May 2013 Newsletter
Dear Neighbor:

  

It's budget season and budget hearings are next week.  In this newsletter, we'll focus on the proposed county budgets.  There's a lot to cover.  

 

So far, there are no plans to raise property taxes - but that could change, and important services are being discussed.  We realize it's a pretty dull subject -  but it's a great time to learn where your tax dollars are going - and what's changing.   

 

We'll start with an overview (Budget Highlights), followed by specific topics that affect the rural community, such as emergency services, libraries, trash and community centers.  If you take the time to understand this information, you'll be well prepared to add your voice to the discussion.

 

Of course, we'll start with upcoming events, including Dr. Jackson's talk at the Grange next week.  As always, we welcome your feedback.  

In This Issue
Upcoming Events
Budget Highlights: Challenges Ahead
Investing in Emergency Readiness
Fire Tax Increases Reflect Insurance Improvements
Library Strategy Could Include Rural Satellites
Walnut Grove Convenience Center Reopens
Soft Drinks or Alcoholic Beverages?
Coalition Forming to Oppose Randolph County Landfilll
Smarter than a Third Grader?
First Ambulance Moves Into Fire Station
Should Small Haulers Use Convenience Centers?
Upcoming Events 
  • Learn about Fracking (Tuesday, May 28th, 7:00 PM) - Dr. Rob Jackson of Duke University will discuss the basics and the issues about hydraulic fracturing or "fracking".  This is a unique opportunity for the community to get the real facts from a hands-on expert.  Schley Grange Hall, Schley Road, free. (For details, click here)
  • Financing our Foodshed:  Growing Local Food With Slow Money (Monday, May 27, 7:30 PM) -  Book reading by local author Carol Peppe Hewitt.  Hear stories of local Slow Money low-interest loans support sustainable farming.  Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, free.  (For more, click here)
  • County Budget Hearing 1 (Thursday, May 23rd, 7:00 PM), DSS Office, Hillsborough Commons,113 Mayo Street Hillsborough.
  • County Budget Hearing 2 (Thursday, May 30th, 7:00 PM), Southern Human Services Center,  2501 Homestead Road Chapel Hil.l
  • OWASA Open House (Saturday, June 1, 10 AM-2 PM) - Enjoy boating, refreshments, and a day at the lake.  Meet OWASA's new Senior Lake Warden Johnny Riley.  Cane Creek Reservoir, free.
  • Music for the Missions (Sunday, June 2nd, 3:00-8:00 PM) - Music, antique and classic cars from Timeless Cruizers (1:00-4:00 PM), and other family fun to benefit Union Grove Methodist's summer mission trip for hurricane relief in in Eastern NC.  Hillsborough Big Barn, $5 donation.  (For more, click here)  
  • Pot Luck for Justice United (Thursday, June 20th, 6:00 PM) - bring your favorite dish to learn about Justice United's action teams and plans for the coming year.  Binkley Baptist Church, Willow Road, Chapel Hill. (for more, contact Devin)

Budget Highlights:  Challenges Ahead

 

Every May, the County Commissioners discuss the county's finances and set the budget for the coming fiscal year which begins on July 1.  The county's $186 million budget will stay roughly the same.  The county proposes to draw $3.4 million from reserves in order to avoid a property tax increase.    

 

The Manager's Recommended Budget is online (fees are listed in the appendices).   Over the next few weeks, commissioners will hold public hearings and work sessions before they finalize the budget for next year. 

 

The county reminds us that this is the fifth year without a property tax increase, but that's a little misleading.  Not counting fire tax increases, two sales tax increases plus new fees and fee increases add $150 or more per household.  For a $300,000 home, that's like adding 5 cents to the tax rate.  Commissioners and the county manager control all taxes and fees, not just property taxes.   

 

Most rural residents will see an increase in their fire taxes.  Fire taxes are set by each fire department, and all the funds go directly to the department. 

 

The county has delayed two scheduled revaluations, so property tax values remain at 2009 highs.  (For more, click here.)   The good news is there are indications that our local economy, including local real estate markets, is beginning to recover. 

 

Schools

The manager recommends a combined school budget of $88 million, a $2.4 million increase, but $6 million less than requested.  Chapel Hill/Carrboro Schools (CHCSS) asked for an increase in the district tax, which is levied only on households in the CHCSS school district.  The county prefers that the school systems use their reserves.  The commissioners will decide the outcome based on public input and other factors.  

 

To contain costs, Orange County Schools (OCS) reduced estimates for a new gymnasium and addition planned Cedar Ridge High School.  CHCSS proposed a science addition to Culbreth Middle School, as an alternative to building a new school. These actions save money and help planners adjust to changes in growth rates for school-age populations.  For more, click here.

 

Capital Projects

The commissioners are facing major facilities decisions over the next few years.   Many large capital projects are vying for funding, and there is serious talk about a bond referendum and possible tax increase.  The county wants to move forward with an $8 million Carrboro Library, an $11 million expansion to the Southern Human Services Center, a $30 million jail and a $2 million Cedar Grove Community Center.  The business cases for these projects are under discussion, and plans are likely to change - especially for libraries and the jail.    

There's also talk about revamping underutilized office space in the Link Building and annex, the Whitted Building and other county offices.  The commissioners accelerated plans for a new $1.4 million meeting room in the Whitted Building which was partly justified as a shared space with OCS and the Town of HIllsborough.  OCS has since decided against using the space, but the plan appears to be moving forward.  

 

Commissioner Gordon asked for a facilities plan to clarify the needs and alternative uses for buildings and land over the next 5-10 years.  We agree. 

 

For the recommended capital budget, click here.

 

Trash and Recycling

The solid waste budget shows that costs are shifting as the landfill closes.  The $13 million budget, one of the county's largest departments, is funded from a mix of fees, property taxes and landfill reserves.  With the loss of landfill revenues, costs are being transferred to convenience centers and recycling, and fees are going up to cover them.  Plans to modernize convenience centers are proceeding but at a slower pace, and the towns have expressed an interest in taking over the urban recycling program.  Click here for more. 

 

The convenience center fee will increase from $20 to $40.  The base recycling fee will increase from $37 to $47.  The county will waive the curbside recycling fee ($38) until service and fee issues are sorted out later this year. The curbside recycling program will continue, funded from landfill reserves.  The county has not provided a long term plan for solid waste services, costs and fees.

 

Other
Other major functions (social services, libraries, animal services, the sheriff, others) have minor changes.  The budget assumes a small (3%) cost of living increase for employees.

 

The next few articles discuss services affecting the rural community.  

Investing in Emergency Readiness

 

In the wake of recent disasters, you'll be pleased to know that the county is investing in public safety - including rural services.  Following the recommendations of the Emergency Services Workgroup, the county is investing in 911 call center systems, radios and cell towers in the rural community.  The cell towers will improve service for emergency radios along with rural internet and cell phones.  The proposed annual budget for Emergency Services increases by $1.7 million to $9.3 million. This covers the county's 911 call center, ambulance fleet, radios for county staff, and other items.

 

Neighbor Libbie Hough is pleased to see the completion of plans to place Automatic Emergency Defibrillators (AEDs) in every county school and office. Contact Libbie directly to learn about how these lifesaving devices helped her daughter at Cedar Ridge High.  

 

You'll get more for your tax dollars if you direct link to emergency preparedness services, including twitter feeds on tornado watches at Ready Orange.

Fire Tax Increases Reflect Insurance Improvements

 

Most rural residents will see a fire tax increase to fund new fire stations and improve insurance ratings (ISO).   Fire tax rates are set by each fire department, and reflect a combination of service costs, value of property in the fire district, and the mix of paid and volunteer staff.   As new fire stations and improved ISO ratings are approved, residents should see significant reductions in homeowner insurance premiums. 

 

The fire departments have been working aggressively on these important projects.   Unfortunately, the NC Department of Insurance is swamped with requests and thre have been delays in inspections of the new stations and ISO plans.   The plans for each fire department are summarized below.  For more about your fire department, please contact your fire chief.

     fire dept table

Library Strategy Could Include Rural SatellitesLibraries

 

The county is planning future library services which may or may not include the rural community.  Today there are plans for a new library in Carrboro - replacing the library at McDougal Middle School and the Cybrary.  Budgets include $600,000 for land acquisition in the coming year and $8 million for a new building over the next few years.  Commissioners want to move forward but first need clarity on the scope of services, particularly since the new Chapel Hill library is just a few miles away.  Hopefully they will delay the land purchase until the library strategy is complete.   

 

Separately, rural residents are asking for "satellite library services" at rural community centers in Efland and the new center planned for Cedar Grove.   Ideally these rural sites would have access to the library collection (via online ordering/drop services), high speed internet services, meeting rooms and possibly a small children's reading collection.  These services are not part of the plan or budget at this time - but the full library strategy will be discussed in September

  

More citizen participation is needed to clarify how to best serve Carrboro and the rural community.  Please consider speaking up at budget hearings or during the library strategy discussions in September.  Or send your thoughts and ideas to the County Commissoners.

 Walnut Grove Convenience Center Reopensmodernize

Walnut Grove
Remodeled Walnut Grove Convenience Center

The newly remodeled Walnut Grove Convenience Center is open!  It's fully paved with compactors for trash and recyclables; guard rails and lowered containers for metals, wood and yard waste; covered stations for salvage, hazardous waste and other materials.  Staff is working hard to familiarize citizens with the new features and changes in routine.  So far, responses range from "highly impressive" to "big and confusing".  At $1.25 million, it's expensive.  What do you think? 

 

Walnut Grove is the county's pilot for a modernized convenience center. Based on performance, costs and public reactions, the county will determine how to best proceed with the other centers.  Budgets include $3 million to upgrade the other centers over the next few years.  Eubanks will be enlarged into an operation that's similar Walnut Grove. The other centers will be smaller.  

 

Plans are underway - so once you've gotten the hang of the new operations at Walnut Grove, let the commissioners know what you think. 

Soft Drinks or Alcoholic Beverages?

 

The Orange Partnership for Alcohol and Drug Free Youth is working to move flavored alcoholic beverages ("alcopops") out of convenience stores and into ABC stores. This includes drinks such as Four Loko, Joose, Sparks and Blast which contain up to 12% alcohol.   alcopops  

 

These beverages are popular with underage drinkers, and parents can't always tell the difference.  Since they are easily confused with soft drinks, and difficult to control in routine retail settings, the legislature is working on HB 782 which moves these drinks to the control of the ABC Board. 

 

For more information, contact Gayane Chambless at Mental HealthTriangle or visit the Orange Partnership website.

Coalition Forming to Oppose Randolph County Landfill

 

Orange County Voice joins community groups in rural Chatham and Randolph County to oppose plans for a new regional landfill.  Three out of five Randolph County Commissioners believe importing trash is a great way to make money.  In their enthusiasm, they ignored statutes, including the impact on low income and minority communities who already face the cumulative, disproportionate burden of a closed landfill, two transfer stations, a waste water treatment plant and other waste operations.

 

The coalition consulted with attorneys from the Southern Environmental Law Center and UNC's Center for Civil Rights for information about landfill advocacy strategy and environmental justice law.

 

If you'd like to work with us to find alternatives to landfills in rural North Carolina, please contact Nick Davis

Smarter than a Third Grader?

Penny Rich at EFES
Commissioner Rich speaks to Third Graders at Efland Cheeks Elementary School

Commissioner Penny Rich introduced county government to the third graders at Efland Cheeks Elementary School.  They didn't discuss budgets, but they had a great discussion discussion about local government, including its role in funding their school.  

First Ambulance moves into Fire Station!

 

After a year of negotiations, the first county ambulance has moved into the Orange Rural Fire Station on Phelps Road, and response times are improving!   Co-locating ambulances at fire stations is a cost-effective alternative to building standalone ambulance stations that are estimated to cost nearly $1 million each.  The co-location plan was proposed by the Emergency Services Workgroup, and provides an accelerated path to improve employee safety and ambulance response times throughout the county.

 

Commissioner McKee strongly advocated for the plan and is asking fellow commissioners and staff to support him.  McKee anticipates small problems along the way, but prefers to work them out rather than use them as an excuse to abandon the co-location plan.  Carrboro, Orange Grove, Eno, New Hope and other fire departments are interested in hosting ambulances in their fire stations. 

Should Small Haulers Use Convenience Centers?

 

The landfill closes on June 30th. As a result, small local haulers, such as Efland Trash Services and Webb Trash Services, have few options to dispose of their trash. These haulers use small pickup trucks and trailers that are loaded and unloaded by hand - just like many day-to-day users of convenience centers.  Most of them handle trash and recyclables, with pickup at the house (not curbside or roadside), a service which is especially helpful to elderly and disabled residents in the rural areas.

 

OCV and others have asked the commissioners to consider issuing permits allowing these haulers to use the convenience centers.  We believe a pilot will demonstrate that such a program would be safe and effective.  The haulers would use the centers on weekdays between 9:00 and 4:00, when traffic is lightest. They would dump trash and recyclables from Orange County residents only -  who already pay for the centers.  Large commercial garbage trucks or vehicles with tipping mechanisms would not be allowed to participate.    

 

Please keep your eye out for a petition to show your support for the pilot. 

Thank you for your interest and attention.  Budgets aren't fun, but they are part of OCV's commitment to equity in services and taxes for the rural community. The win-win occurs when citizens are prepared to engage in a discussion with the goal of quality, affordable services that make sense for everyone.  

 

Hopefully you are now better prepared to add your voice to the important discussion of services, taxes and fees.  For more information, please contact me directly. 

 

Thank you for your support to Orange County Voice and the rural community.
  

Sincerely,

Bonnie

Bonnie Hauser, President 
email me 
                                                                                               
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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