Business as usual?

Bonnie Hauser, the president of Orange County Voice, sheds light on Orange County Commissioners’ budget deliberations. Here’s what she has to say about the commissioners’ season finale:

On Tuesday, the BoCC will approve increased taxes and fees for 2013-14. On top of Chapel Hill’s 2 cent tax increase, the county will add 2 cents for CHCCS and increase a few fees. That’s in addition to the new transit tax and fee and last year’s sales tax increase for schools and economic development. To make the numbers work, including keeping the schools whole, the county dipped into reserves – again. (Chapel Hill did the same). To the commissioners, this is not a tax increase – but it’s clearly a trajectory that’s not sustainable.

The commissioners will formally approve the increases on Tuesday as part of their 1,000-page agenda, the last meeting before summer break. The consent agenda rushes to spend $1.6 million to retrofit geothermal HVAC to the county offices and $1.5 million on a new meeting room for the commissioners. Plus, despite public opposition, a late item on the massive agenda recommends awarding a contract to design a new community center in Cedar Grove. Originally planned as a generous 10,000-square-foot $2 million facility, the project has ballooned to cost $3 million to $5 million – without question or explanation. Rather than wait and clarify the issues and requirements, the county wants to plow ahead. So much for public process and transparency.

To the commissioners’ credit, they did delay an unexpected $8 million project to build yet another county campus at Blackwood farm. Instigated by Commissioner Gordon, the county also is working on a space plan for its campuses in Hillsborough, Chapel Hill and other facilities. (Apparently the meeting room couldn’t wait.)

As the commissioners prepare for summer break, wouldn’t it be better if they kept it simple and made sure loose ends were tied up? Shouldn’t they check in and see whether the county is ready to close the landfill in a couple of weeks? Or take a few minutes to reflect on issues that were raised during weeks of budget deliberations? If they are worried about future taxes, why not ask for the facts so that they can anticipate future critical needs and revenue growth and the progress of the taxpayer’s investment in economic development? Wouldn’t that be more productive than whining about state cuts and future tax increases? Such actions would improve my confidence that fiscal policy was managed – and not a reaction to fabricated political crises.

We spend a lot a time on this blog bantering about policies and outcomes. Is there interest in a real discussion about fiscal sustainability? I’ll start by agreeing that growing and diversifying the tax base will help – but it will take time for the economic development plans to get traction. Economic development directors Dwight Bassett (Chapel Hill) and Steve Brantley (Orange County) are doing a great job – but it’s a big change.

For me, the fiscal hole is too big to grow out of. Our local fiscal cliff is looming in the form of needed police and fire stations, transportation, school building repairs and other essential items. Plus, we still haven’t figured out what to do with our trash. One path to change is a close look at redundancy and costs and new ways of delivering services using technology and cooperation. There are others.

The real challenge is planning for and investing in the future – rather than continuing to showcase outdated ideas, services and policies.

Do you care?
– Bonnie Hauser

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43 Comments

  1. Anita Badrock

     /  June 17, 2013

    A 1000 page agenda packet? Is that a misprint?

  2. George C

     /  June 17, 2013

    I think that Penny Rich commented on FB that it was 900+ pages – close enough to Bonnie’s estimate to confirm how ridiculous it is to ask commissioners (and citizens) to wade through something this size.

    On another note, nice post Bonnie. Some excellent ideas for folks to think about.

  3. Many

     /  June 17, 2013

    Bonnie, Thank you. Good post.

    I agree with your points and would like to add again that Orange County is becoming a county of municipalities. I have made the point before, and I will make it again; Mebane and Durham are becoming more and more influential in Orange County and a bigger part of the population and tax base. The potential for redundancy and conflicting agendas between the municipal entities will only increase going forward. It’s past time for a reoccurring “real discussion” and bringing forth a framework for cooperation and priority setting. It seems the council of governments could be more effective in this regard than it is today.

    Chapel Hill is still by far the major player in Orange County, but seems aloof to, and in some important ways resisting reducing the redundancies. As well, the local government support of the recent TTA campaign seems to me to indicate that priorities are still misleading marketing of “if you build it they will come” gold plated Cadillacs, rather than a true municipal cooperation in the taxpayers interest.

    Its “Business As Usual” at the local political sausage factory.

  4. Bonnie Hauser

     /  June 17, 2013

    It’s 969 pages
    http://www.co.orange.nc.us/occlerks/130618.pdf

    Thank you George and Many for the kind words. the idea of cooperation is a good one

    After watching the budget deliberations, I’m left with a couple of reactions. (1) who “owns” the complete tax burden placed by all the governments. (2) What are the service models for the future? Can the govenments do more using technology and public-private partnerships (rather than expensive buildings)? (3) What are models for cooperation – that avoid entanglements in turf, power and control.

    Many’s point about competing agendas is crucial. The assembly of governments amplifies the problem. I liked the ES workgroup model – which brough the discussion to a working group of cross-jurisdictional experts and citizens rather than novice elected officials.

    George – do you think Chapel Hill voters will care in November?

  5. George C

     /  June 17, 2013

    Bonnie,
    I think many (not all) Chapel Hill voters are concerned about (1) keeping the CHCCS system up to its high standards and (2) protecting their neighborhoods. What happens on a county or regional level is often of little interest unless it has a direct impact (What do you mean my trash/recycling services may need to be altered?). We (CH) lament (rightfully so) the lack of a solid commercial tax base in Town to help with the residential tax burden but the fact is that we still benefit from commercial development anywhere in the County. We need to figure out how we can grow the County in partnership with the municipalities, instead of in spite of the municipalities. Far too much finger pointing and far too little hand-shaking.

  6. Many

     /  June 17, 2013

    George C,

    Clarification please.

    Exactly how is the “County in partnership with the municipalities” being grown “in spite of” the municipalities? Do you have an example?

    I think Orange County is waking up to the fact that the growth county tax base is likely to come from municipalities other than Chapel Hill. I do not know exactly what that portends for budgets, but I suspect it will mean a diminished role for Chapel Hill in the overall discussion. I am sure that county residents are just as concerned with the quality of education. I suspect that keeping the CHCCS system up to its high standards has far more to do with greater economic advantages and parental participation than with school budgets, that discussion seems impossible to have however.

    What exactly is meant by “protecting their neighborhoods”? From what or whom? Could it just be protecting them from change?

  7. George C

     /  June 17, 2013

    Many,
    “Clarification please. Exactly how is the “County in partnership with the municipalities” being grown “in spite of” the municipalities? Do you have an example?”

    The point I was trying to make is that the County can’t go it alone nor can the Municipalities. We need each other if we are going to have any chance at all of competing with our neighbors to the east, west, and south. We need to think about economic development for not just the individual towns but for the entire County and how those plans can be made to support and complement each other.

    And yes, by protecting neighborhoods I was referring to protecting them from change. It is human nature to be fearful or leary of change and that fear or worry or suspicion or whatever you want to call it is often an impediment to change, even when it is likely to be beneficial. It’s a lot easier to be comfortable with what you know than with that which you don’t know.

  8. Many

     /  June 17, 2013

    George C,

    Thank you for the clarification. I agree with your first point, that is what I thought you meant.

    To your second point; I understand, however I would like to add that no one in the history of the world has been successful in the long run trying to “protect them[selves] from change”. Change is not always good, but it is inevitable. The only successful way to control the effects of change is to be a participant in, and to plan for, change.

  9. Bonnie Hauser

     /  June 17, 2013

    Lets look at the numbers for a minute

    County tax rate .858 (nearly half goes to schools)
    CHCCS tax .208
    Ch Town Tax .518
    Total 1.584 per $100
    School portion .62 (estimate)

    (That’s $4,752 for a $300,000 home not counting sales taxes, personal property taxes and fees)

    We all think schools are important. The county schools are dealing with a very different demographic (40% non-asian minority; more poverty but I don’t have the numbers). Yet they still rank in the top 10

    Plus CHCCS did us all a favor by adding a wing onto Culbreth instead of building a new middle school.

    So since nearly 2/3rd of your tax blll (not counting sales taxes or fees) goes to something OTHER than schools.

    I’ll add another piece to the puzzle – nearly 50% of Chapel Hill residents and 70% of Carrboro residents rent rather than own – so do they care?

    Is a real question – our elected officials are not taking this seriously – I’m not sure our citizens are either. People who come from the Northeast or elsewhere think its a bargain – and don’t seem to care if we are overpaying for basic services.

  10. George C

     /  June 17, 2013

    Many,
    I agree with your second point – that change is inevitable. However, I fear that some figure they can hold it off long enough until they move on to a location where change is moving even more slowly.

    Bonnie,
    “I’ll add another piece to the puzzle – nearly 50% of Chapel Hill residents and 70% of Carrboro residents rent rather than own – so do they care?”

    They should because they pay the taxes too. It might not be directly but I guarantee that it is reflected in their rents.

  11. Many

     /  June 17, 2013

    George C, even Carol Woods is subject to change 🙂

  12. Bonnie Hauser

     /  June 18, 2013

    Of course the renters are covering taxes. The point is that they are short timers – and probably dont care about the long term sustainability.

    What I’m hearing from both of you is that growth will fix the fiscal problems -and you’re implying that we can grow despite the costs and taxes. I’d like to see that – along with a very tight line on spending – until the economic engine kicks in.

    Unfortunately the facts suggest that cost issues are accelerating – especially with schools, transportation and public safety, and with the loss of BCBS and other companies growing elsewhere – it appears that our commercial tax base may be shrinking.

    Are there early warning indicators to help steer our Economic Development strategies? How long will it take to get real traction? Are course corrections needed? Are costs a factor at all?

  13. Terri Buckner

     /  June 18, 2013

    George,

    You’re right that many neighborhoods are opposing proposed changes. But I don’t think that makes them NIMBYs or means that they are entrenched in their own good without consideration for the rest of the community.

    According to the research on change management, change takes about 10-15 years to be adopted by the majority of those impacted. And the change process needs to be managed.

    The problem neighborhoods here in Chapel Hill are facing is that they are being asked to 1) adopt changes much quicker than research says is feasible, 2) the changes are being proposed by outsiders who will benefit financially from the change without having to live with the impacts, and 3) in many cases, are not involving the neighbors in defining the changes they can live with, meaning the change has not been managed well in the past.

    People live in homes–not houses. They select neighborhoods that reflect their values (urban, rural, suburban, price range, etc). It is simply not realistic to think that someone can buy a home and then just shrug their shoulders and say “oh well, Mr. Developer, feel free to change it in any way that you want.”

    I appreciate the town’s attempt to begin managing the process and mediating the needs of residents and developers. I’m not sure those efforts are working except in Glen Lennox, but that’s a different story.

    I know that staff and council are frustrated by neighbors that always seem to say no to any proposed change, but that response should be expected, especially in the absence of a solid change management strategy.

  14. Nancy

     /  June 18, 2013

    Add to that Chapel Hill’s policy of SUPs instead of defined zoning, and it can feel like bait-and-switch to many homeowners. For many of us, our financial stability is anchored by our investment in our home. So when a developer comes in with a project way out of scale with the rest of the area, it not only affects our quality of life but our “wealth” anchor. People don’t want to buy in an area that will look quite different 5-10 years out. And when Town Council adopts a dismissive attitude toward neighbors, it is unsettling on a number of levels.

  15. George C

     /  June 18, 2013

    Terri,
    I didn’t say that that neighborhoods that oppose change were NIMBY’s – I said that it was a natural reaction to fear change. I’ve stated publicly that I didn’t think there was a single neighborhood in CH that would welcome either a men’s shelter or a student housing complex. It’s human nature to oppose such major changes but it doesn’t eliminate the fact that many of the proposed changes are still necessary and have to go somewhere. How that is resolved requires strong leadership from the elected officials who, in CH at least, are elected to look out for everyone’s interests.

    Nancy,
    Regarding the use of SUPs versus defined zoning, obviously the latter is preferred. But in CH, where nearly 95% of the Town is already built out, getting defined zoning means re-zoning and that will entail the same, or nearly the same, degree of angst as a SUP-based project in the near-term although it could certainly remove some of the long-term concerns.

  16. Bonnie Hauser

     /  June 18, 2013

    The big difference is that if you rezone, the discussion is with the town and its citizens – not with the town and a developer. If the rezoning happens -then development can happen by right- and should move a lot faster. It would also help citizens (and others) appreciate that they have a role in determining size, density and use – but should not be selecting specific projects that are conforming.

    I’d like to see more dicussion about what people are “for” rather than what they are “against”. From what I can tell, Ephesus Church and Glen Lennox are dfferent but positive platforms. Is that correct?

  17. Many

     /  June 19, 2013

    Bonnie,

    Defining silence seems to indicate George C is correct. People do not really care as long as they think they can protect their niche. Fiddling while Rome burns…..

  18. Bonnie

     /  June 20, 2013

    Thanks Many. I wondered. I thought I confused people. So many people feel overwhelmed by the issues that are coming up. And they should be – that’s why better zoning is essential – especially if there’s an intention to reset expectations

    From what I could see, the Glen Lennox and Ephesus Church plans look great and start the process of redeveloping the dated shopping centers and parking lots into an urban feel mixed use development. They are on major corridors. To bad they won’t have transportation

    But I doubt they can produce enough revenue to offset the losses. Has anyone seen this site? It says that since 1993, 25 billion of income has come into NC. During the same time $50 million left Orange County. It’s based on AGI and shows that money comes to OC from outside the state and people are leaving OC for our neighbors.

    http://www.howmoneywalks.com/web-app/

  19. Nancy

     /  June 20, 2013

    Many — I don’t know that it’s apathy so much as powerlessness. People feel what’s the point in speaking up when the deciders — council members and commissioners — have become so insular. More than one council member told me that Sally Greene was not the right person to fill the council vacancy last December, but only one person had the courage to vote against her. George, I’m very disappointed that you took your name out of consideration once Sally said she wanted back on council. We need new viewpoints to make the best decisions, yet right now we have a quartet whose self-identity and perhaps self-esteem are rooted in sitting on the dais. That makes it harder for them to serve the best interests of the town.

  20. Fred Black

     /  June 20, 2013

    Well, with Gene Pease announcing this morning that he will not seek reelection, that’s two open seats of the four Council seats. Soon, we will see who wants to hold them.

  21. Bonnie Hauser

     /  June 20, 2013

    We in the county have no say in who runs for the council – but we wish you’d join with us to create a platform for improved cooperation between the town and county. Again – since 2/3rds of your taxes go to the county, and only 1/3 goes to schools, don’t you have a vested interest in County decisions too?

  22. Fred Black

     /  June 20, 2013

    Bonnie, don’t know who you are addressing, but not sure why you assume anyone feels that they don’t have a vested interest in County decisions. We have lots of research on public engagement and what increases and reduces it. We seem to fall in the normal band and at times, slightly above when it comes to participation. With our voting levels, it’s no stretch to draw conclusions about other participation.

    Knowing the hours spent on the OC Comprehensive Plan, attending the meetings and hearings, and months on LTF #1, it was a major time investment. As for your percentages, not sure what you are using to make the calculations, but I see 40% of my taxes going to schools, assuming 48% of County taxes allocated to schools and adding the additional CHCCS tax.

    Also, maybe there is more cooperation going on than you are aware of.

  23. JWJ

     /  June 20, 2013

    Ms. Hauser:

    “During the same time $50 million left Orange County. It’s based on AGI and shows that money comes to OC from outside the state and people are leaving OC for our neighbors.”
    http://www.howmoneywalks.com/web-app/

    I took a look at this site, but I’m simply not understanding it. The site had a population migration into OC from 1985 to 2010 of 5,533 people. However, according to census data the population increase over that time period has been about 48,000 folks. I could not see where the site’s methodology was posted.

    Not sure how OC has lost $50M in annual income (or is it wealth?) over 25 years with a population increase.

  24. Many

     /  June 20, 2013

    My two cents.

    My understanding of the site data is that it is mapping AGI from the IRS and Population from the census bureau. So it is entirely possible to have a increase in population and the AGI for that total population go down.

    I am unclear how they map the source and destination of that wealth though, but I suspect they might tell you if you buy the book 🙂

    The data is interesting, but I am not sure I agree with the conclusion. For example Rick Perry is having success pulling business to Texas because of the low taxes and absent regulation, but I do not think that ultimately leads to a sustainable growth in AGI. In fact it seems like another race to the bottom to me. I also think that the lack of regulation leads to a lower quality of life (unless you are top dog) and will ultimately backfire when it comes to the need for skilled employees.

    To me what is disturbing about the Orange County NC data is the clear and abrupt change in 2001. Why did that happen? It does appear to be slowly getting “better”, but what is making it “better”? Why are surrounding counties doing so much “better”? Is it even desirable to the voters to return to the time before 2001? What do 2011 through 2013 look like? What can we learn from this?

    As far as where the 5,533 number came from I think it is likely to be the estimate between the 2010 census and 2013 estimate.

    Orange County NC:
    2012 (estimate) = 137,941 + 4084
    2010 census = 133,857 + 40,006
    1990 census = 93,851 + 16,796
    1980 census = 77,055 + 19,348
    1970 census = 57,707 + 14,737
    1960 census = 42,970
    http://www.census.gov/population/cencounts/nc190090.txt

  25. Terri Buckner

     /  June 20, 2013

    The site Bonnie referenced is upfront that their purpose is to prove that personal income should not be taxed. I’d take any of their data and analysis with a grain of salt on the assumption that their worldview has a direct impact on methodology.

    Many–how do you determine that surrounding counties are doing “better” than Orange County? Have we, as a community agreed upon a performance measure against which we measure ourselves? We may have the highest tax rate, but our school systems are better at graduating students. The CHCCS has a 90% graduation rate (top 10 in state) and Orange County schools aren’t far behind at 85% vs. Durham at 76% and Wake at 80%. What’s the measure of “doing better”?

  26. Bonnie Hauser

     /  June 20, 2013

    Fair question Terri. But I must start by saying given that over 60% of Durham’s students qualify for free lunches, a 76% graduation rate is impressive. Of course they spend more on schools than Chapel Hill does -but its obviously paying off!

    And Fred- you’re right about the tax rates- its 40% not 33% for schools – thanks for the correction. Where’s the cooperation? Parks? Lbraries? Fire protection? Solid waste? Other?

    I doubt any of us will buy the book – or agree with the simplistic arguments that taxes alone drive choices. But the movement patterns seem consistent with other sources. Not sure how students affect the numbers. Over 20 years – the counting process could change. The growth pattern is consistent statewide – except Orange and Durham. Is there a way that a high tax bias could be baked into the model?

  27. Many

     /  June 21, 2013

    Terri, that is why I put “better” in quotes. There are many measures of “better”.

    Again, I maintain that the school graduation rates in Chapel Hill have very little (if anything) to do with the tax rate. It has to do with the relative wealth, education level and parental involvement, not the fancy buildings.

    I still would like to hear some ideas on why the abrupt change and if it could be correlated to something. Just because you disagree with someones “world view” does not mean the data should be ignored or discarded.

  28. George C

     /  June 21, 2013

    I think we measure “better” in terms of the goals we set for ourselves as a community. What I heard in CH2020 was that we want to have a supply of housing that would be affordable for the people who work in our community and provide our services if they want to live here (and not all do). I heard that we want to provide for the homeless in our community and that we don’t want anyone to go hungry. I heard that we want to protect the environment, to maintain our wonderful trees, to preserve and enhance our greenways, and to become a truly sustainable community. I heard that we want to have more retail businesses located here so that we can shop local rather than traveling outside the towns and county. I heard that we want to have a transit system that serves more of the people and at the hours most needed and that we want to have more and better bicycle facilities. I heard that we want to maintain the excellence of our schools and to provide more services for teens. I heard that we want to continue to improve our working relationship with the University and to foster true cooperativity as they continue to expand.

    Obviously, we want a lot. We set our goals high. Whether we are doing “better” is a matter of looking at the goals we set for ourselves and determining whether we are closer to achieving them now than we were 1-, 2-, 5-, or 10-years ago. We needn’t compare ourselves to our neighbors unless we want to compare the tools or methods they use to achieve their own goals. Obviously many of the goals we have set for ourselves require revenue and if they have better tools than us to raise revenue that might be a useful measure to compare.

    I think CH2020 did an excellent job of setting a vision of where we want our community to be, now and in the future. Unfortunately it did not get to the most difficult question – how to pay for it. That question needs to be tackled, and soon, if we are going to have any chance of attaining even half of this lofty set of goals we have set for ourselves.

  29. Terri Buckner

     /  June 21, 2013

    Nice response George. I think the other aspect of 2020 that was missing was the tough job of prioritization. It’s easy for everyone to say what they want, but when we have to consider tradeoffs–such as those between affordable housing and excellent services/environmental protections–how does the “want” list change from pie-in-the-sky to something more realistic and (perhaps) more achievable?

    I think we have a lot to be proud of in this community and it’s important to occasionally acknowledge those achievements without being too Pollyanne-ish.

    With respect to the out-migration issue which has resulted in revenue losses according to Bonnie’s linked website, I suspect much of that change is the result in the growth of the university. Sponsored research funds have tripled in that time, meaning lots of researchers coming in, making good and then moving on (as should be expected).

    But some of those researchers “move on” by creating new businesses and we have neither the facility space or infrastructure to support those businesses locally. That’s why the university is such an active partner with the town in creating new incubator space (on and off campus) so that new business spinoffs from university research funds will stay here in town.

  30. Many

     /  June 21, 2013

    OK. I will be the anti-Polyanna.

    I’d still like to get closer to answers for legitimate questions such as why did our AGI apparently fall when most of the surrounding counties increased? I think that is one legitimate yardstick among many others, don’t you? I cannot imagine that rotation in research took 20+ years, but it’s the most plausible answer I have heard so far. I also think that keeping and incubating start-ups that result from research is a terrific idea. When was NCSU Centennial campus built again, was it really last century? Why has Carolina North been delayed again?

    As far as comparing ourselves to others, I am confused by what sounds to me like an ambiguous sentiment. Don’t you all think that comparing others in a similar context is a useful tool for critical thinking? Perhaps there might be some good ideas we hadn’t thought of? Maybe that’s what George C meant be comparing tools and methods, but I still hear reluctance because someone doesn’t like the source or has an insular view of Chapel Hill.

    CH2020 is nice, Vision is good. Goals are great. It’s past time to translate all that vision to ordinances people can plan to, learn from mistakes, figure out priorities for achieving those goals cooperatively and how to pay for them. 2020 is one seven years away……..tick-toc.

  31. Tom Field

     /  June 21, 2013

    “Better” does not mean more retail and concrete and less taxes and trees — the old destroy the village to save it song — developers always say change is inevitable — change is the money in their pockets — affordable housing is just a few minutes away — tax me out of town,but just keep one small part of heaven intact —

  32. Bonnie Hauser

     /  June 21, 2013

    rotations in research? BTW the early 2000s was a tough time for technology and pharamceuticals – including RTP. Might that explain some of the exodus? Hard to tell. Durham has the same pattern.

    Many – great point about moving past vision to tangible plans and funding. That means in addition to “setting high goals for ourselves” – we need to acknowledge where we are and a path to change (if that’s what we want).

    I aspire to be a size 4 – but it doesn’t mean that I should run out buy the dress. It helps to look in the mirror compassionately and critically – and build a plan – with milestones. And course corrections along the way. its a long haul and takes commitment.

    When I look in our cultural mirror I see businesses leaving, along with our working class. Our transit system serves the university – not the community. Our schools and public safety buildings are in disrepair and we have to hit the reserves to pay the bills – despite high home values and high taxes.

    If you compare us to others, there are signs that our services are not as good as our neighbors – – but they are more expensive. We can learn from others.

    Where to start? There are many paths to delightful and sustainable, but we have to agree that we’re need some corrections to get on them.

  33. Terri Buckner

     /  June 21, 2013

    “Our transit system serves the university – not the community.” Hmmm, I thought the university was part of the community. Does your opposition to serving the university extend to all of us university employees who live here and benefit greatly from the transit system?

    “there are signs that our services are not as good as our neighbors”. Really? What are those signs and what are the inferior services?

  34. Bonnie Hauser

     /  June 22, 2013

    Terri – certainly you know that the transit system is primarily a hub and spoke system that serves the university. Residents that want to go place to place (eg Southern Village to the library) face multiple transfers and protracted travel times.

    Lets see -Wake County has 20 connected libraries – where users of any library can access the entire countywide collection from their home library.

    Wake and Durham have had single stream recycling for years – and its half the cost of Orange County’s program. Chatham has 12 convenience centers – all paved with compactors – open 6-7 days a week.

    Alamance bought 10 emergency vehicles for $1 million; Orange County bought 4 – and their response time is better. (that said – I’m encouraged that the county’s new Emergency Services Director is changing things for the better).

    Wake and Durham spend much less money per capita for transit – and have wider circulation of buses – all the systems need work – but CH spending ($430 per capita) approaches Charlotte ($600 per capita). The next is Asheville ($310 per capita), with Durham and Raleigh way behind. Numbers based on NC State treasurer reports.

    That’s just off the top of my head.

  35. Fred Black

     /  June 22, 2013

    Bonnie writes:
    “Lets see -Wake County has 20 connected libraries – where users of any library can access the entire countywide collection from their home library.”

    And the point? How many OC libraries aren’t connected? I think you believe that OC and CH should be connected. If so, say that and don’t compare the Wake County system to something unlike it.

  36. Bonnie Hauser

     /  June 22, 2013

    Of course I – and many others – believe that our libraries should be seamlessly connected. After all its 2013 – not 1993. I wonder if people were paying attention – how many would agree that connectivity is a better investment than slate floors.

    The point here is that if we look around – we’ll learn that our neighbors are making progress on a great many fronts – while we sit around and congratulate ourselves for ideas that were great decades ago and are becoming dated.

  37. Terri Buckner

     /  June 22, 2013

    Bonnie–have you ever personally tried to get around Chapel Hill/Carrboro on the bus? I do it daily and have no problems getting most places. I’m sure regular riders in Durham and Raleigh would say the same thing. But since I’m a university employee, my experience may not count in your eyes.

    Orange Co and Chapel Hill libraries are connected through inter-library loan. I imagine the Raleigh system is set up the same way on the back end system.

    I don’t see anything in your list that says our services aren’t as good. Not everything can be measured by money.

    Bottom line for me is that your claim that Orange County services are inferior or lagging behind our neighbors doesn’t have a factual basis. I’m not saying it isn’t true but I am saying that any evidence requires more sophisticated analysis than surface impressions or money spent.

    The one thing that you and I do agree on is that more cooperation between the county and the towns could bring down some of the cost of living here. There is cooperation but I think it could be extended to everyone’s benefit, without any loss of identity or autonomy.

  38. Bonnie Hauser

     /  June 22, 2013

    Fred- for what its worth – the goal is not to criticize the past. I realize that a lot of caring people have worked hard to get here. The point is now what? Certainly we can learn from others – not just Ann Arbor and Bloomington – – but our immediate neighbors who are doing some impressive things – for a lot more people for a lot less money.

    Why not take a look

  39. Fred Black

     /  June 22, 2013

    Bonnie, why so many grand assumptions? Who is not looking? You keep implying that people are not engaged. Just because everything is not personally known does not mean it’s not happening.

    The intergovernmental relations literature seems to indicate that most cooperative/joint endeavors are in the “moving forward” arena. You’ve mentioned fire, police, public works, development for example. There seems to be cogent reasons why this happens so infrequently. Institutions and organizations do what they know how to do. Surrendering control, authority and autonomy just isn’t something they know how to do, or learn to do UNTIL crisis or dramatic forces of change move the issue. We have seen more local cooperation in the last few years than ever before. Realism says the “big rocks” that you keep referencing have too much inertia pushing giants them. Let’s send our time discerning what we can realistically do.

  40. Bonnie Hauser

     /  June 22, 2013

    Terri – you’re right – I don’t use the bus – my mother, 90, who lives in Carrboro does. So do many of my friends. I didn’t cite the complaints about breaks and weekends, cause I believe that’s being fixed. But other than students and university employees, there’s a little use and a disproportionate impact on low income residents who don’t have cars to get to meetings and work sessions where they can advocate for their interests. Given all the money and the massive commitment to public transportation, it seems that we deserve a system that’s more than a university centric bus service and LRT to Durham..

    Seamless library connection – one card, find a book anywhere in the county. Pick up and drop at your home branch. No interlibrary loan fees. Nothing like what we have.

    Please -set the bar higher – if we don’t, the status quo wins – and I hope you agree that its not sustainable

    On ES – I believe that the ES workgroup has shown that the professionals on the ground are cooperating. So I’m hoping it will get better -and if Chapel Hill builds new fire stations – they will include space for county ambulances. That’s a win-win.

    On SW a good start would be more attention to costs I don’t like spending double what my neighbors pay for the same or less service. With the landfill closing, costs are going up.

    the facts are there – check the websites for Chatham, Wake or durham. Ask your friends that live in other counties.

    But my biggest concern is that I seen massive spending ahead for buildings – but nothing about rethinking services. I’d start with libraries – and everyone thinking how to design county libraries using Chapel Hill as the flagship library. Then I’d look hard at Social services – and pull the students out of the poverty numbers so we can get a true picture of what we are dealing with. And I’d be looking very hard at SW now that the landfill is closing.

    If I lived in Chapel Hill, I’d want to revisit free buses – with the idea of inviting employers to pay for them. That would take some of the tax burden off the taxpayers -and provide a more accurate picture of needs and usage patterns.

    Of course I’d also consolidate park operations – if Chapel Hill takes the lead on libraries, maybe the county can take the lead on parks. And since they have the most experience, maybe Carrboro can take the lead on Affordable Housing – and Hillsborough on poverty and social services. Everyone plays – everyone gets a role in the discussion.

  41. Terri Buckner

     /  June 22, 2013

    These days I ride the J bus and I can assure you that during the times when I am on-board (before and after work), the majority of riders are NOT students and I’m not sure that many are university employees either. However, the constant demand throughout the day by the students on that route, and the huge contribution made by the employer/University, means this line can run more frequently, serving the low-income residents of the apartment complexes on 54 and Jones Ferry to a frequency that I’ve never seen in any of the other communities where I have used transit.

    We all know that you can’t get everywhere you need without transfers and possibly some hikes of several blocks, but that’s why there is EZ rider for those who aren’t able to make the transfers/hikes. Is your standard of comparison that the transit system has to serve everyplace that any potential rider wants to go without transfer or additional walking? I know that Durham and Raleigh can’t live up to that standard either. In fact, no where that I’ve ever ridden a bus can.

    Back when I worked in graphic arts production, there was a maxim that customers in our own town would never see us as good enough for their work. For some reason, a great many ad agencies back then always went out of town for their really good (well paying) jobs. On the other hand, my shop got accounts from major agencies around the south so it wasn’t that we weren’t good enough, but that our friends and neighbors didn’t PERCEIVE us as good enough (familiarity breeds contempt). That’s the way I feel about so many of your complaints. They are based more on perception rather than reality.

    For example, there is NO charge for inter-library loan through either Orange County or Chapel Hill. I don’t think cards are interchangeable between the two systems; but maybe the reason is that it would be too expensive until technical contracts expire. I recall that Orange County wanted to share a license for the management system during the council/ commissioner work discussions. It’s unfortunate that Orange Co lost on that issue but I don’t know the reason why. You seem to assume it was due to an unwillingness to work together; I think it’s likely to have a lot to do with costs and contracts. Whichever reason is really true, I hope there is a long-range plan to contract for a single management system during the next major upgrade, like the towns and county do for GIS and tax collection systems.

    There’s no point in you and I talking about solid waste. But there is one point I would like to make. Just because a service like solid waste is budgeted at a particular cost inside the budget doesn’t mean that cost reflects a full and accurate cost of providing service. Municipalities are known to under-represent the full costs of their services, especially maintenance costs. So while you and I may believe there are potential cost savings by having a single solid waste system (which has a greater likelihood of occurring through the proposed solid waste authority), no one can accurately compare the true costs of the services between systems without extensive knowledge of how each local government budget has been derived. In addition to the true costs, there are also quality issues. Rollout carts are a good example. Worker compensation costs for systems with roll-out carts are lower, and the people in the collections dept have a better quality of life/health as a result. But you would never find that as a single budget item.

  42. Bonnie Hauser

     /  June 22, 2013

    Terri -your points are logical – but inaccurate. But there’s no need to defend what’s already done. The question is how to move forward.

    If you beleive that there’s no room to improve services and cost, and that we shouldn’t look at our neighbors for ideas and best practices, then lets just agree to disagree. I’d go further to examine how technology is changing the way governments deliver essential services. If we’re going to be expensive, lets at least be cool!

    I think we do agree that there are structural problems – mostly in the form of divided governments – that are creating unnecessary redundancy and limiting our options for the future. That would be a great place to start.

  43. Many

     /  June 23, 2013

    Though sometimes it is, there is no reason to assume “it” is being done. Control, authority and autonomy is something that takes leadership and surrendering it is not always preferable or necessary. I have certainly seen cases where simple cooperation and and thoughtful planning move “Big Rocks”, what we should do and become good at is learning and adjusting. Politics is the art of the possible. That is the definition of a participatory democracy.

    I for one am disturbed by intergovernmental relations that result is a 1.4 billion dollar boondoggle and leaves the current systems riders stranded and paying more on top of the “our transit future” tax. Admittedly I do not ride the bus, but it is a good system, worth saving and improving. I do not think it is prudent to slowly strangle CHT in favor of the TTA, without more of a say. That is a good example of not giving up control and autonomy to solve an invented problem that might happen someday. The most recent CHT survey (admittedly student-centric) I can find [2009] shows exactly what it would take to increase ridership [slide 23] (http://www.ie.unc.edu/for_students/courses/capstone/09/transit_survey_ppt.pdf)

    I am disturbed by a project that ignores the intergovernmental possibilities in favor of building a white elephant that we can’t pay for and does not serve the people who need it. This problem is fixable at a cost, but in my opinion, customers and service were lost in a process driven by group think. If “contracts” were an obstacle why hasn’t that been identified? Legitimate questions are being painted as “blaming” and it seems as if people are more interested in inventing excuses than trying to find a better way. In this case it looks like control got the better of opportunity.

    BTW Durham had rollout carts well before Chapel Hill and I think that was more a function of density increasing the impact of efficiency. Regardless if franchising or municipal “authority” is chosen there are many “best practices” that Chapel Hill could and should examine: (http://charmeck.org/mecklenburg/county/solidwaste/managementplan/documents/bestpracticesrecyclingstudy.pdf)

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