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Transit tax to appear on Nov. ballot

By Rose Laudicina
Staff Writer

HILLSBOROUGH – In a move that will let voters decide the future of transit in Orange County, the Orange County Board of Commissioners voted 5-2 to approve putting a transit-tax referendum on the November ballot.

“I’m very glad we have passed it,” board Chair Bernadette Pelissier said. “We owe it to the public to let them vote on it.”

By putting the half-percent sales-tax referendum for public transportation on the ballot, the commissioners are leaving it up to voters to decide if the county will have some of the funds needed to proceed with the Orange County Transit Plan, which was also approved 5-2 at the Tuesday night meeting.

In both instances commissioners Earl McKee and Steve Yuhasz cast the two dissenting votes.

“We are putting all of our transit eggs in this basket that is really so heavily weighted to a light-rail plan that provides just scraps of the real kind of transit that we are most likely to need in the foreseeable future,” Yuhasz said.

The Orange County Transit Plan includes expanded bus hours and service provided by Chapel Hill Transit, TTA and Orange County; route enhancements along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard; an Amtrak station in Hillsborough; and light rail that would connect UNC Hospitals to Alston Avenue in Durham.

“We have now approved a transit plan, but there are no monies in the general fund to do this,” Commissioner Pam Hemminger said. “In order to have this plan we have to pass this referendum.”

Triangle Transit Authority estimates that if the half-percent sales tax is passed in Orange County it will generate approximately $5 million in 2013 if active for the full year.

In November 2011, voters in Durham passed a similar half-percent sales tax, which will allow Durham to expand their public transit and help fund their portion of the light-rail system.

The issue of transit has become a contentious one for the county commissioners over the past few months, as some residents say the plan disproportionately benefits the municipalities, most notably Chapel Hill, and gives very little to the rural community.

“This is a great design for one particular portion of the county at significant expenditure,” Chris Weaver, a candidate for commissioner in District 2, told the board. “District 2 pays half the fees, but receives token increase in bus services. Why should the rural area pay half?”

Commissioner Barry Jacobs addressed the question of service disparity.

“I want to address this whole issue of who get’s what,” Jacobs said. “I won’t say I’m really tired of it; I will say it is a constant refrain.”

“Everyone gets served by Orange County government. You are all getting treated to the best of our ability, by the board of county commissioners and our staff, to be equitable and progressive.”

Members of the Chapel Hill Town Council – including Jim Ward, Ed Harrison, Penny Rich and Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt – were present at the meeting to show their support for both the transit plan and putting the tax on the November ballot.

In approving the tax, the commissioners added into the motion that the tax not be levied until an implementation agreement with Triangle Transit has been finalized.

Staff will work on the implementation agreement over the summer and bring it back in August for final approval.

  1. Chris Weaver

    Mr Jacobs it is a constant refrain and forgive me as I skipped a line in my text. ( I prefer to stare my public servant in the Eye than read)

    If the Second district was not always playing second fiddle to the first you would not hear it.
    If the Second district did not have a AVERAGE 45 minute ambulance response time…you would not hear it. (average means some calls take LONGER than 45 min.)
    If the second District had the total control over electing their Representatives …you would not hear it.
    THIS was my point Mr, Jacobs. As long as the election scheme in which District Two Representatives may be controlled by District One remains in place, You ARE going to hear it.
    ( I recommend utilizing state code § 153A‑58 (b) ….rather than (c) )
    As long as second district is required to pull the wagon for the whims of the county, you are going to hear it.
    You really need to visit the second district OUTSIDE of your normal paths. While you are there…ask “who wags Orange County?’ and then ask ” Who wags…(the first answer)”. What you will discover is the source of the constant refrain”

    Seeing as you have served on the BoCC long enough to be qualified for FULL BENEFITS there is an opening for you to no longer “hear it”. Step down or lead a charge to properly allow districts to elect their representative without outside district influence. As fair and equitable public servant attempting to “treat” the second district “to the best of our ability”….stick to the “equitable” characteristic….and drop the “PROGRESSIVE ” attribute. We understand this means advancing liberal control…and as you can hear the Second District is quite done being controlled and asked to pay for First District whims.

    We in the second District are NOT opposed to Public transportation. But being harnessed to pay for a Light Rail that absorbs such a great portion of the monies for a idea that appears nothing more than a UNC /DUKE employee/student shuttle is too much to bear.

    When the Second District hears the great bemoaning of Southern Orange citizens who cannot get across this 7 mile wide GULF of FREE buses, the maze of sidewalks in the First and hear of the ridiculous $2.50 Fee for a full run on the Light Rail, we feel the strap lines that cut into our shoulders. We check the weight of our wallets and purses threatened by more taxes and tag fees for transit(on top of the existing), and we lament the influence of thousands of Transient Student Voters who will be here long enough to vote for a Chapel Hill Choo Choo and OUR representatives… but then leave us to pay for it. You may consider this…sustainability…but it is NOT SELF-sustaining.

    Mr. Jacobs if you are tired of hearing the refrain, give the Second District control of our representatives.

    As a side note: It was the height of silliness to hear Penny Rich compare the needs of 60 thousand citizens in Southern Orange to Phoenix Arizona and their expensive Light Rail for their 1.5 Million people. That is the type of “equitable” comparison making that is headed to the BoCC for the next 4 years.

    Chris Weaver