Matt Drew | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week

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Matt Drew

Candidate for Durham City Council Ward II

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Name as it appears on the ballot: Matt Drew
Full legal name, if different: Matthew P. Drew
Date of birth: 12 August 1973
Home address: 1310 Copper Creek Drive
Mailing address, if different from home:
Campaign Web site: electmattdrew.org
Occupation & employer: IT - Web Performance, Inc
Home phone: 919-450-0037
Work phone: 919-433-1764
E-mail: matt.drew@gmail.com



1) What do you believe are the most important issues facing Durham? If elected, what are your top priorities in addressing those issues?

A truly fundamental issue facing Durham is the handling of our water supply. Three times in the last ten years we have come within weeks of being out of water. Our method of dealing with drought has been to wait and hope it goes away. What actions we have taken have been too little, too slow, and mostly ineffective. This must change, and we must take responsibility and deal with this problem before it becomes catastrophic.

My top priority in dealing with this issue would be to re-introduce pricing into our water market. We currently owe tens of millions of dollars on our water infrastructure, and the payment of that debt is dependent on price-controlled water sales. This is a perverse incentive that leads us to hold off restrictions until the last possible moment, because to do otherwise is to sacrifice desperately needed water revenue. This is counterproductive, as we demonstrated last year when mandatory restrictions were implemented with barely ten weeks of water remaining.

Other priorities in handling our water supply are: removing exemptions, speeding up the Jordan Lake connector, reducing leakage, and billing transparency. Exemptions, such as the one that resulted in Duke watering artificial turf during the worst of the drought, should be eliminated. The Jordan Lake connector is our future, but it will not fix our fundamental problems; we need it just to stay afloat. The Durham water system is a public, shared system, and our citizens have a right to know how our water is being used.

2) What is there in your record as a public official or other experience that demonstrates your ability to be effective on the council? This might include career or community service; but please be specific about its relevance to this office.

Computer system administration, at its core, is about connecting people and systems efficiently. I've been doing that for most of my life, and I'm good at it. Government is the same way: the law and the bureaucracy are the system, and they are supposed to be serving the people. I've spent most of my career in small businesses or startups, where there's no room for being self-serving or for avoiding responsibility. Your company lives or dies by how well you serve your customer. I want bring that responsibility and service mentality to City Council, especially with respect to our water supply.

3) How do you define yourself politically and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?

I could be described as fiscally conservative and socially liberal. My philosophy is one of personal responsibility and personal freedom. I believe that good government will encourage and enforce both of these things. I will always emphasize private risk and reward, private charity, responsibility, paying your own way, and limited government.

4) Identify a principled stand you might be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters.

I oppose the Federal stimulus program, and think we should refuse the money offered to us. If you had just lost your job, would you go on a buying spree with your credit card? That is essentially what the Federal government is doing, and we are going to be stuck with the bill. I'd much rather keep our decisions about taxes local, rather than sending money off to D.C. or Raleigh and hoping that we get some of it back as "stimulus".

5) Recently, the N.C. General Assembly approved a nutrient clean-up strategy for Jordan Lake, which will require local municipalities, including Durham, to pay for any necessary pollution-reduction measures. How will you work with the City's Public Works Department to ensure Durham's pollution-reduction goals are met, and how will you work to prevent similar pollution—and the high cost of state-mandated clean-up efforts—in the future?

We should address this problem by improving sewer maintenance to prevent spills and leakage, and introducing transparency into our water billing system. High volume water users are more likely to have high nutrient runoff, so we should start there with efforts to reduce pollution.

Jordan Lake will always be threatened due to its location downstream of four major metropolitan areas. It requires constant vigilance and significant effort to protect it, and further cutting corners only brings us that much closer to catastrophic water problems.

6) Southern Durham Development is suing Durham County for conducting a public hearing before changing its Jordan Lake watershed maps to accommodate a proposed mixed-use project known as 751 Assemblage. Supporters of the project say it will increase Durham's tax base, and call a public hearing to change the watershed maps an unnecessary burden on property owners. However, others question the validity of the survey and say the County is bound by the state's administrative code to conduct a public hearing. Would you consider annexing the property to resolve the matter, if Southern Durham Development requests that the City do so? Why?

No. The only possible reason for such a move is an end-run around the legal and environmental issues the developers are currently facing with the county and the state. Depending on private surveys with a clear conflict of interest is not the way we should be handling this.

7) Until recently, the City had a 25-square-mile "donut hole" in which no watershed protections existed. By closing the "donut hole"—which covered most of downtown—Durham lost an important incentive to attract downtown development and re-development, developers argued. What are your thoughts on how Durham can best attract smart growth while also protecting its watersheds?

The choice is between having enough water ... and not. I believe that we're well past the question of "smart growth" vs. watersheds. Additional development does us no good if we can't maintain our water supply.

8) Fairway Outdoor Advertising has proposed amending the city-county Unified Development Ordinance to allow for electronic billboards? Are you in favor of this measure, or not? Please explain your answer.

Yes. I do not believe that a dislike of electronic billboards is a good enough reason to use the law to prevent other citizens from peacefully doing business by advertising. I see no substantial difference between these signs and the ones we have now.

9) Last year, Durham voters rejected a proposed half-cent "meals tax" for local projects. This year, a half-cent sales tax for transit is proposed in the legislature, also requiring voters approval. But Durham could pay for transit and other needs simply by increasing property taxes, which some consider a more progressive method than either of the alternatives. Which taxes should be increased, if any, and for which projects? Will you support the half-cent sales tax for transit if the legislature enacts it and the county puts it on the ballot?

Squeezing our already-stressed property owners harder is not the answer, especially in this economy and with our current housing problems - the last thing we need is more empty houses. I also do not think that raising taxes, especially sales taxes that disproprtionately affect low-income residents, is the answer.

Our current transit system is in dire need of reform, not an increase in funding. We are subsidizing the current system by approximately five million dollars a year, and expanding it will only put us deeper into the red. If we cannot reform our current transit system to increase ridership and popularity to the point where it is self-sustaining, then we should dismantle it and look for cheaper alternatives such as bicycle rental services.

10) The FY 2009-10 budget includes cuts to many social services, while maintaining rainy-day funds necessary to maintain Durham's AAA credit rating. How can Durham maintain services for the neediest while also balancing its budget?

A good start would be to shut down the economic incentive fund, followed by transit reform. That would free up several million dollars to help maintain services. We should also improve our relationship with the city's private charities, which are robust and effective. We need to focus on what works, not what doesn't.

11) One of the focus areas for economic redevelopment is northeast-central Durham. How do you propose redeveloping that area and through what measures?

The best thing we can do for northeast-central Durham is to change our rules on abandoned properties. Last year the city processed only 58 abandoned structures, 16 of which were rehabilitated. When the city finally forecloses on an abandoned property, our preferred choice is to demolish it. This makes no sense when we are in such desperate need of affordable housing. We need to speed up the foreclosure process on abandoned properties and stop knocking down buildings that can be renovated. We can then auction those properties at whatever price we can get, in order to place the property into the hands of an owner who will commit to rehabilitation and responsible ownership. Non-profits which have the funds available for renovation shouldn't have to beg the city for hundreds of thousands of dollars just to buy properties before the city forecloses and demolishes them.

12) Assess the health and effectiveness of the city's economic incentives fund. What improvements could be made?

Economic incentives drive development in a political direction instead of meeting the needs of people. A perfect example of this is the incentives that we are giving Greenfire for the Hill Building project. We're encouraging the building of a hotel when we can't fill half the rooms we already have. How does that make sense? And if there were demand for a hotel, why would we need incentives to get someone to build one?

The primary improvement that could be made to our economic incentive program would be to shut it down. The citizens of Durham should be making these decisions, not politically connected developers working through the City Council.

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