The county’s public school, affordable housing and economic development needs “are interrelated and interdependent,” incumbent Commissioner Renee Price said.
The county has intensified its efforts to realize economic development plans and build a diverse base of retail, manufacturing, service and professional industries, Price said. She pledged to advocate for more support of small businesses and family farms, as well as greater outreach about the county’s Small Business Loan, Business Investment Grant and Agriculture Economic Development Grant programs.
She also would encourage larger enterprises and institutions “to remain as vital parts of the economic fabric,” Price said. “Orange County should further its efforts to attract and retain businesses that provide living-wage and salaried jobs to unemployed and underemployed residents,” she said.
“Meanwhile, we should continue our relationship with Durham Technical Community College to assure a ready workforce and support public schools in teaching STEM and STEAM courses to prepare our youth for a competitive edge in the global economy,” she said. “I hope we continue along these trajectories so that people can afford to live in decent housing, and so that we have a tax base to support excellent schools.
Price, 62, is facing a challenge from community organizer Bonnie Hauser for her District 2 seat – representing northern and western Orange County (See map, bit.ly/245bP91). Only District 2 residents can vote for candidates in the District 2 primary.
The winner, since no Republicans are running, will be elected March 15. 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?
Price: The BOCC and the two school boards, even now, are contemplating ways and means to finance the existing renovation and repair needs of our aging school buildings, as well as the future needs for new construction. One possibility for addressing the remaining needs would be to maintain line items in the Capital Investment Plan for school facilities. Another potential source of funding would be the issuance of another bond for schools in another decade or so.
In addition to county revenues, elected officials and staff (also) should continue to work with our state legislative delegation to restore the promised level of lottery funds to counties for our schools. The N.C. Association of County Commissioners has been lobbying the General Assembly to restore the educational lottery funds for a number of years, as a priority, and I would recommend that Orange County remain active with and supportive of this organization and its efforts.
Furthermore, we need to consider future trends, including average daily membership and residential development patterns. Such observations plus land availability and feasibility studies will help determine whether to fund new facilities or add to existing schools.
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?
Price: The designated economic development districts are "a work in progress." While the county has deviated from the original intentions over time, good planning is supposed to be long term and flexible. I therefore refrain from declaring them as failures.
Morinaga America Foods is now in operation in the Buckhorn EDD, and other industries are showing interest in locating in the area. Much credit goes to Director Steve Brantley, Yvonne Scarlett and the rest of the Economic Development team for making this happen. I would support additional light manufacturing and similar industries for this area.
In Hillsborough, the Waterstone Business Park is now home to the UNC Medical Center and UNC Hospital, joining the Orange County campus of Durham Technical Community College. These institutions should serve as anchors for small-scale retail and food enterprises, as well as medical and health-related businesses.
The Durham/Eno EDD was drawn in part because of existing industries, yet progress in developing the site has been slow. Notably, the area also has an established residential neighborhood and other scattered homes. I therefore would propose that the district be re-conceptualized to contain mixed-use developments, office parks and compatible commercial uses – thus protecting the residential uses while allowing economic growth.
What should the county’s role be in making sure there is affordable housing for lower-income and working class families? Would you be willing to relax the rural buffer rules?
Price: The county should assure that all individuals and families have safe and decent places to live, regardless of income. We live in a county known for its affluence, as well as a nation known for its affluence, and to have people living in substandard housing or no housing is absolutely unacceptable. The role of county government should be to collaborate with the municipalities and partner with the nonprofit and private sectors to secure the funds, land, buildings and other resources necessary to provide affordable housing for lower-income and working families.
This year, the commissioners will be placing a bond referendum on the November ballot, in acknowledgment of our responsibility to provide for the public good. I hope that voters will approve the proposed bond, which will allocate $5 million to affordable housing. In addition, I will advocate that at least $1 million each year for the next five years be appropriated to housing from the operating budget address non-capital needs such as rental assistance.
Regarding the rural buffer, and other unincorporated areas, I am willing to relax the rules to allow for cluster development of smaller homes, provided that natural resources are conserved and the rural character is preserved.
What issue would you raise during your first six months in office that no one else is talking about?
Price: I doubt an issue exists that no one else ever has mentioned. One issue that I think needs broader consideration is disaster preparedness and resiliency. While a few neighborhoods have organized – Efland being an example – the county as a whole should address safety and security in cases of widespread emergency situations.
The BOCC has a communications plan with law enforcement, emergency services, other elected officials and media. Fire departments, rescue services and utility companies inherently have response plans. The public information officer issues press releases about emergency kits. What we lack is a coherent concept or strategy on mobilization for the general public.
We can say that wild fires, contaminated water supplies, dangerous heat waves are unlikely in our region, yet if such events do occur, we have no remedial or evacuation plan. We know that climate change is affecting the way we live, yet we have given no consideration to population migrations as global warming forces people from their homelands to seek refuge and new homes in foreign places, such as Orange County.
I want to further the conversation of countywide preparedness and resiliency in a public forum to the extent possible given security issues.
Address: 1701 Riverside Drive, Hillsborough
Contact: email@example.com; 919-619-1139
Political affiliation: Democrat
Career: Co-founder/project director, Free Spirit Freedom Institute and Gallery
Political activities: Orange County Board of Commissioners (2012-16)
Community activities: Orange County Commission for the Environment, Hillsborough Arts Council, Orange Unified Transportation Board, Orange County Historic Preservation Commission, Orange County Planning Board, Orange County Human Rights Commission