Chapel Hill News

Kahn: Economy, budgets remain top county issues

Gary Kahn sees an opportunity in this year’s election to make sure the county is on track financially to meet its future needs.

The 58-year-old Republican is running against Mia Burroughs, a Democrat, 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.

Kahn is a contract retail merchandiser, responsible for relocating products within stores so they are more likely to sell. The native of Flushing, Queens, N.Y., has lived in Chapel Hill’s Southern Village community for roughly four years and is past president of the Vineyard Square Homeowners Association and a member of the board of directors for the Copperline Square Homeowners Association.

He graduated from the City University of New York with history and business administration degrees.

While Kahn also has worked as a political fundraiser and movie theater manager, his passion is politics, and he can be found at nearly every Chapel Hill government meeting and gathering. He unsuccessfully ran twice for the Chapel Hill Town Council – the first time in 2011, when the council chose Sally Greene to fill a vacancy, and again in November 2011, when Greene defeated him and nine other candidates to keep her seat.

Kahn sat down recently to talk about the election:

What do you see as the county’s top priority for the next few years?

Kahn: I think the way we handle our budget is a major issue. … We have to prioritize our budget, we have to go line by line to see where can we keep our essential services, and those nonessential services, let’s see what we can take away from (those) ... without raising property taxes.

Of course, economic development – trying to bring more business in – is part of the budget, too. Retail, commercial, get away from the taxing our residents and focusing more on (business).

What would trigger your support for a tax increase?

Kahn: I really wasn’t keen about the property tax (increase) for education. I realize it had to be done, but I hope that’s the last time we raise property taxes for education. I feel that we can do line-by-line budgeting to find ways of (supporting schools). We’re taxing the people that basically we’re trying to help.

(I might support a tax increase) if our reserve funds were low. ... We need to teach the public how they spend money, get closer to the community, because no one knows where the money’s being spent.

What would be your other priorities?

Kahn: Economic development. When we gave (the Morinaga factory) incentives to come here ... those are incentives I like to see. ... It’s got to be pegged to what you want to do, what you want to build, whether it’s really profitable enough. Let’s see your concept plan, and let’s take it for further discussion.

Of course, education is a big one.

What about ongoing discussions around the future of recycling and solid waste?

Kahn: There’s one common theme among all the discussions, and that’s let go to Hillsborough, let’s go to Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and ... let’s become partners to resolve this issue. … We have our recycling centers for people to use. That’s very important. What we do with our trash, there is some thought about a transfer station, a long-term possibility.

I think (pay-as-you-throw) is the best way. Some people have a lot of garbage, and some people don’t have anything, so they should pay for what they’re actually throwing out or for what they’re collecting. Probably for recycling, as well.

What would you want people to know about you?

Kahn: The fact I was a Chapel Hill Town Council candidate, went to various meetings, I was against the cell phone ban. … I’ve gotten to know the mayor right down to the dogcatcher since I moved here. I know all the necessary people to talk to, I’ve developed a very good relationship with all of them.