District 2 challenger Bonnie Hauser wants to improve school funding policies “to protect schools from growing uncertainty,” she said, and to ensure school building maintenance is a priority.
“I’d encourage the creation of a working group with representatives from both school districts and the county charged with modernizing school funding policies,” she said. “The group would research best practices in the state and nation, as well as standards and preferences from local leaders.”
“Ideally, the group would look at per-pupil funding for salaries and operations separately from funding for buildings. State, federal and local funding sources would be considered,” Hauser said. “Hopefully, they’d run some real numbers and model how changes and/or delays in state funding would impact local funds. They might also consider ways to best use school and county reserves.”
The initiative would take a few years to complete, she said, but should improve citizen confidence and working relationships between the school boards and commissioners.
Hauser, 62, also wants to re-invigorate the county’s economic development plans, emphasizing the Buckhorn Economic Development district along Interstate 85, she said. Taxpayers have invested millions in the sewer infrastructure for that district, Hauser said.
The county also should “bring solutions for housing, transportation and services closer to our communities,” she said, such as specifying where to build affordable housing, who would live there and how to make it happen.
This is Hauser’s second commissioners bid; she also ran in 2012. Her opponent, Commissioner Renee Price, also is a Democrat, so the March 15 primary winner will join the board in December.
Only District 2 residents, who live in northern and western Orange County (See map, bit.ly/245bP91), can vote in the District 2 primary. Early voting starts March 3.
See the full interview at chapelhillnews.com:
The $125 million November bond includes money to address about a third of the repair and renovation needs in both school districts. How would you address the remaining needs?
Hauser: I support the $125 million bond as a quick fix for school repairs. For the long term, I’d like the county to work with both school districts to incorporate major school maintenance projects into the regular 10-year capital budget process and to fund it as a priority.
To get started, the county and both school districts need to work together to critically look at all county and school projects planned over the next 10 years ($500 million to $600 million). With careful adjustments, the commissioners could immediately free up funds for essential school maintenance by deferring or eliminating non-essential county and school projects.
According to school, county and local business leaders, other ways to reallocate funds and reduce costs include:
▪ Use strategic contracting to reduce costs, improve quality and accelerate results. Rather than bidding each project separately, schools can solicit long-term contracts with qualified partners/contractors that specialize in school maintenance. These multi-year contracts would include clear standards and performance expectations, and factor in tax credits for energy efficiency and other factors.
▪ Estimate tax revenue from new development and designate funds for essential school and county projects. The tax impacts of the $125 million bond (5 basis point tax increase) can be offset by revenue produced from new development. More revenue brings more debt capacity.
▪ Consolidate county offices and sell underutilized land and assets to free up capital for essential projects. If needed, the county can take a more aggressive approach to free up high value real estate and place it on the tax rolls.
Have the county’s three economic development districts – Buckhorn, Hillsborough and Durham/Eno – failed to do what was intended? If not, how would you propose filling them with business or industry?
Hauser: Each district has taken a distinct direction. The Hillsborough EDD now hosts Durham Tech and a beautiful new hospital. Both properties are of high value to the community and are creating skills and jobs, but not taxes. I consider it a win for the county.
Buckhorn has had its first success, Morinaga Confectionary. It’s a great demonstration of collaboration with Mebane and Durham Tech. In time, the project will create nearly 100 jobs and produce about $500,000 a year in property revenues without impacting schools.
Morinaga sits on the western end of the county, in Mebane’s zoning jurisdiction. Despite interest in other properties in the Buckhorn EDD, there have been little results in the areas under Orange County’s zoning control. Zoning, cost and tax obstacles have been difficult to overcome.
What should the county’s role be in making sure there’s affordable housing for lower-income and working class families? Would you be willing to relax the rural buffer rules?
Hauser: The county controls housing in the unincorporated areas, and in places that there is access to sewer, the county has the option to increase density to make housing more affordable. That requires changing zoning, permitting and land-use policies. In some cases, especially with low-income housing, the county may provide grants or subsidies.
Most of the land in the unincorporated areas is zoned one or two acres per residence. These zoning requirements combined with the high combined costs of the land, permitting and infrastructure (well and septic) make housing unaffordable. In areas that have water and sewer infrastructure, and that have good access to schools, transportation and services, the county should explore relaxing zoning to allow denser development – assuming it is safe for the environment.
Every community is different. It would help to start with a map that designates where there’s access to sewer and where denser housing is possible. Communities, like Efland, want senior and workforce housing. Other communities want quality low-income housing that could improve the quality of life for many families. Remote areas that lack access to transportation and services are unlikely to be suitable for affordable development.
There are also opportunities to work with the towns. The Greene tract and county-owned properties could also be suitable for affordable housing.
I’d consider discussing the rural buffer with the towns. I believe the rural buffer has been an effective vehicle to contain sprawl, but some areas – especially the areas south of Chapel Hill and along the interstate – are under intense development pressure. I believe that a conversation is appropriate to determine whether changes are needed.
What issue would you raise during your first six months in office that no one else is talking about?
Hauser: I’m not sure whether other candidates are discussing a workgroup to fix school funding. Raising that idea is my highest priority. I have two other issues that are of high interest to me.
▪ Launching an initiative to work with Efland communities, landowners and developers to discuss a business park, workforce housing and other ways to encourage development.
▪ Bringing reasonable speed, affordable internet to people in rural parts of the county who don’t already have service. This is especially important for children who have online homework assignments and families who need better access to news, research and other information. Because the areas are rural and remote, competitive offerings are not readily available. There may be options to create a public/private partnership with wireless providers. This is a priority for District 2 families.
Address: 4301 Sugar Ridge Road, Hillsborough
Contact: email@example.com; 919-732-9316
Political affiliation: Democrat
Career: Retired partner, PricewaterhouseCoopers
Political activities: Orange County Board of Commissioners candidate (2014)
Community activities: Orange County Voice rural grassroots group (past president), Justice United, Maple View Ag Center, Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Triangle, N.C. Center for Holocaust Education Project, Project Engage, Orange County Schools volunteer