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Responses to 2004 questions from the Chatham Coalition

By Mike Cross
Posted Friday, March 7, 2008

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Chatham County, NC - The Chatham Coalition leadership has made it clear in recent emails and postings that they do not intend to support me. That is certainly their perogative as it is their organization and if they want to go a different way in 2008, I welcome them to the race and I hope we can keep it issue oriented and positive like we did when we worked together in 2004.

I am posting here, unaltered, my answers to their candidate questionaire in 2004. On the basis of this they endorsed me in 2004. Rather than going back and forth on supposed report cards, I would invite everyone to examine my answers to their 2004 questionaire and decide for yourself whether or not I was the commissioner I promised them I would be.

Mike Cross, BOC Candidate, District 2
Responses to Questions from
The Chatham Coalition

Planning, Development and Environmental Protection

1. Would you make a top priority of passing the remaining implementing regulations of the 2001 land use Conservation and Development Plan?

Answer: Yes.

2. If you had been serving on the Board of Commissioners at the time of the final decision on the Compact Communities Ordinance, would you have voted to limit the maximum number of units to 1500?

Answer: Yes.

3. If you had been serving on the Board of Commissioners at the time of the final decision on the Compact Communities Ordinance, would you have voted to reject the waiver provision?

Answer: Yes.

4. If you had been serving on the Board of Commissioners at the time of the Homestead vote, how would you have voted on the application and why?

Answer: Disapprove. The land was zoned RA-5 for reasons obvious to a casual observer. Our county’s major water source (Jordan Lake) is already in trouble. The up coming Environmental Impact Study could have been required prior to the rezoning vote and if it had been, I don’t believe the rezoning would have occurred. The application would have become a mute point.

5. The proposed extension of water lines throughout the county potentially opens up the entire county, particularly un-zoned sections of the county, to additional high-density development that will further limit the water available for current citizens, while driving taxes and the county’s obligation to provide services up. What policies and procedures would you propose to preserve farmland and agriculture, preserve the county’s rural character and prevent sprawl in the areas where water lines are extended?

Answer: There seems to be a misunderstanding with the “proposed extension of water lines”. The 12” “Trunk lines” are a done deal. I expect to see digging and pipe laying within the next 6-8 months. The BOC has committed to this, hence the increase in county water rates to help pay for it.

The three Water Districts (Northwest, Southwest and Southeast) to be voted on 20 July are to supply water to people in this county who desperately need it. The humanitarian needs of our own citizens must come first. If you have not experienced the hardship of not having adequate potable water, you may not get it. I have and I do.

We will have to deal thoughtfully with the development that follows. The water lines will help draw development to areas other than the Northeast section and can improve the quality of life for many citizens who desire it.

The BOC is charged with guiding development to the good of the whole. The number one priority of all these concerns is that the citizens want and/or need water. As to policies and procedures-the Land Use Conservation and Development Plan-fully implemented-should provide adequate guidance for preserving and preventing sprawl.

6. If elected to the Board of Commissioners, would you oppose the use of spray-field effluent systems in the sensitive watersheds or rural areas, as called for in the Land Use Plan?

Answer: Yes. In sensitive watersheds.

Spray Irrigation (onsite wastewater treatment systems) is controlled by DENR, DWQ (soil test, permits, approval, buffers, inspection and plant operation reviews).

These systems are designed to be used where conventional onsite wastewater systems are unsuitable due to low soil permeability, shallow water depth table, impermeable layer or complex site topography. Chatham County has many such areas and this system may be the only choice available. These systems are also used in Pennsylvania and Virginia. The EPA claims they work as well as any other system and there have been no documented cases of health problems due to the spray irrigation of properly treated wastewater. The state requires a management contract and multiple inspections (monthly, quarterly, biannual and annual).

There are a number of questions I haven’t gotten the answers for pertaining to what is recommended by the EPA and what has been allowed (buffer, distances, fencing to prevent human exposure, etc.) by NCDENR. I will oppose the use of this system until I get satisfactory answers. I am long awaiting a return call from DWQ.

 

7. The solid Waste Advisory Committee has twice recommended against the placement of a regional solid waste landfill in Chatham County, yet the current Board of Commissioners continues to pursue this option in hopes of easy money from the developers of such a facility. A county-owned, county-only landfill, centrally located, would pay for itself after less than a decade of operation. Would you support a county-owned, county-only facility as opposed to a private regional landfill?

Answer: Yes. I have studied this issue, presented to the Solid Waste Committee, the Planning Board and the BOC. I strongly oppose a regional landfill in Chatham County. I don’t want Chatham County in the garbage business. There are too many unknowns with a regional landfill and the risks are too great. A regional landfill of any description would not be a responsible economic opportunity for our county.

8. Our primary drinking water source, Jordan Lake, is already identified by the State as “impaired,” meaning its water is not safe for drinking without expensive treatment. How would you apply the county’s existing local authority to safeguard Jordan Lake from further degradation?

Answer: The Environmental Management Commission, DENR-Division of Water Quality, the Triangle Area Water Supply Monitoring Project Partners (a coalition of local counties and municipal bodies to whom Chatham County contributes a share of approximately $8,000.00 annually) are looking at ways-limits-restrictions to reduce the nitrogen and phosphorus getting into Jordan Lake. Orange and Durham Counties expect a crackdown! I believe this is imminent.

Stop changing RA-5 zoning to accommodate high density housing so close to the lake.

A. What would you do to work with regional governments and state agencies to improve Jordan Lake’s water quality?

Answer: Maintain close liaison with the group doing the studies and contribute where we can. Demand sedimentation/erosion enforcement. Wake, Durham and Orange counties have sedimentation/erosion control coordinators and Chatham probably will have very soon. (See answer to question #10).

The collective effort of these coordinators can and should help us reach the results we must reach-clean water!

9. Chatham County currently imposes a $1,500.00 impact fee, earmarked for school capital, on each new home built, yet the cost in school capital to the county of each new home is over $3,700.00. And revenue from impact fees has fallen from over $1 million in 2002, to and estimated $866,000.00 in 2005, and 11.8 percent decrease. Other counties in the region are much more willing to impose impact mitigation measures at developer’s expense, and have seen no slow down in their residential growth. If elected to the Board of Commissioners, what impact-mitigation measures will you seek to ensure the burden of covering the service demands of new homes is placed on those who profit from building those homes?

Answer: We are actually very fortunate! Authority to impose impact fees is a function of the general assembly and the Home Builders Association has a very capable lobby.

Yet, Chatham County is 1 of only 3-4 counties (100 counties in NC) authorized to impose an impact fee. While we can set the rate-new homes and mobile homes must be at the same rate (currently $1,500.00) and apartments can be lower (currently $500.00 per unit). These fees are based on the number of students estimated to live in each type home. These numbers have not met expectations, hence the 11.8 percent decrease in revenue. We must be careful with this one. Higher fees may hold small house construction in abeyance as the larger homes will generate more profit for the fee invested and our Affordable Housing availability will suffer.

I believe these fees are passed to the consumer as opposed to being absorbed by the builder. We must protect our lower income citizens’ ability to become a homeowner. $3,700.00, added to a 20-30 year mortgage on a lower end home can virtually make home ownership an impossible dream for many of our citizens. I don’t want to do that! We need updated research and a new plan. I would pursue a reasonable sliding scale fee based on number of bedrooms, square footage or price and I would expect more participation from our developers/builders.

The final recommendation we come up with will have to be the subject of conversation at the state level.

10. Chatham’s lakes and streams are among its most desirable features, and feed into much of our surface drinking water supplies. To protect these waters, will you:

Support the extension of the stream buffer regulations in the Compact Community Ordinance countywide?

Answer: Currently buffer requirements are 50’ for intermittent and running streams-100’ within ½ mile of rivers and reservoirs. Totally in line with the Planning Board’s unanimous recommendations. I think the buffer requirements should be a factor driven by the property use and scientific review of the specific area in question. Adequate buffers can be determined to fit the project.

Support hiring local sedimentation and erosion control staff to monitor the impact of development activities on those waters and enforce stream buffer regulations?

Answer: Yes. The Public Works Department has a request in its 2005 Budget for a Sedimentation/Erosion Control Coordinator. The County has applied for a grant to pay 60% of the first year cost. The position will be fee based. Fees will depend on land disturbance, number of acres and borne by the builder/developer.

Although the state will reserve final say in disputed matters the Coordinator Office will be self-permitting and will have authority to stop a project if deemed necessary.

The budget is under review now-so we should know soon.

11. If elected to the Board of Commissioners, will you reaffirm the resolution to resist Cary annexation?

Answer: No. Reaffirming the resolution after our BOC just withdrew it wouldn’t get us anywhere. We-Chatham County-need to create a cooperative group committee with Cary and discuss common interest.

I don’t like the idea of being annexed and it’s not OK with me.

I don’t believe the state will authorize annexation without the consent of the citizens involved.

Will you seek to influence state legislators to pass a statute limiting the authority of municipalities to annex land across county lines against the will of the majority of the affected residents?

Answer: Yes, but it is my understanding that no one has been annexed without consent or against their will. I attended the Chatham/Cary meeting and understand these particular citizens requested annexation. They are accustomed to all the services, wealthy enough to pay for them and their “high taxes” will still be lower than they are used to paying.

Like it or not, we are now in competition with Cary to provide services or we may see more Chatham County citizens request annexation by Cary.

12. The US Environmental Protection Agency recently determined that air quality in Chatham County is below healthy standards due to high levels of ozone. Growth in ozone levels over the last decade correlates with increased numbers of highway miles traveled in the county. Traffic congestion in densely populated areas of the county is on the rise. Both these impacts of increased automobile traffic decrease the quality of life in Chatham County. What legislation or regulations would you propose to prevent these deleterious traffic impacts?

Answer: Traffic is certainly not the only problem contributing to our air quality problems. I have been working pro actively on these problems for three years with some actual success.

I would, however, use peak traffic loads to determine true impact of traffic when considering these applications. The newly required Peer Review for a Compact Community Application will give a good picture of traffic as well as environmental and economic impact.

NCDENR has adequate regulations to deal with this problem and I also think we will see some action in the near future.

Dr. George Lucier, Chair of our Planning Board, has recently accepted the chairmanship of the NCDENR Science Advisory Board on Toxic Air Pollutants and I don’t know a more capable person in this field.

13. Maintaining affordable housing in areas close to new and existing job centers is crucial to preserving the economic well-being of Chatham’s workers. If elected to the Board of Commissioners, will you require developers of high-density residential and mixed-use developments to set aside a significant percentage of the total residential units within the project boundaries for affordable housing?

Answer: Yes. Part of the base concept of a high-density residential and mixed-use development is to keep traffic to a minimum. Not including affordable housing on site would mean putting the work force on the streets. I would be looking for 10-20% on site affordable housing. With the CCO limit of 2500 homes we are providing a greater opportunity for developers to include affordable housing.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

1. …many Chatham workers lack the skills necessary to compete for higher wage jobs, putting the county at a disadvantage in recruiting small and medium size businesses. If elected to the Board of Commissioners, would you actively work with Central Carolina Community College and provide funding to enhance the Pittsboro campus Small Business Center’s programs for worker training?

Answer: Yes.

2. Will you encourage and promote collaboration with existing and potential employers to identify the skills training necessary to meet the needs of those businesses?

Answer: Yes. I would expect the EDC to identify the needs. The EDC Board of Directors are Chatham County businesspersons and this should be an easy task.

3. Businesses that would like to compete for state and private contracts require high-speed internet access to even place bids, yet the current membership of the Board of Commissioners has failed to even show up at meetings with service providers to discuss the possibility of extending reliable, low-cost high-speed Internet services throughout the County. If elected to the Board, what would you do to ensure the extension of high-speed Internet services throughout the county?

Answer: As is the case with all businesses, providing this service is driven by density of customers desiring the service and the companies’ bottom line.

I would push forward to explore ways to bring high speed Internet service to the county. This technology is changing rapidly and we need to understand all the options.

4. Lee County’s successful business park outside Sanford is reaching capacity, with new businesses still seeking to set up operations there. Meanwhile, the Chatham County Economic Development Corporation is not even advertising the sizeable county-owned property near the intersection of US highways 64 and 421 in Siler City, which is ideally located for a business park similar to Lee County’s. If elected to the board, would you seek to establish one or more business parks near existing communities to minimize the additional services needed to serve new businesses and make the accessible to citizens in need of employment?

Answer: Yes. Implement and follow our land development plan.

5. Would you work to enact a start-up funding program to encourage small business and entrepreneurs to locate in economic development centers and existing communities?

Answer: The Economic Development Corporation should seek and make available information for small business grants and low interest loans. We should look into an incentive plan such as was passed in January by the BOC for industry and include a livable wage factor.

6. The Chatham County Economic Development Corporation has advanced no comprehensive plan for economic development in the county: It has advocated for greater residential development, which increases taxes and drives farmers off the land; it has pushed for a program of tax incentives that does not require industries to provide high-wage jobs and good benefits; and it has not been active in community efforts to clean up pollution-generating industries in the county. The Chatham Coalition proposes a long-term economic development plan that emphasizes clean industry, quality jobs, educational and quality-of-life investments, and small- and medium-sized business located near existing communities. Which program would you support and why?

Answer: I am early in my process of understanding the role of the EDC and I need to do more research before I can decide my position.

7. There is a lack of transparency in the Economic Development Corporation’s activities to promote Chatham County, which has contributed to the lack of progress in bringing good jobs to the County. If elected to the Board would you push to revive the public Economic Development Commission and put the Economic Development Director back in county government?

Answer: I will push to revive the EDC; however, I think we would make a mistake putting it back under the county government umbrella. Detaching the EDC gave us non-profit status that provides greater flexibility to raise funds outside normal channels. We do invest considerable monies into the EDC each year, and we should receive quarterly progress reports.

8. Would you agree that when sites for economic development are considered, they should be discussed in the open so that people that would work in and live near the site would have the opportunity to provide on input?

Answer: Yes.

9. Would you agree that economic development sites should be in close proximity to existing population centers to minimize employees’ cost of travel and traffic congestion, and preserve agricultural land uses?

Answer: Yes.

10. Many of our existing industries provide low wages or environmental damage. If new businesses provide better wages and benefits, it reduces the human service demands placed on the county. Likewise, environmentally responsible industry doesn’t increase the strain on our infrastructure or public health. Would you insist that any business tax incentives be tied to providing high wages, good benefits and minimal negative environmental impacts?

Answer: I would insist on a responsible “living wage” and industry that does not further contaminate our air/water and does not create offensive odors.

11. Attracting and retaining high-skill workers requires the County to invest in high-performing schools and quality of life enhancements. If elected to the Board of Commissioners, will you support additional funding for: (Please explain)
Answer: A comprehensive review of all these items would certainly be in order. We do have to keep in mind balancing the budget and balancing our needs.

higher teacher pay?

Answer: Yes-where warranted. We have one of the largest school budgets of any county in the state. Retaining quality teachers is a must to ensure a quality education. They should be paid appropriately.

expanded recreational facilities and programs?

Answer: Yes. We have an approved recreation development plan with a map and I would favorably endorse funding to proceed with the plan.

expanded libraries and cultural activities?

Answer: Yes. On 3 May, 2004, the BOC voted 5-0 to approve raising one 36-hour staff person to 40 hours and the hiring of one additional staff person beginning 1 July, 2004.

Reliable, low-cost high-speed Interned services throughout the county?

Answer: No. This is a commercial market with rapidly changing technology. It would be difficult to ensure we are investing in a service that would not be obsolete by the time we complete. I would pursue making the regulatory environment friendly to providers.

12. Agriculture is the most tax-efficient form of economic activity, consuming less county services than any other land use. Chatham is the only county in the state where the number of farms is actually increasing, and the new farms are effectively taking advantage of the growing regional markets for locally produced and organic foods. Agriculture accounts for 39% of our economic output and 33% of our employment. Continued uncontrolled residential development will drive up taxes and reduce the ability of local agriculture to be competitive, slowly eroding this pillar of our economy and replacing it with service-intensive residential land uses. If elected to the Board of Commissioners, what steps would you take to promote and preserve our farm economy?

Answer: Agriculture is our heritage-the very establishment of our identity. I will do everything I possibly can to preserve our Family Farmer.
Open Government

The tremendous amount of money spent on the 2002 Board of Commissioners campaign, including money spent by unregulated special interest organizations and out-of-county businesses, and the fact that parties that made large contributions to victorious candidates have had their projects approved by the Board of Commissioners, has created a perception of corruption in our government among Chatham citizens. If elected to the Board of (Commissioners/Education), would you support adopting a county code of ethics which mandates that all elected and appointed officials declare their business and financial holdings and pledge to abstain from votes that affect their financial interests?

Answer: Yes.

2. Will you refuse to accept political contributions from out of county developers of large scale residential and commercial developments and screen your contributions for any developer or party with a relationship to a developer (e.g. attorneys, engineering firms, etc.) that is likely to be presenting a large scale development in the county?

Answer: No. I am well acquainted with some fine people who happen to be developers. I am married to a retired developer-one of our sons is in this profession.
If a developer agrees with my campaign positions and vision of citizen input and citizen oriented government, I welcome their support.
I can assure you-I am a man of honesty and integrity-every citizen of Chatham County will get the same commissioner. Financial support doesn’t buy any special consideration other than a sincere “Thank You” and a lapel sticker.

3. The County website shows a diagram of county government with Chatham citizens at the top, yet citizens frequently encounter resistance and lack of interest from top level elected officials and administrators when requesting information or action on a particular issue. If elected to the Board of (Commissioners/Education) would you actively promote an open, citizen-friendly culture within county administrative offices and mandate that all staff not conduct public policy negotiations on behalf of the county in private?

Answer: I certainly promote an open, citizen-friendly administrative staff but there are circumstances, as you are well aware, where public policy negotiations on behalf of the county are necessary.
I have been assured that the current policy is to conduct private negotiations only when directed to do so by the BOC. Somewhere in this equation-there has to be an element of Public TRUST. On the rare occasions when private negotiations are necessary, you can trust me to conduct this business with your interest foremost in my mind.

4. The County is served by a number of advisory boards staffed by dedicated and knowledgeable volunteers who wish to help improve the county. Yet a majority of the membership of the current Board of Commissioners frequently rejects the recommendations of these expert boards and fails to even acknowledge their expertise or opinions by explaining their reasoning for rejecting those recommendations. If elected to the Board of Commissioners, will you be guided in your decision-making by the recommendations of county advisory boards, and publicly explain on the record why you vote against those recommendations when and if you do so?

Answer: Yes. Déjà vu

5. If a significant number of citizens affected by a proposed decision of the County Commissioners express an consistent opinion regarding that decision, will you be guided in your decision-making by those citizens’ recommendations, and publicly explain on the record why you vote against those recommendations when and if you do so?

Answer: Yes. I will always be guided by the opinions and recommendations of the Chatham Citizenry.

6. Do you believe the county should hire on staff a full-time county attorney with expertise in local government, land use, economic development, employment and environmental law?

Answer: Yes. I believe we should hire two!
Today-we need a full time County Attorney to provide the services you suggest and I would add oversight of grant executions and contracts. There already exists adequate work to keep him or her very busy.

A second attorney could be kept equally busy with Health and Social Services Problems such as child neglect, abuse, and delinquent support.

Our requirements for legal guidance and assistance is far higher that many of us realize and as the county grows and develops we must be strong in this area.

7. The current public hearing process for conditional use permitting and rezoning applications is flawed, with public hearing typically coming before the relevant advisory boards review applications and conduct fact-finding. This inhibits the ability of citizens and interested parties to understand and meaningfully comment on the issues raised in such applications. Legally, in the case of conditional use permitting the Board of Commissioners may only consider sworn testimony provided in public hearing as the basis of its decision, yet clearly under the current schedule the Board reviews significant unsworn testimony in making its determinations. If elected to the Board of Commissioners, will you support altering the public hearing process to give citizens more time to become informed and allow them to participate in a more meaningful way?

Answer: Citizen participation is at the top of my list. Notification for public hearings is set forth in state statute 153A-343. method of procedure. Notice must be given no less than 10 days but not more than 25 days prior to the date set for public hearings.

I will encourage the 25-day notice. The planning Department can post a short synopsis of all applications on the County website-interested parties can get additional information as desired at the Planning Office.

The citizens can request their own meeting with parties involved and take their concerns to the initial meetings of appropriate committees and Planning Board. There may be a better way, and I will look into it.

8. The County Manager currently indicates that it is his goal to distribute Board of Commissioners meeting agendas to citizens who request advance notice of agendas 3 days in advance of meetings, and to distribute information packets to Board members including all materials relevant to the issues to be considered at the meeting 4 days prior to the meeting. Would you support posting on the County website all non-privileged documents in the information packet at the same time they are distributed to the Board?

Answer: Yes. This is driven by discussions with the BOC. There is normally a large amount of background information and planning documents.

Our current staffing level may prevent this from being possible at this time.

 
Related info:
Mike Cross' Weblog
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Responses to 2004 questions from the Chatham Coalition
Chatham County Commissioner Mike Cross shares his viewpoints with citizens on his weblog.


Related info:
Mike Cross' Weblog