The Orange County Board of Commissioners spent Friday brainstorming and narrowing their ideas for how to best serve county residents.
The goals are evolving, Commissioner Renee Price said, especially around issues with which the county has been wrestling for at least 10 years.
“I think what this exercise proved is that some things are more of a priority now than the others,” she said.
Poverty – and how it keeps residents from having a better life – has been a common thread for many years, leading to the launch of the Family Success Alliance initiative in 2014.
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The alliance is envisioned as a “cradle-to-career or college pipeline” of government and community resources to better serve at-risk children. The first effort, a kindergarten prep program, started last summer, and officials are planning their next steps now.
“I see the Family Success Alliance as really one of our most exciting new initiatives,” Commissioner Bernadette Pelissier said, because “counties provide all these services, and a lot of them are really what we call the safety net. The safety net really just helps people, but it doesn’t really solve the problem and end the cycle of poverty.”
Economic development holds the key, commissioners said, to addressing poverty and community values while also promoting sustainable growth and generating more tax dollars.
“We’ve got to figure out how to pay for this other stuff, which is going to be extraordinarily expensive,” Commissioners Chairman Earl McKee said. The county is doing “better, we’ve got more funds, but those funds are still coming out of people’s pockets from their houses.”
He asked staff to prepare a comprehensive report about businesses that may be looking at a move to Orange County. Important decisions include the kind of businesses and jobs to attract and how to continue developing the county’s three economic development districts, commissioners said.
Partnerships – with the towns, UNC, residents and nonprofit groups – also are important to the county’s success, they said, noting the partnerships with Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Hillsborough are positive and headed in the right direction.
Other goals were:
▪ Ensuring a community network of basic human services and infrastructure that maintains, protects and promotes well-being. Affordable housing is a big part of this goal, from mobile homes to rentals and for sale housing available to residents at all income levels.
▪ Promoting an interactive and transparent system of governance that reflects community values. The commissioners talked specifically about better communication with the public and making the county’s website more functional and easier to navigate.
▪ Investing in quality county facilities, a diverse work force, and technology to achieve a high-performing county government. One suggestion was paying all county employees a “housing living wage” – enough so they don’t pay more than 30 percent of their income on rent.
▪ Creating, preserving and protecting a natural environment that includes clean water, clean air, wildlife, important natural lands, and sustainable energy for present and future generations.
▪ Ensuring a high quality of life and lifelong learning that champions diversity, education at all levels, libraries, parks, recreation and animal welfare. This goal raised several suggestions, including:
-More, strategically located community centers
-Free community college for all high-achieving students, perhaps funded from the county’s quarter-cent sales tax for education and the economy
-Building public support for a $125 million November bond referendum aimed at meeting affordable housing and school repair and renovation needs