Margaret Brown, Orange County Commissioner, won election 10 months ago with an overwhelming majority of voter support. Her positions on long-range planning and social justice during the campaign are mirrored in her interview responses. She clearly hasn't changed her views and her active philosophy of government is the same. She is an energetic optimist and passionately believes in the efficacy of the bonds as a peoples' guidepost to the future for government action.
Q: Recent news stories reported that you questioned the very high cost of school construction. Yet 80 percent of this bond package goes to schools. How do you reconcile your questioning the money spent in the past and your current support of the bonds?
A: I support the bonds. But that doesn't mean I'll stop questioning the costs. The $47 million school bond is very reasonable but I will not stop questioning the high cost of school construction. We've been playing catch-up building schools in Orange County for the past 15 years. Overcrowding is a serious problem. This bond is an opportunity finally to do some long-term planning for our schools, so our children don't suffer in overcrowded schools.
It's very important that from now on we build schools that are energy efficient, that are built for natural daylighting. Developers should pay to build these schools, not the public. Studies show that children and teachers perform better and work better in daylit schools. And that we build our schools as public facilities with parks and recreation facilities surrounding them, or contiguous to them, so that we can address long-term recreation issues and schools at the same time.
Q: Do you support the full package of bonds. If so, why?
A: Absolutely. There are five separate bonds. This is an opportunity citizens have never had before in Orange County to plan for the future. It is the essence of the democratic process that citizens choose how their money will be spent, and these bonds provide the capital that government needs in order to realize our promise for the future.
I was on the task force that developed this bond package, along with 25 other citizens who represented all walks of life, in all areas of Orange County. For the first time, Orange County is offering citizens an opportunity to look at and to plan for the future of the county through the bonds, which include affordable housing, parks and recreation, and sewer systems.
For example, I think we have to understand that Orange County has not built a park since the Second World War. Our population has skyrocketed during those 50 years and we are very far behind in providing current recreation and planning for future needs. If we don't buy the park land now, we'll never be able to afford it. We've already lost a wonderful opportunity to enrich ourselves when the Meadowmont lands went commercial.
The public buildings bond addresses long-neglected needs as well. Some of our public buildings require serious repair. They were put on the back burner because we have only dealt with school construction in past bonds.
Q: There is criticism of the Efland sewer bond. One Chapel Hill councilman, Joe Capowski, said it wasn't his problem. How do you respond to that declaration?
A: We're not talking here about providing extras for people. We're talking about public health and sanitation. People in Elfand are living with outhouses and it's time we did something about this situation. We all benefit fundamentally when people do the right thing. There are a lot of outhouses in Orange County and something must be done to alleviate this situation. I believe our government must act. The tradition of community in this county is to help people in need, whether it be a barn raising or a loss by fire. When people are in need, we should all reach out to help.
Q: Is it true that passage of the parks and affordable housing bonds would leverage additional state and federal funds?
A: Yes, we expect that we will get an influx of money well beyond the $7.8 million that Orange County taxpayers put forward in these two bonds. We haven't built any parks in at least 50 years and we have never been in a position before where we can get matching grants, perhaps, for instance, under the Clean Water Act. The population increase demands this and we can develop a real vision for our future.
With the affordable housing bond, we have an opportunity to work together as a community to make it possible for a broad spectrum of working people to live here. This is the first time that the public has had the opportunity to support a bond like this. This is a way to put our money where our mouth is, to pay more than lip service to the concept of a diverse society.
Q: With passage of the bonds, how do you see the effect on people's taxes?
A: I don't like tax increases any more than anybody else does. And under certain circumstances, these bonds might not even require any increase; they only give the county permission to increase taxes if necessary. Under the worst case scenario, the taxes to pay off these bonds will cost the average taxpayer less than $200 over an eight-year period and I don't think that's unreasonable for the benefits that we receive.
Just look at what these bonds will do: build four new schools, including one high school, and complete another high school; provide money for parkland purchase for the first time in our lifetimes; provide senior centers and recreation space; encourage a diverse mix of housing opportunities; and alleviate a public health threat. The effect on people's taxes is minimal considering the positive effect on people's lives. Katherine Hines is a pseudonym for a well-known long-time resident of Chapel Hill.
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