bee installation at Harry's
March 2011 Newsletter

Dear Neighbor:


Despite widely fluctuating temperatures, early spring in Orange County is a welcome contrast to a protracted winter.  As you enjoy the beauty of our blossoming native dogwoods and redbuds and, perhaps, your own budding vegetable or perennial garden, we invite you to check in on important events within our rural communities.

It's a time of budget challenges, with possible tax increases on the horizon.  There are important issues, both locally and at the state level,  that need your attention, support, and possible advocacy.       

For that and more, here's what's happening:  
In This Issue
Budget Season Brings Challenges and Opportunities
Special Election to Decide Proposed Sales Tax Increase
Landfill Closure Delayed Until 2016
Citizen Input Influences Impact of UDO on Rural Communities
Update on OWASA Forestry Plan
Action Needed: Nuclear Plant Costs to be Added to Electric Bills
Action Needed: "Fracking" is Coming to North Carolina
Action Needed: Legislative Listening Sessions on Outdated Regulation
Crime Watch Signs Available
Mark Your Calendar for the Piedmont Farm Tour

Budget Season Brings Challenges and Opportunities  


April marks the start of budget season for the county and school boards.  Expect to hear about long-awaited investments in economic development designed to diversify the county's tax base, making the county less reliant on property tax increases to pay the bills.

There are also plans to spend millions on county convenience centers and recycling -- plans that add new fees without restoring service on Sundays.

School funding, which comprises roughly 50% of the county's budget, remains uncertain, pending decisions by the NC legislature.  If the state cuts school funding, difficult local budget decisions will soon follow.

Orange County Schools has outlined its upcoming budget challenges and is seeking community input via their website:  click here.

OCV, through e-mail alerts and newsletters, will keep you informed about important hearings on budgets and projects. 
Special Election to Decide Proposed Sales Tax Increase

After a narrow defeat in 2010, Orange County appears poised to place a
% tax increase on the ballot in November of this year.  While not finalized, commissioners are leaning towards designating the tax for economic development and schools.  If approved, the sales tax is projected to generate $2-3 million per year.

The November 2011 election is a municipal election which covers town elections and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro School Board.  If the sales tax is added to the ballot, rural precincts would need to be opened for voting on this single issue.

For this reason, Commissioner McKee has asked that the tax referendum be deferred until the May 2012 primary.  The May 2012 primary is a countywide election, with all precincts open.

Rural residents overwhelmingly opposed the sales tax increase in November of 2010.

On April 5, the county will host a public hearing to solicit citizen input on the possible uses of funds generated by the sales tax.  For more, click here.

Landfill Closure Delayed Until 2016
 
The Orange County landfill will remain open until 2016.  This is partly the result of a reduction in the volume of the county's trash, but also due to the county securing a permit to make the slopes within the landfill steeper, allowing room for more trash.

The delay eliminates the urgency for the towns and the county to find an "interim disposal solution" -- at one time slated to be the Durham Waste Transfer Station.  Some believe that the additional time will allow the county to bypass an interim solution, in favor of a long-term solution to trash disposal, such as a waste-to-energy facility.

The downside of this decision is that the Rogers Road community will continue having to tolerate the effects of a landfill that is literally in their backyard:  disagreeable odors, vermin, and increased traffic.

The county and towns are discussing options to fund remediation for the Rogers Road community.  Commissioner Foushee has asked that such remediation not wait until the landfill closes, but begin now.

For more, click here.     
Citizen Input Influences Impact of UDO on Rural Communities     
In response to comments from OCV leaders and others, the Orange County Planning Board decided to limit the impact of the new Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) on the rural communities.  Initially, the UDO included a conditional zoning feature that opened the door for industrial development in the rural community.

The planning department decided to limit the conditional zoning feature -- called MPD-CZ -- to the Economic Development Districts (EDDs) and to rural community nodes, both of which are compatible with industrial and commercial development.

The commissioners are expected to approve the first phase of the UDO on April 5.  Community leaders have asked for an active role for the community in designing Phase 2 of the ordinance.

OCV would like to extend a special thanks to Commissioner Gordon, who worked with the community to understand the 825-page ordinance, and who assured that the deadline for public comment was extended so that all voices within the community could be heard. 
Update on OWASA Forestry Plan

OWASA continues to respond to comments from citizens and environmental groups, including the Clean Water Management Trust Fund and NC Natural Heritage Program, who, along with Orange County's Commission for the Environment, are asking tough questions about the impact of the plan on water quality and natural heritage.

 

Reservoir neighbors have noticed survey markers near the reservoir and on lands designated for future sludge fields.  OWASA has explained that the survey markers are part of a joint Orange County/OWASA effort to mark future sections of the Mountains-to-the-Sea Trail (www.NCMST.org).  For OWASA's full statement, click here.

 

Some residents have reported that NC Forestry representatives have approached them and suggested clear-cutting hardwoods and replanting pine. 

Action Needed:  Nuclear Plant Costs to be Added to Electric Bills 


Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers wants customers to pay the upfront costs to plan a new nuclear power plant -- whether or not it's ever built -- up to $459 million.  The NC Utility Commission heard Rogers' plea and Duke lobbyists are working to get this measure approved.  For more, click here .

Please make a few brief phone calls to legislators and let them know that we don't want to subsidize planning for new nuclear plants.  If Duke can't afford them, then maybe it's time to pursue lower-cost, lower-risk alternatives, including renewables like solar or waste-to-energy!

For more information, including a list of legislators to contact, please click here.

Action Needed:  "Fracking" is Coming to North Carolina

Gas companies are positioning themselves to extract natural gas from North Carolina farmland without regard to the dangers to wells and drinking water.  While not a threat to Orange County, rural neighbors in nearby Chatham and Lee counties are at risk.  NC farmers are not prepared to properly negotiate mineral rights and other conditions with gas exploration companies.

Clean Water for NC has prepared an excellent informational video that explains the risks of "fracking" to North Carolina and how farmers can protect their rights and their community if they enter into a gas exploration contract.  For the video, click here.

As you call legislators for nuclear plant funding and other issues, please remind them that much of North Carolina relies on well water and that fracking is too risky a venture.  
Action Needed:  Legislative Listening Sessions on Outdated Regulation
 
A joint NC Senate/House panel is conducting four listening sessions throughout the state to learn more about how outdated rules and regulations are impacting North Carolina communities and businesses.  Four sessions are planned in late March and April.  The last session will be held in Raleigh on April 21.

For meeting times and locations, click here.

 

For more on the committee, click here.

 

Here are some topics that citizens are planning to discuss at the hearings:

  • More local control over ordinances affecting public safety and the environment.  Today, NC legislators are interfering with the efforts of Orange and several other counties to limit hunting deer with dogs in order to protect property rights and public safety.  The state also controls permits over sludge, fracking, and other practices that place local communities at risk.
  • Blocking eminent domain for commercial use.  North Carolina is one of two states that has not blocked the Supreme Court's 2005 decision to allow governments to take land for commercial use.
  • Exempting NC farmers and local businesses from federal (food safety, finance reform) and state legislation that burdens local businesses with controls that are designed for large corporations. 

Please consider attending one of the sessions and let your voice be heard. 

Crime Watch Signs Available
 

To support community Crime Watch efforts, the Orange County Sheriff's Department is selling Crime Watch signs for $12-25.  For samples, click here


To order a sign for your neighborhood, contact Butch Clark
Mark Your Calendar for the Piedmont Farm Tour
 
The annual Piedmont Farm Tour will take place the weekend of April 16-17.
Gather up your friends, fill up a car, and pick a route that will take you to the farms you'd like to visit.  For more information about the tour, click here.

Stay tuned for more on budgets, tax increases, and fees.  In the meantime, please contact local legislators and support important advocacy work affecting the rural community.

 

Thank you for supporting Orange County Voice and the rural community.


Sincerely,

 Bonnie  
 Bonnie Hauser, President                  
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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.  - Margaret Mead
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