Know the numbers

Orange County’s annual budget for 2014 is around $220 million. Chapel Hill’s is Nancy Oatesabout $95 million. Owasa’s is another $43.5 million. Add those up – $358.5 million, even without Carrboro and Hillsborough – and divide by 365 (the number of days in a year), and you come up with the startling fact that our local governments are spending nearly $1 million a day.

Our local elected leaders have the authority to decide what that money gets spent on. But we, as taxpayers, provide the funds. Like bankers asked to approve and underwrite a loan, taxpayers should understand how our governments are spending our money and why. So we need at least one elected official on each government decision-making board who really understands numbers.

That’s why I’m so tickled to learn that Bonnie Hauser has announced her candidacy for Orange County commissioner. Bonnie has an MBA and was a partner in one of the top consulting firms in the world. She also has spent the past decade helping a variety of community organizations in the county enhance their success – and she has done it without pay.

Matt Czajkowski provides financial insight to Town Council. A CFO with an MBA, he knows the questions to ask when town staff strew about terms like “synthetic TIF” and “two-thirds bonds” and “debt capacity.” When handed a 324-page budget proposal (as Chapel Hill’s was for 2013-14), he knows what pages to scrutinize and which to fan through.

Hauser, at PricewaterhouseCoopers, specialized in cost restructuring, working with organizations to simplify their operations. To do that, she had to learn the business and its customers, values and goals. She had to ask hard questions and work with decision-makers to overcome obstacles and find solutions, which often involved a culture change.

Upon retiring early to Orange County 10 years ago, Hauser has committed herself to working for the betterment of the community. She cut her teeth on UNC’s airport and learned her way around our governments on Rogers Road, OWASA logging and a host of other complex and contentious issues. When fresh ideas get caught in stale rhetoric, she has had the patience to work through differences. And she loves data.

She proved her mettle recently when the county Emergency Management Services proposed spending millions to build a dozen EMS substations to improve response times to emergencies. Hauser brought commissioners and fire chiefs together to talk about the problem. Even the School of Government weighed in. The work group scrapped the building plans in favor of investing in technology and communications, and moved ambulances out of parking lots and into fire stations throughout the county. It sounds simple, but it was profound, because our towns and county rarely share anything.

The filing period for county commissioner begins Feb. 10 and closes at noon on Feb. 28. Commissioners will be elected in the May 6 primary. Hauser is running against Barry Jacobs for the At-Large seat. Mia Burroughs is running for the District 1 seat; Mark Marcopolis is running in District 2.
– Nancy Oates

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  1. Earl McKee

     /  February 3, 2014

    Ms. Oates,
    Did you forget that the District 2 seat is currently filled and that I have announced that I will be filing for reelection or is the last line of your comment an endorsement.

    Also, please check the minutes of our meetings and you will find that I have fought against the building of free standing ambulance stations for the past three years. The most recent battle was last spring during budget discussions. Ask around the fire stations and you will find that I have pushed for co-location in the fire stations including in the town of Chapel Hill.

    You should also read the report of the work group because the next to last paragraph is not entirely accurate. I co-chaired that work group with Valerie Foushee and remember not only what we recommended but why those recommendations
    were moved forward.

    Earl McKee
    Commissioner, District 2

  2. Nancy

     /  February 4, 2014

    No endorsements yet, Earl, other than I have the highest regard for Bonnie’s abilities, and I believe her financial acuity will add tremendous value to the board of commissioners.

    You’re right that I should have clarified that you are running for re-election in District 2, and Barry Jacobs is running for re-election as At-Large seat. Alice Gordon, the incumbent in District 1, will not run again. And the filing period hasn’t opened yet, so there may be more candidates before the month is out.

  3. Earl McKee

     /  February 4, 2014

    Thank you for the reply. I was referring to Mr. Marcopolis with my endorsement question which I could have worded better.

    If you will sent your email address I will forward the work group report and provide background on that study as well as the thinking behind redrawing fire district lines in the Southern Triangle.

  4. many

     /  February 4, 2014


    Great points about fiscal responsibility, the importance of fiscal transparency and how the county capitalization and complexity has grown.

    Commissioner McKee rightly points to his leadership contribution on the EMS work group, making the same points Bonnie made and supporting the fiscally responsible path. I am certain the voters in district 2 appreciate his voice. McKee too has been a voice of fiscal sanity on issues, asking the right questions.

    Far too often I see the commissioners lose sight of what problem it is they are trying to solve, letting their wish be the father to the thought. A recent example is the transit tax referendum. After being rejected by the voters in a national election year, the commissioners did not ask why the voters rejected it, nor did they try to make adjustments. No, the commissioners were right back with it in an off year election knowing that their wish was likely to be fulfilled by a lower voter turnout and a less than honest TTA media campaign. The result; The wish was exposed as the expensive pipe dream it is and the agreement giving our tax money to the TTA is still intact funding yet another multi-million dollar round of studies.

    Watching this nonsense go on is shocking and disappointing. I agree some fresh leadership is sorely needed. Bonnie Hauser has impressive problem solving credentials with record of successfully understanding both the problem and the numbers. Her positions are factual, reasoned and well-articulated.

  5. Diogenes

     /  February 4, 2014

    Earl, it would be quite something to see this board endorse Marco Polos given his lengthy pattern of intemperate comments here. That may not be the case on the other board where the moderator has her own lengthy record of intemperate comments. Doubtful your constituents read it though!

    Thank you for the solid work you do on the Board of Commissioners. I am confident you could accomplish even more with Bonnie by your side.

  6. FactChecker

     /  February 6, 2014


    The transit tax has only been on the ballot one time- in 2012 (a national election year), where it passed with almost 59% of the vote. Though, I would love to hear your conspiracy theory about how the 2011 tax referendum for schools and economic development is the county commission shoving an agenda down our throats.


  7. Deborah Fulghieri

     /  February 6, 2014

    The transit tax was on the Orange County ballot as “sales and use tax” according to FactChecker’s (whoever that is) link. It was about funding a light rail train to stop at Friday Center, Hamilton Road, and UNC Hospital, but that was not indicated on the ballot.

  8. FactChecker

     /  February 6, 2014

    Not quite right, Deborah. The language authorized by the County Commissioners does not specifically address light rail, but makes it clear the money is used for public transit:

    “One-half percent (1/2%) local sales and use tax, in addition to current local sales and use taxes, to be used only for public transportation systems”


  9. anonymous

     /  February 6, 2014

    I’d like to know Ms Hauser’s opinions on funding the schools and whether or not she is comfortable with increasing the CHCCS school tax if the constituents want it?

  10. many

     /  February 6, 2014

    FactChecker, Thank you for the forum.

    As Deborah has pointed out the Transit Tax was rejected by the voters then brought back by those on the OCBoCC who think their opinions matter more then the voters and taxpayers who elected them.

    How about these facts, eh?

    “The original plan relied on federal grant money to cover 80 percent of the cost to purchase new vehicles. Triangle Transit now estimates that will drop to 30 percent. State money, which was anticipated to provide 10 percent matching funds, is expected to be cut in half. Tallmadge said transit planners hope to continue with the bus service expansion by relying more on local sales tax dollars than grant money.”

    Hold onto your wallets folks, here they come again…………the emperor has no clothes, but he says he needs to pay for dry cleaning and LRT. You’ll have to pay extra for bus service

  11. All

     /  February 6, 2014

    I believe you have your quarter cent sales taxes mixed up. Is true the first one was rejected and brought back by the BOCC. The first one was for Orange County Schools and other county needs transit was not part of the. The second sales tax referendum for the expanded bus service and LRT was widely advertised-via many news articles and a number of TTA public educational open houses both in Durham and Orange County. The transit sales referendum passed handily the first time it was presented to Orange County voters.

  12. many

     /  February 6, 2014

    First there was the real estate “transfer tax” I think in 2008 or 2009 – rejected by the voters, then in 2010 there was a .25% sales & use tax….rejected by the voters, then there was a .25% sales & use tax in 2011 and I specifically remember being at the OCBoCC meeting on 4/19/2011 where the regional rail was discussed by Mr. Clifton and the OCBoCC as part of the 2011 tax – which passed in an off year election, Then in 2012 another .50% tax, plus a vehicle registration tax for light rail, at the same time promising money to expand the CHT bus system hours, BRT for MLK Bvld and an Amtrak station for Hillsborough.

    Fast forward, 2013; ParknRide lots are charging, CHT is underfunded, TTA money for CHT and the Hillsborough Amtrack station has not materialized (even though tax collections are greater than originally projected)…and TTA wants to spend 30 Million on another study……. Really?

    Now TTA is back in 2014 making local tax increase noises again (see above) because their Federal and State funding, based on questionable (in fact laughable) MPO numbers didn’t pan out. (shocking, I know)

    So here we are again. Starving our local transit system that works well for more studies on a 1.4 billion (yes, with a “B”) dollar farce.

    I hope the voters wake up this time and start asking the right questions for “Our Transit Future”.

  13. Diogenes

     /  February 6, 2014

    Ironic that a self described fact checker gets the facts wrong. As for the transit tax referendum being a “mandate” for light rail — looks like a lot of our citizens can’t remember whether they voted for schools or transit or whether they voted twice on the transit referendum. To top it all Marco Polos is proposing that the schools and jobs tax should be used for a county fair.

    No wonder Orange County has the highest sales tax rate in the State. Yes in the STATE. I’m sure fact checker will confirm that for us!

  14. Diogenes

     /  February 6, 2014

    The following post by Marco in November 2009 is a list of some of the other items he proposes to tax. This can be readily fact checked on the other board:

    “Local governments need money. Meanwhile items are sold locally that are a burden on the public and cost citizens money. Likewise for bad practices. One solution to balance these things out is to tax the undesirable activities and products, both to discourage them and to provide funds to help offset their costs to the community.

    Here are some suggestions to get the list started:

    1) Restaurants that serve disposable paper & plastic products (no dishwasher)

    2) Bottled water.

    3) Disposable cameras

    4) Electric billboards

    5) Night lights for private property owners

    6) Mobile billboards

    7) New wells in OWASA or Hillsborough service area

    8) Property owners that do not allow evening parking in empty lots.

    What else belongs on the list?”

    Seriously Marco — disposable cameras?

  15. Terri Buckner

     /  February 7, 2014

    Some of the anonymous posters on this board sound more and more like Squeeze the Pulpers with every new post.

  16. Diogenes

     /  February 7, 2014

    Thank you, thank you , thank you Terri for reminding us of “the pulp”. It was a sad day when those guys moved to Durham. Fortunately their site is still up so us pulp lovers can always ramble on over there for some much needed irreverence replays.

    They also did the best research of any board or press organ in the area. For example here’s their analysis of the sales tax referenda:

    “Admit it, the timing was brilliant. As one local critic wrote, it wasn’t “participatory, not inclusive, but [was] a highly effective mocking of democratic principles. The entire 2011 tax vote was less than those who voted for the tax in 2010. In 2010, 42,850 citizens vote on the tax. Every precinct had an election on which to vote. In 2011, only 17,562 voted, 60 % less. About one third of the precincts did NOT have an election.”

    Is it a coincidence that B Pelissier is questioning whether the BOCC can prepare in time for a bond referendum in a general election year. Better to have it in an off year — like the sales tax for example.

    I’m a great believer in Santayana’s maxim. Actions and statements in the past should guide us.

  17. bonnie hauser

     /  February 9, 2014

    I cant resist- Diogenes – you are so right on the tax referendums. The last bond was in 2001 (yup- a municipal election). When the 1/4 cent sales tax failed in 2010, it was put on the 2011 municipal election. And yes, now the county commissioners (over the strong objections of Earl McKee, Renee Price and Mark Dorosin) are exploring putting a bond referendum on the 2015 municipal ballot. Of course all the polls have to be opened for these elections -but since there’s nothing other than a referendum on the ballot (with no advertising in the county), turnout is low.

    So much for inclusive government.

    I’d add that I supported the 1/4 cent tax – for schools and economic development – but after it failed in 2010, I was pleased to see Earl McKee and Valerie Foushee take a principled stand, and vote against putting the 1/4 cent on the 2011 ballot.).

    Nancy – thanks so much for the column. Its quite humbling. So back at ya – I’ll start researching the numbers and the “urgency” behind the newest bond referendum. I’ll let you know what I find.

  18. Mark Marcoplos

     /  February 9, 2014

    Here’s part of a statement I wrote in 2011 in response to rescheduling the schools & and economic development sales tax referendum.

    “I’m uncomfortable with a government that is supposed to represent all citizens simultaneously asking the citizens to vote and communicate how they feel about this tax while unabashedly running a public relations campaign in favor of voting for it.

    6) This tax was voted down in the last election which was county-wide. Rural voters were less supportive than urban voters. Scheduling this vote for the upcoming election in which only Chapel Hill-Carrboro voters have candidates to vote for is a calculated move by the County Commissioners and staff to do an end run around rural voters. This is not fair government and it is a bad precedent to set. As good an idea as this modest tax might be, the ends do not justify the means.”

  19. many

     /  February 9, 2014

    This discussion is exactly where the kind of experience Nancy is talking about might have helped me support the tax. What exactly are we getting for our Article 46 money?

    Here is my read so far.

    To date the County has spent only about 25% of the tax collected and only about 5% on economic development. Why? As a taxpayer, I want to see that money put to work generating revenue, not just sitting there.

    4 million has been committed to extending the sewers for the Buckhorn development. The plan is for Mebane to annex Buckhorn and presumably the sewer system we both (Mebane & Orange County) just paid for. Along with some extra revenue for Mebane that development (hopefully) will pay the county back in taxes when development happens,. I know about Morinaga. that’s a good start, however now that the project is underway what is the projected payback period?