Chapel Hill can do better

The 2015 election is one of the closest Chapel Hill mayor’s races in the last 20 years.

It comes on the heels of a series of council decisions that are transforming our town, and voters are looking critically at the impact the current mayor’s leadership and agenda are having on our future.

Many see a fundamental disconnect between the decisions being made by the council and mayor and the principles that are important to our community.Disconnect

I’ve served as an Orange County Commissioner, a Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board member and on many nonprofits, so I understand good governance. Our current leadership isn’t measuring up. I’m running for mayor in 2015 because we need better leadership to put us on the right path.

We need to ease residents’ tax burden by increasing our commercial tax base. Adding residential units increases each resident’s tax burden. To decrease your taxes, we must add commercial units.

While diversifying our tax base – now 84 percent residential – is an explicit goal of our comprehensive plan, the mayor and council have approved large, predominantly residential projects at our prime commercial sites, adding more than 5,000 new housing units to the existing 22,000 units in Chapel Hill. What will this do to our infrastructure, and what will we look like years from now?

Businesses that want to stay in Chapel Hill can’t find suitable space. Of the 200-plus companies spun off from UNC in recent years, only a handful have stayed here. As mayor, I promise to actively pursue new office and retail development to bring more commercial tax revenue to our town.

We need to make better financial decisions. For example, our leadership failed to secure commitments from Orange County before committing to road improvements in the Ephesus Church Road/Fordham Boulevard area, leaving Chapel Hill taxpayers to bear the $10 million cost on our own.

The current budget includes significant increases in town staffing levels, funding them with one-time development fees, and we are not yet funding our $56 million pension liability. These issues raise concerns about short-term thinking vs. long-term sustainability.

As mayor, I promise to use my business experience in balancing budgets to put us – and keep us – on a prudent and sustainable fiscal track.

We need to get the details right so good ideas produce good results. The mayor’s signature project – the new form-based zoning code at Ephesus-Fordham, which includes Elliott Road – was designed to spur and streamline redevelopment.

Unfortunately, the mayor pushed through a quick approval, even though his advisory boards told him the code wasn’t ready. As a result, developers are confused by unclear requirements, staff has requested more than 87 changes to fix problems, and the town is hiring a consultant to fix other issues.

OpenMind.pngAs mayor, I promise to have an open mind, follow good advice and make sure we’ve worked out the important details before calling for a vote.

We need to make real progress on affordable housing. The mayor has said this is a priority, but he and the council are still approving units on a project-by-project basis. We still don’t have an overall strategy or a plan for how to best use the new penny-for-housing tax.

As mayor, I promise to use my experience on the boards of Habitat for Humanity and Community Home Trust to create a concrete plan with specific goals so we achieve real progress in keeping our town diverse and affordable.

We need to listen and welcome critical thinking. Too often, the mayor and the council dismiss residents with legitimate concerns as anti-development or afraid of change. Thoughtful input from task forces and advisory boards is ignored.

As mayor, I promise to encourage discussion, welcome different points of view, and bring robust debate back to Town Hall. The best decisions are made this way.

We need a change. Your vote on Nov. 3 for me, Pam Hemminger, will make a change for better governance and a better Chapel Hill.