Steve Yuhasz | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week

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Steve Yuhasz

Candidate for Orange Board of County Commissioners


Name as it appears on the ballot: Steve Yuhasz

Full legal name, if different: Steve Frank Yuhasz

Date of birth: February 10, 1951

Campaign website:

Occupation & employer: Land Surveyor at ENT Land Surveys, Inc. / Attorney at The Law Office of Steve F. Yuhasz, PLLC

Years lived in Orange County: 34


1. What are the three most important issues facing Orange County? If elected, what are your top three priorities in addressing those issues?

A. Financing government. Orange County has a long history of providing services to our residents. Exceptional public school systems, award-winning programs for our aging population, and protection of the environment through conservation and acquisition are only some of the services supported by county government. The economic conditions of the last several years have demonstrated that we can not continue to finance these programs on residential property taxes alone. We must broaden our tax base to include a much greater proportion of non-residential properties. We must also increase the number and variety of commercial ventures and retail outlets in Orange County. This will encourage county residents to spend their shopping and entertainment dollars here, generating sales tax revenue that will be used to support local initiatives.

If re-elected, I will continue to encourage our economic development efforts. We are committed to the installation of water/sewer infrastructure in our economic development districts, and I want to see that commitment fulfilled. I will support ongoing efforts to streamline and simplify the development approval processes that in the past have sometimes discouraged businesses interested in locating or expanding in Orange County. I will encourage improvements to other infrastructure needs, including high-speed internet and wireless communications facilities.

B. Solid Waste. Orange County is a justifiably proud of its efforts in reducing the amount of waste generated. The countywide recycling program has been remarkably effective in approaching the goal of a 61% reduction in per capita waste production in Orange County. Orange County also has a strong desire to manage its remaining solid waste in a manner that will not impose on any other community. The need to manage solid waste in-county makes it inevitable that some local area will bear the burden of the waste-handling process – whatever the process might be. Any currently practical waste management system requires that the waste be collected in some location before processing can occur. Because cost and environmental considerations make long-distance hauling undesirable, the collection location must be close to Chapel Hill – Carrboro, the center of trash generation. Finding a location for garbage collection and re-processing within the corporate limits of the municipalities will be difficult, but is a necessary first step in managing Orange County's solid waste future.

As a commissioner I have supported investigation into alternative waste-handling technologies. I believe that an effective solid waste plan for Orange County requires a continued collaboration among all the jurisdictions in Orange County. I will encourage continuation of a solid waste plan that serves all the communities in Orange County and includes a waste re-processing facility that creates a useable product from our garbage.

C. Emergency Services. Orange County provides communications and dispatch for police and fire in Chapel Hill and Carrboro for the Orange County Sheriff, and for the volunteer rural fire departments throughout Orange County. When the county began to use the VIPER communications system, a need for expanded tower and communications channel capacity was identified. Since the initiation of communications using VIPER, installation of the upgrades has lagged, creating the potential for a failure of communications in an emergency. The county is also the primary emergency response provider of paramedic and ambulance service for the county. The presence of two interstate highways in the county and an increasing population has strained our ability to respond, causing an increase in response time to emergency calls.

As commissioner, I have supported review of the county's emergency services systems with a goal of improving response times, communications, and emergency preparedness. I have approved the addition of ambulances and crews to better serve our residents. I have voted in favor of pre-approving sites for new communications towers and for easing the process for approving tower installation. I will continue to press for the application of resources to improve our emergency services systems based on the recommendations of the Emergency Services Work Group currently studying these issues.

2. What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective on the Orange County Board of Commissioners? This might include career or community service; be specific about its relevance to this office.

Before I was elected to the BOCC, I had more than twenty-five years experience as a land surveyor. I worked with developers, as well as individuals who merely wanted to provide a lot for a family member, guiding them through the county regulatory process. I know the value that county regulation brings to the community as a whole. I also understand the frustration and hardship an individual can suffer as a result of regulation. These lessons have informed my approach to governing.

As a county commissioner, I have demonstrated my commitment to working collaboratively with my fellow commissioners to achieve the goals the board has identified. The Orange County Board of Commissioners has made great progress in promoting economic development by approving water/sewer infrastructure installation and improvements in Efland, the Buckhorn Road area, and in our Economic Development Districts, including an agreement with the City of Durham for the installation and management of utilities in the Eno EDD. I served as Vice-Chair of the BOCC for one year, during which time I participated in setting meeting agendas and assisting the Chair and the County Manager in promoting county priorities. My service on the Board of Health and the OPC Mental Health Board has given me a better understanding of the breadth of services that the county provides to Orange County residents who are in need of a social safety-net.

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

I define myself as a fiscally responsible moderate. My commitment to financial responsibility is demonstrated by my observation that greater economic diversity is key to the county's financial future and by my willingness to commit the resources necessary to achieve that goal. I believe that government exists to provide for each of us collectively what is difficult or impossible for us to provide for ourselves individually. I believe that what we would like to do must be measured against what we can afford to do, and that we must manage expectations so as to provide optimism and incentive, but not suggest more than we can deliver.

4. Provide a review of Orange County's trash decision. Are you satisfied with using Durham's transfer station to transport trash to Virginia? Why or why not? Has the county done enough to address concerns at Rogers Road? What else needs to happen?

The Orange County BOCC never intended the use of the Durham County transfer station as a permanent solid waste solution. The commissioners were faced with the prospect of choosing between two alternatives, both of which had strong negative aspects and wide-spread community opposition. Rather than commit to a plan that was unsatisfactory, we chose to provide a temporary solution that would allow continued investigation of alternatives and the opportunity to build community support for some recognized better option. Changes in landfill operation increased its capacity and extended the life of the landfill beyond the originally expected closure date, making the pursuit of an alternative appear less imperative. During this time, we have continued to look for alternative solutions and have attempted to engage our municipal partners in the search. The Solid Waste Advisory Board, on which I serve, has reviewed and will continue to review methods of garbage disposal and reprocessing. Senator Ellie Kinnaird has brought a promising technology to the attention of the county. I supported the BOCC decision to set a date for the landfill closure, and I will continue to look for a permanent solution. However, as stated previously, I believe that a permanent solution requires the selection of a site in or near Chapel Hill and Carrboro, and that selection will depend on participation and leadership from our municipal partners.

Orange County, as current owner of the landfill, has accepted primary responsibility for remediation and compensation in the Rogers Road community. State law limits the ability of the Solid Waste Department to use its funds for these purposes; only provision of public water and some clean-up activities are allowed. The county has appointed a task force of county and municipal officials, along with community representatives, to make recommendations about other items that may be provided through general fund expenditures. The report of the task force is expected in May. I intend to support the recommendations that are practical, affordable, and that bear some relationship to the burdens that Rogers Road community has borne since the creation of the landfill in 1972.

5. Building off of the landfill debate, what's your view of the working relationship between the BOCC and Orange municipal governments? What's worked well? What hasn't? How will you change it, if needed?

County government generally has a broad responsibility, spread over a large, diverse population. Municipal government focuses its attention and interest on a smaller number of items, each of which takes on greater importance. With the adoption of the hybrid district representation system for the BOCC, the unincorporated areas of Orange County now have a more vigorous voice. District representatives, attempting to ensure equity for all the residents of Orange County, will sometimes insist that county decision-making be independent of municipal influence. Collaboration with the municipalities will continue to be an important component of county policy. An annual meeting with each of the municipalities, now including a meeting with Mebane, is one method for the BOCC to hear and appreciate the concerns of each of the towns. Issue-specific work groups, such as the Rogers Road task force, provide the county with opportunities to consult with the municipalities where the interests of the towns and the county intersect. As we understand and accept the different but complementary roles each government fulfills, we are forging a new and more respectful relationship.

6. With Wal Mart's application to build a store in Chatham, Orange could have three major shopping centers—Wal Mart, Tanger Outlets and New Hope Commons—just across its borders. What, in your view, lead to this situation? Assess the county's work in the last two years on economic development and your priorities for the next four.

Significant non-residential development must have access to public water and sewer facilities. Until recently, these have only been available in our municipalities. New Hope Commons and the proposed WalMart are adjacent to Chapel Hill's municipal boundary, where facilities are available and there is a population base to support the retail activity. Had the regulatory climate been different, each might have located in Chapel Hill. When Tanger Outlets made a business decision to locate adjacent to an interstate highway, there were no suitable locations with water and sewer availability in Orange County.

During my term as county commissioner, we have made great progress towards creating suitable locations within Orange County's planning areas. We have negotiated an agreement with the City of Durham for extension of water and sewer into the Eno Economic Development District. We are revising the land use and zoning designations in all of our EDDs to facilitate business development. We have developed plans for the installation of backbone sewer lines in the Buckhorn EDD. We are expanding the sewer system in the Efland area, modifying the land use plan to promote use of the sewer system, and rezoning properties to make sewer-dependent development easier.

I actively supported the BOCC initiative to hold a referendum for the cent local sales tax. With the approval of Orange County citizens, we now have a designated source of revenue to support our economic development efforts. I will continue the county's efforts to broaden our non-residential tax base, create more in-county retail opportunities for Orange County residents, and increase the number and quality of jobs available for our citizens.

7. What's your stance on regional transit and specifically the half-cent regional rail tax? What should a long-range transit plan include for Orange? What should it not include?

Our region has a difficult transportation problem because of the existence of several employment centers and significant cross-commuting. People who live in Orange County work in RTP, Durham and Raleigh. People who live in Wake County work in Chapel Hill and Durham. Most of the residential development throughout the region has been at suburban or sub-suburban densities, creating sprawl. Without a central employment center, mass transit must be a developed in a spider-web network, rather than a more efficient hub-and-spoke pattern. For the foreseeable future, most transportation will likely continue in an individual vehicle model

The recently adopted Locally Preferred Alternative does not address regional transit in a cost-effective way. It may provide an alternative transportation system for employees of Duke University and UNC, relieving both institutions from building parking facilities, but it won't provide an effective alternative for the thousands of commuters whose destination is elsewhere. A fixed-route rail system is not sufficiently flexible to adapt to future changes in commuting patterns, and the land use patterns in the corridor area will not support the density necessary to make a fixed-route system economically successful.

Much of Orange County will not benefit from the half-cent tax regional tax, especially those residents (45%) who live outside of Chapel Hill and Carrboro. Almost all of the funds will go to support the light rail system which will primarily serve people moving within Durham County or from Durham to Chapel Hill. Increases in bus service may support some inter-county commuters, but the number of regional bus routes is small and they will be the first to be sacrificed if construction or operating costs for the light rail system exceed projections.

The identification of and development of high-density mixed-use corridors must precede fixed-route mass transit.

8. Candidates can choose to run either at-large or in the district in which he or she resides. Explain your decision. Do you see district representatives serving different interests than at-large commissioners? Name two issues specific to your district and your plans to address them.

I have lived only in Hillsborough or unincorporated Orange County since I moved to North Carolina in 1978. My interactions have been with people from this district (District 2) and I am familiar with their outlook. District 2 contains people with diverse viewpoints, but they are united in the decision not to live in a bigger city. I understand and represent their views.

District representatives serve the same interests as at-large commissioners, but with a somewhat different perspective. All county commissioners should appreciate the broad range of services county government provides, most of which are not duplicated by municipal governments. These services are available equally to all county residents. The job of the district representative is to ensure that the concerns of the district are brought to the table and considered in the decision-making process, but in the end to make the decision that is best for the county as a whole. The current BOCC has, I believe, done a remarkable job of respecting the concerns of the districts while developing policies that promote a county-wide perspective.

Two issues specific to District 2:

A. Fire protection and fire insurance. District 2 is served primarily by volunteer fire departments. Recently, insurance companies have revised their method of rating properties for insurance purposes, looking at the designated fire protection department location rather than the location of the actual first responding fire department. This has resulted in substantial increases in insurance costs for many rural residents. The county recently appointed a task force, chaired by a commissioner, with representatives from volunteer and professional fire and rescue departments, to study all emergency services in the county. Assisted by county staff, one charge of the group is to develop a plan to address these insurance concerns. I expect to support the recommendations of the task force, including modifications of service contracts and/or fire districts if necessary.

B. Access to internet and wireless communications. Rural residents do not have access to high speed internet (many still only have dial-up) or reliable cell phone service. During the time when cell phone service was rapidly expanding, the approval process in Orange County discouraged tower construction. Low population density discourages telephone and cable providers from expanding their networks. I have supported changes in county regulations that pre-approve certain tower locations. We have also modified our Special Use regulations to reduce the number of tower applications that require BOCC approval, with the goal to allow private companies to build more profitable towers at less expense. Proposed enhancements to our emergency services communications system may also provide co-location opportunities for cell phone antennas.

9. The Independent's mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to office help further that goal?

A just community provides a voice to all. My re-election would ensure that the varied interests within Hillsborough and unincorporated Orange County would continue to have a principled spokesman.

10. Identify a principled stand you would be willing to take if elected, even if it cost you popularity points with voters.

Every decision is based in principle. I have taken positions on the cent local sales tax referendum, the proposed marriage amendment, hunting deer with dogs, a solid waste fee, improvement of convenience centers, and revision to zoning and land use regulations, without regard to the popularity of particular positions with respect to specific voters. Every issue has points to be made on each side; the task of an elected official is to weigh all of the arguments and then, reflecting on the arguments in light of the perspective of the people he or she represents, make the decision that provides the best results for the entire community.

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