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June 2012 Newsletter
Dear Neighbor:

School's out and the Primary has come and gone, so we hope you're settling in for a relaxing North Carolina summer.  Grab your favorite chair and a glass of iced tea.  Here's a nice, long newsletter to bring you up to date on happenings in rural Orange County.  
In This Issue
Upcoming Events
Sales Tax for Transit on November Ballot
Communication and Cooperation on EMS Saves Money
No County Property Tax Increases--but watch out for fees
Motorist-Cyclist Guidelines for Rural Roads
Bingham Residents Question Mountains-to-Sea Trail Routing
Walnut Grove Convenience Center Upgrades Delayed
New Hanover County Approves First NC Waste-to-Energy Facility
Update on Fracking from NC Rep. Pricey Harrison
Primary Election Results: Incumbent Commissioners Lose, School Board Wins

Upcoming Events

  • Paws 4 Ever celebrates its 50th year at this year's Backyard Jam and Barbecue, Saturday, June 16, 6:30-10:00, at the Paws 4 Ever Learning Center on Nicks Road.  $20 in advance, $25 at the door.  For more, click here.  
  • Mountains-to-Sea Trail Briefing.  Orange County is hosting an informal session on plans for NC's Mountains-to-Sea Trail in Orange County.  Tuesday, June 26, 6:00-8:00, Orange County Library, Margaret Lane, Hillsborough.  

Sales Tax for Transit on November Ballot

The Orange County Commissioners voted to place a  -cent sales tax on the November ballot.  If approved, the tax will help fund transit in Orange County, including additional bus service, an Amtrack station in Hillsborough, and a light rail line from Durham to the UNC hospitals.  Details of the plan's funding and implementation will be finalized over the summer.

In addition to the sales tax, the plan calls for a $10 increase in vehicle registration fees.  County property taxes will not be used to fund the plan.

OCV supports transit in principle, but we believe that there are problems with the plan.  Proposed services are not integrated, and over 90% of the funding is designated for a single light rail line.  Wake County--the biggest transit user by far--is not part of the plan.

 

We're working with leaders throughout the county to find ways to improve the plan and educate the public on its specifics. There is interest in more bus service.  Also, there are questions about the proper fit for light rail, given the size and density of the county's population, as well as the changing pattern of development.  We will keep you informed as details unfold.  

 

For more on the board's decision, click here.   If you'd like to work with us on education and advocacy, please contact Bonnie

Communication and Cooperation for EMS Saves Money

 

Led by Commissioner Earl McKee, the Emergency Services Workgroup has made substantial progress in emergency communications and cooperation, while at the same time saving taxpayers money.  For starters, the workgroup confirmed the county's plan to add resources such as channels and repeaters to communication towers to improve service and reduce radio outages in buildings.  Additionally, they corrected a plan for radio purchases, saving taxpayers about $500,000.

The workgroup also approved a flexible contract template that begins to address insurance problems faced by many homeowners in the county.  The template allows fire departments to adjust insurance lines so that homeowners benefit from their proximity to the closest fire station, even if it is in another fire district.  Chapel Hill and Carrboro fire departments have yet to agree to similar contracts, causing rural communities located to the south of Chapel Hill and Carrboro to have continuing issues with insurance coverage and rates.  The workgroup is exploring options to address coverage in these southern communities.

And there's more!  The county plans to place an ambulance substation in the northern part of the county.  Orange Rural Fire Department will allow the county to share its fire station on Phelps Road, thereby avoiding the need to spend $500,000 for a standalone ambulance substation.  This substation should improve response times for residents in northern Orange County.

Over the summer, the workgroup, in conjunction with the county's consultant, will develop additional improvements to emergency operations. 

No County Property Tax Increases--but watch out for fees  

 

Kudos to the county commissioners for helping the school boards with shortfalls in state funding -- without increasing property taxes.  The BoCC increased school funding by $65 per pupil.  Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools had asked for $67 per pupil; Orange County Schools for $227 per pupil.

 

But, you'd better pay your animal license fees on time!  There are new licensing fees for puppies and a new $5 late fee for animal licenses.  There's also a $10 increase in convenience center fees ($20 total), which is in addition to fees for recycling ($37) and curbside recycling ($38) and property taxes for convenience centers.   For more on county budgets, click here.

 

Orange Grove Fire Department will increase its fire tax rate from $4.08 to $5.00 in order to help pay for its new fire station on Rocky Ridge. This amounts to an increase of $18.40 for a $200,000 home. At $5.00, Orange Grove ranks among the lowest fire tax rates in the county. All other fire taxes are unchanged.

The Town of Hillsborough is planning a 6-cent tax increase. For more, click here.  Chapel Hill and Carrboro are still undecided about tax increases.
 
The good news is that after three years without an increase, county employees will receive a cost-of-living increase, as well as performance bonuses.  Teachers will not receive an increase in pay, although the school boards are exploring options to provide bonuses for teachers.
 
The commissioners also chose to postpone the property tax revaluation; property values will remain the same, for now.
Motorist-Cyclist Guidelines for Rural Roads

OCV and Carolina Tarwheels have developed guidelines for motorists and cyclists who use and enjoy our rural roads.  The guidelines are intended to improve road safety for everyone and encourage cooperation between motorists and cyclists.

We are seeking the support of local government, faith, and community organizations.  So far, we have the support of Orange County's Transportation Advisory Board, Chapel Hill's Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board, and Maple View Farm.   

To view the guidelines, click here.  If you would like to add your group's support or help distribute the guidelines, please contact Gail.
Bingham Residents Question Mountains-to-Sea Trail Routing

Despite widespread enthusiasm for North Carolina's Mountains-to-Sea Trail, there is growing concern that the trail will impinge on unsuspecting rural neighborhoods.  This issue surfaced when residents who live on the north side of Cane Creek Reservoir discovered county staff and volunteers from Friends of Mountains-to-the-Sea Trail (MST) marking trails near their homes.

The neighbors have asked for a public dialogue on the county's plan for routing the trail in Bingham Township.  Commissioners are expected to place the topic on their agenda in the fall. 
Walnut Grove Convenience Center Upgrades Delayed
 
The county has chosen to rebid the project to upgrade the Walnut Grove Convenience Center after the initial bids came in at close to $1.5 million--$200,000-300,000 over the estimated cost.  The rebid will delay the project until winter.  For more, click here.

Walnut Grove is the first of five centers to be upgraded for a total project cost of nearly $4 million plus consultant fees. The upgrades add compactors, paving and additional services. 

Leading vendors such as Waste Industries and Republic can provide the upgrades at a substantial savings to taxpayers.  Vendors operate hundreds of state-of-the art convenience centers in the area and will offer proposals, if the county seeks them.
New Hanover County Approves First NC Waste-to-Energy Facility
 
After a small, local consultant failed to resurrect its mass burn facility, New Hanover County, with the help of GBB Consultants, has announced that it will hire Convanta Energy to renovate its 150,000 ton per year facility, and produce energy from waste.  This project is an exciting milestone in moving North Carolina toward alternatives to landfills.  For more, click here.
Update on Fracking from NC Rep. Pricey Harrison

June 5, 2012 was Frack-Free NC Lobby Day, and a number of concerned citizens, activists, and public health advocates tried their best to slow down SB 820, a bill that would legalize natural gas fracking in NC.  The bill lifts the ban on horizontal drilling, preempts local controls on drilling sites and practices, and turns regulations over to a mining board where 7 of the 9 members represent industry.  The bill was approved by the Senate on the very day that the U.S. Geological Survey reported that NC's shale gas deposits are 1/8 of what was once anticipated.

Fracking is a controversial and complex issue, and no state has gotten it right.  Fracking is exempt from federal safeguards, including clean water, clean air, and hazardous waste productions, so it is important that NC get it right.  Reports suggest that industry will not be exploring and extracting NC's resources for 20 years, so there is plenty of time to consider the issue.  It makes no sense to rush this legislation without more deliberation and public input.  
Primary Election Results: Incumbent Commissioners Lose, School Board Wins

The May Primary Election brought significant changes to the Board of County Commissioners, while the Orange County School Board received a big "thumbs up" from voters.

District 2 incumbent commissioner Steve Yuhasz lost to Renee Price.  Price will meet Republican challenger Chris Weaver in November.  District 1 incumbents Pam Hemminger and Valerie Foushee will be replaced by Chapel Hill Town Council member Penny Rich and former Carrboro Alderman Mark Dorosin.

District 2 covers the rural parts of the county, corresponding roughly to the Orange County School District; District 1 covers Chapel Hill and Carrboro.  May's Primary Election was by district; November's General Election is at large, with all voters choosing District 1 and District 2 commissioners.

District 1 Commissioner Hemminger lost in a close election; Commissioner Foushee stepped down to run for House Seat 50, currently held by Rep. Bill Faison.  Commissioner Foushee won the nomination of the Democratic Party and will face Republican Rod Chaney in November.

District 1 candidates Rich and Dorosin will run unopposed in the November election.  Democrat Renee Price will face Republican Chris Weaver.  Incumbent Democrat Bernadette Pelissier will face Republican Mary Carter.

Incumbent Orange County School Board members Steve Halkiotis and Tony McKnight won easily in a four-way race.  Lawrence Sanders will join the board, replacing Eddie Eubanks who is stepping down.

For a closeup on how Orange County voted in May's primary, click here.   
 
That's it for now!  We are not planning another formal newsletter until the fall, but will certainly alert you if important issues crop up as the summer progresses.  In the meantime, we'll be working on community services, including a County Hall that will be announced shortly.

If you have questions or want to learn more about our work, please contact me directly at bonnie@OrangeCountyVoice.org.

Have a wonderful summer in rural Orange County! 

 
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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