Chapel Hill News

Burroughs ready to learn, meet county needs

Commissioners candidate Mia Burroughs says she’ll use her school board experience to do the right thing for the whole community, even in the face of criticism.

The 52-year-old Democrat is running against Republican Gary Kahn for the District 1 seat on the Orange County Board of Commissioners. The seat is now held by long-serving Commissioner Alice Gordon, who will retire this year.

Incumbent Commissioners Chairman Barry Jacobs and Vice Chairman Earl McKee also are running unopposed for their at-large and District 2 seats, respectively. Both defeated Democratic challengers in the May primary to win another term.

Early voting runs Thursday, Oct. 23, through Saturday, Nov. 1. The General Election is Tuesday, Nov. 4.

Burroughs is a development adviser with the nonprofit Ipas in Southern Village and no stranger to controversy. Ipas is a global organization working to protect women’s reproductive rights, including the right to safe abortions. Burroughs also has been a grant writer and is vice chairwoman of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Board of Education, which earlier this year approved a controversial redistricting plan.

The native of suburban Philadelphia also has served as the school board’s chairwoman. If she is elected commissioner, the school board could appoint someone to finish her four-year term, which expires in December 2015.

Burroughs joined the school board in 2007. She previously served on the General Assembly’s Legislative Study Commission on Children and Youth and as a board member with the Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Coalition of North Carolina, among other roles. She has a bachelor’s degree in political science and Spanish from Duke University.

Burroughs sat down recently to talk about the election:

What is your biggest priority?

Burroughs: In my realm of human services, I’m very interested in the poverty initiative and seeing where that goes. I’m very interested in education, I’m interested in seeing that we take advantage. We have somewhat of a small window in terms of the growth of our student population, to see if we can do something about the older buildings.

I really am very interested – it’s a place where I have more to learn, but I think it’s going to be a big priority for me – in diversifying the tax base with economic development. In order to fund the things that I think are really important, particularly in human services and education, emergency services, all those things, you have to have the money to pay for them. We have to take a fresh look, and I think the county has been shifting in that direction over the last seven years.

What about recycling and solid waste?

Burroughs: Obviously, in all the areas we could possibly cooperate, we should cooperate, and there may be some areas where it doesn’t turn out to be so easy to do. ... I believe that we will need to consider a solid waste transfer station, and I’m hoping that when that happens, I know no matter where you try to site something like that, there will be people who are unhappy.

How will you balance your passion for education and young people with other county needs?

Burroughs: I think you just have to look at the needs. I know very much that I have a learning curve on the other issues. I’ll definitely be interested in taking a tour of the sheriff’s department, the solid waste department. Those kinds of things that the county’s involved with, I do need to learn more about that.

The other thing is I won’t be the kind of person who goes to the county and checks my brain at the door about every possible education and human services request. You have to think critically and analytically at what being requested.

Are there any budget cuts you might suggest?

Burroughs: Folks always assume government is wasting money, and I’m not going to make that assumption, but you have to look and you have to be paying attention to the details, in terms of how funds are spent and officially used. A lot of the county’s budget is pass-through money from the state and federal governments so there’s a limit to how much can be done there.

What would trigger a tax increase for you?

Burroughs: It’s completely determined by the needs of the people of Orange County. I am hoping there will be decreasing pressure on property taxes in the long run, but that may still be a while off. ... At this point that I won’t say I won’t raise taxes. I think that’s wrong. I plan to hear the need and evaluate how pressing it is, and then make a decision.