Director Brian Litchfield

Orange County Public Affairs Director Carla Banks

Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue

Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle

Hillsborough Mayor Tom Stevens

Carrboro Police Chief Walter Horton

Another Dose Of Winter Weather Aiming For Triangle

RALEIGH – Another winter storm is heading for the Triangle, but its severity is still unknown.

WCHL’s Aaron Keck spoke with National Weather Service Meteorologist Barrett Smith about when the winter weather will start and how long it will last.

***Listen to the Interview***

A hazardous weather outlook is in place for the area through mid-week. Click here for more details.

Ways To Reduce OC Child Poverty: A “Comprehensive Holistic Approach”

ORANGE COUNTY – More than 4,600 children in Orange County were living in poverty in 2001, according to census data. That was almost 18 percent of the total number of children living in the County at the time. A decade later, more than 2,300 additional children were living in poverty.

Dr. Colleen Bridger, Director of the Orange County Health Department, said poverty remains one of the biggest, yet least acknowledged issues in our area.

She discussed possible ways to reduce child poverty at a County Board of Health meeting Wednesday night. Bridger explained that Orange County’s child poverty rate is on trend with the majority of other counties.

“Like in a lot of aggregate statistics, we look better than the State average. The challenge is that we still have families who are living in abject poverty in Orange County, and sometimes aggregate statistics can mask that,” Bridger said.

She added, “When you go back to the stereotype for Orange County, you hear that for example we have the lowest unemployment rate. So people, I think, make the next logical step to say ‘Well, if we have the lowest unemployment rate, then our poverty numbers must not be matching other areas in the State.’ That is just not the case.”

The Health Department’s analysis indicated that there are six prevalent pockets of poverty throughout our area, encompassing 21 of the 29 schools in Orange County.

Many poverty indicators, such as the number of children enrolled in Medicaid and the number of students on free or reduced lunch, have increased in the last five years, both countywide and also in both Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools and Orange County schools.

As of 2011, more than 7,000 children in the county, or 25 percent, were enrolled in Medicaid. More than 30 percent of students enrolled in both school districts received free or reduced lunch.

Long-term Impacts of Child Poverty

Children living in poverty, Bridger explained, are much more likely to experience “adverse childhood events.” Examples include abuse, neglect or a general category of household dysfunction.

“The reason that this is important is because when children are exposed to an adverse childhood event, it structurally affects their brain,” Bridger said.

Research shows that the more adverse events a child experiences will increase the likelihood for chronic diseases, mental health problems, and behaviors that lead to teen pregnancy or the contraction of sexually transmitted diseases.

“Those adverse childhood events are extremely linked to adult public health outcomes that we really want to see changed,” she said.

Possible Solutions

While poverty cannot be eliminated immediately, Bridger said that there are ways to address the problem now and prevent future difficulties in our local children’s lives.

“A county government cannot fix poverty. What we can do, however, is mitigate the effects of poverty on children. The only way to do that is through an extremely comprehensive holistic approach.”

The Harlem Children’s Zone Project was launched in New York City and promotes positive environments for area children. Bridger said she hopes to launch a program like that here in Orange County.

“One of the biggest successes that it [the Harlem Children’s Zone Project] showed relatively quickly is that it literally eliminated the racial disparity in math and reading for children in elementary school,” Bridger said.

Durham has a similar program already up and running, called the East Durham Children’s Initiative

As part of her larger goal to implement a program like the Harlem’s Children’s Zone project in Orange County, Bridger will recommend several initiatives at next month’s Board of Health meeting.

A component of her proposal is to create a new program manager position to focus on a community dealing with childhood poverty in our area.