Orange County’s schools face “unprecedented challenges,” at-large commissioners candidate Mark Marcoplos says, from needed building repairs to state and federal assaults on funding and teacher pay.
“Our school systems’ success is central to the health and future of our children, as well as the economic health of the county,” said Marcoplos, a homebuilder who lives in Bingham Township in southwestern Orange County.
This is his third bid for a seat on the Orange County Board of Commissioners. He ran unsuccessfully as an independent candidate in 1992 and as a Democrat in 2014. He joins business owner Andy Cagle and Matt Hughes, Orange County Democratic Party chairman, on the 2016 ballot.
Commissioner Bernadette Pelissier will leave her at-large seat on the board in December.
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All Orange County voters cast ballots for the at-large seat. The winner, since no Republicans are running, will be decided in the March 15 primary. Early voting starts March 3.
“It is essential that the commissioners and the school boards work together with a high level of collaboration and communication,” Marcoplos said.
“The greatest overall challenge is that we have clear needs to meet while also dealing with funding shortfalls from the state and federal levels,” Marcoplos said. “There’s no silver bullet to resolving the tension between meeting our needs and not overburdening taxpayers. We’ll need to make tough budgetary decisions within a transparent process, while communicating well with the citizenry.”
The county’s other priorities, he said, are economic development and affordable housing and poverty. The county needs to create new jobs and tax revenue by attracting living-wage, sustainable businesses to its Economic Development Districts and promoting local businesses, he said.
County leaders also need to look at building more housing – from homeless transitional to workforce – with a focus on rentals, Marcoplos said. The county is relatively affluent, creating an “ethical obligation to help” the roughly 20 percent of the population that lives in poverty, he said.
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?
Marcoplos: I think we will need a combination of reallocating some money in the operating budget and another bond. If our economic development efforts pay off, we could possibly augment those funds with higher tax revenues.
We will be engaged in some tough discussions. There is no short-term solution to getting this money that will not adversely affect some other effort or constituency. The process will be highly important so that everyone has an opportunity to understand the real needs for school repairs, the project priorities and the trade-offs that may be made.
I believe a thorough public engagement program should begin right after the November election. It should include an effective mechanism for citizen input. The priorities for the $125 million should be established by then, which will allow us to look forward and make specific plans to address what remains.
Q: 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?
The Economic Development Districts, while a long time in limbo, are poised to be utilized. I view the Buckhorn EDD as a good location for manufacturing and light industry, while the Eno EDD and the Hillsborough EDD are more suited for commercial use (and possibly some affordable housing). The cost of water and sewer availability is the current hurdle for the Eno EDD. I know the Economic Development Department is working hard on these zones and we need to continue that focus.
I am particularly interested in taking advantage of the fact that industrial hemp can now be grown in North Carolina. We need to help any farmers that are interested and also aggressively pursue hemp processing plants for the Buckhorn EDD. There will be hemp grown in North Carolina, and if we have the first processing facilities, we will greatly benefit.
The businesses we recruit should pay a living wage and have a strong environmental ethic.
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?
Marcoplos: I am committed to accelerating the creation of affordable housing. We are likely to have money available from the 2016 county bond, and we should collaborate with the Orange County Affordable Housing Coalition and local governments to get the most from these funds.
The county, Chapel Hill, and Carrboro jointly own the 169-acre Greene tract between the Rogers Road community and Weaver Dairy Extension. We should begin making collaborative plans for affordable housing there, since we could save on land costs, which are a large part of housing costs.
With each passing year, fewer residents of Orange County know why the rural buffer was instituted and how successful it has been for environmental, aesthetic, and public health reasons. We must remind folks of its history and benefits and commit to its preservation.
I am open to some minor tweaking that would benefit us without affecting the overall value of the rural buffer. An example of this is the Chapel Hill operations center that is located on the edge of the rural buffer near I-40. Such compromises should be minor and thoroughly discussed. I will not allow the integrity of the environment or a community to be adversely affected.
Q: What issue would you raise during your first six months in office that no one else is talking about?
Orange County needs to do a better job of taking care of its own trash. We need to stop wasting money and polluting the air trucking our waste to out-of-county transfer stations by siting our own transfer station. I visited the transfer station in east Durham where some of our waste goes. It is not a high-impact facility, and I am confident that, by utilizing a common sense siting process and good design, we can have our own station.
I also visited one of the landfills where our trash is eventually buried. It is a hundred miles away in a poor African-American community in Sampson County. While we pride ourselves on finally addressing the concerns of the Rogers Road neighborhood, we are adversely impacting a poorer community which is out of sight and out of mind. This is unethical, and we need to do better.
Meet the candidate
Name: Mark Marcoplos
Address: Southern Trail, Chapel Hill
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 919-524-6287
Party affiliation: Democrat
Career: owner, Marcoplos Construction
Political activities: Three-time county commissioners candidate
Community activities: Orange County Housing Authority; former member of the Economic Development Commission, Orange Water and Sewer Authority Board of Directors and the county Planning Board.