Bonnie Hauser | Candidate Questionnaires - Orange County | Indy Week

Elections » Candidate Questionnaires - Orange County

Bonnie Hauser

Orange County Commissioner


Name as it appears on the ballot: Bonnie Hauser
Campaign Website: Phone number: 919-619-4354
Years lived in Orange County: 13

1. What are the three most important issues facing Orange County? If elected, how
would you address those issues? Please be specific. 

Orange County’s distinctive quality of life is facing unprecedented pressures, especially in education
and affordability. From a county government perspective, the three most pressing issues are:

1. Establishing school funding policies that protect schools from increasing uncertainty from
the state and that keeps school buildings in good repair on a continuing basis.

Orange County’s economy and quality of life is built on excellent public schools which are facing unprecedented challenges from state and local funding. The county’s current school funding policies date back to 2005, and arbitrarily allocate 48.1% of the county’s property tax revenues to schools. Local funding is a substantial portion of the funding for both school districts.

Local policies have not been adapted to respond to funding uncertainty from the state or the challenges of aging buildings. As a result, there is a $200-­‐300 million backlog in school maintenance, and for the first time that I can remember, schools opened in both districts without a full roster of teachers.

New leaders in both school districts are working to get things back on track, and now need county
funding policies that assure teachers and staff that we have their backs. This requires careful discussion and analysis, and it’s likely to take a year or two for leaders from the county and both school districts to agree on policies that make sense. I will encourage the following as guiding principles:

o Budget per pupil funding for salaries and operating expenses separately from capital
improvements for school buildings, which should be based on need (age, capacity, etc.)

o Research into best funding practices from other school districts in the state and county

o Use of standards such as class size, salary supplements, and building maintenance as a basis for funding. That will add transparency, and make it easier to assess risk and fiscal impact of state funding cuts and/or delays.

o Simplify and standardize how the county’s two school districts request funds.

o Consider ways to allocate county and school surpluses and reserves to shore up funding,
especially when state funds are cut or delayed.

2. Bringing businesses and jobs to the county through strategic economic development programs.

Orange County continues to rely on residential taxpayers to fund schools and services, and despite
decades of good intentions, there has been little progress in bringing private sector employment and a commercial tax base to the county. More work is needed to eliminate obstacles – real and perceived – created by Orange County’s zoning, regulations, and permitting; and to bring businesses and jobs into Orange County.

If elected, I will focus on the following actions to open the path to jobs and businesses to the county:

o Work with developers, landowners and communities to establish a business park that makes it easier to locate a business in Orange County. I’d focus on Efland’s economic development district where taxpayers have already invested millions in sewer infrastructure. A business park provides permit-­‐ready sites where businesses can locate quickly, and eliminates zoning and approval
delays and other development risks.

o Explore ways to use the $200-­‐$300 million in school maintenance needs to create jobs in our communities. Wake County claims that every $1 million in school maintenance creates 9 jobs in the community. The county’s Work First Program and training programs provided through local trade groups could be excellent partners for skill development.

o Continue to collaborate with the towns and businesses to support business retention and growth.

3. Encouraging an affordable and progressive quality of life by bringing solutions for housing,
transportation and county services closer to communities.

Orange County is under pressure to make its distinctive quality of life more affordable. Excellent
public transportation and access to housing and local services collectively contribute to an affordable quality of life. Better resources closer to communities will help make our communities stronger and
more resilient.

Take housing. In District 2, there are extraordinary opportunities for workforce, senior, and low-­‐ income housing outside of the town limits. Land is more affordable and there is excellent access to transportation, schools and services. In areas that have access to sewer infrastructure, zoning changes that allow more density opens the door to many forms of affordable housing. Each community is different, so housing solutions need to be adapted to community needs

Similarly, there may be ways to bring healthcare and other services closer to communities by working
with local not for profits. Piedmont Health is a great example of an organization that
brings high quality health and dental care to communities of all income levels throughout the county. In our rural areas, there’s a crying need for affordable Internet services, which is achievable if the county finds partners to provide wireless services to rural areas.

I’m excited about community-­‐based initiatives like Project EnGage, the Rogers Road Community
Center, and the Family Success Alliance where communities are leading the way to decide their own priorities and what best serves them. Over time, I’d like to see more county social workers, mentors, tutors and other services operating through community-­‐based services.

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.)

I have strong working relationships with both school boards and most of the communities in the District developed over years of community service and advocacy. People know and trust me to move beyond politics, to get the real facts and work toward creative solutions to important issues. I can work at the county and state levels and clearly know the difference.

I am an active board member on the Northern Orange NAACP, Orange County Voice, Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Triangle, and Project EnGage. I served for years on the board of Orange County Justice United, and a leader in the Campaign for Racial Equity in Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools and the Community Engagement and Visioning Team for Orange County Schools. I created an inclusive process for community education on housing and development in Efland, heralded as a first for Efland’s historically segregated communities.

My community and media relationships will help as I navigate the uncertainty of politics. Rather than pack a meeting room with citizens giving 3-­‐minute speeches, I prefer creating conversations in community, informed by data and the facts on the ground. My best results came when I brought commissioners, the media and other leaders out to communities to see first hand how policies are impacting our citizens. That’s how we closed the landfill, fixed emergency services, and got fair sewer rates in Efland. I’m proud of my track record for creating meaningful change working with
local leaders, communities and the media.

My approach comes in part from decades as a management consultant and partner with PricewaterhouseCoopers where I spent years helping organizations become more effective and customer-­‐oriented. My skills in strategy development, priority setting and finance are important because I am comfortable questioning budgets to understand how funds are being allocated to ensure that tax money is being spent to wisely on priorities affecting our communities and schools.

I want to ask more questions about finances and alternatives, and provide leadership in finding ways to improve transparency and accountability, especially when it comes to school funding, resource allocation, and financial planning. With polices and tools that increase transparency, many already in use in other counties, Orange county can do a better job of assuring citizens that critical resources are getting where they are needed, and that the county is truly investing in the future.

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

I am socially progressive and fiscally savvy. Unlike fiscal conservatives who don’t like spending money on government, I strongly support investments that make our communities and schools stronger and more resilient. I believe strongly in priority setting, best practices and other techniques for fiscal control, and I am naturally skeptical of bureaucracies that work in silos. I am passionate about investing in the future.

I like to focus on problems and fact-­‐based solutions, and rather than simply funding popular initiatives. That’s why when the county eliminated its sewer rate subsidy to the Efland’s Habitat community, I worked with Justice United to bring Efland onto Mebane’s affordable sewer system. It was a small change with big results. Similarly, I’d like to see a plan for affordable housing that shows locations for housing and what’s needed. With a good plan, the county will discover that changes in zoning, regulations and fee structures make many forms of housing affordable, and subsidies can be focused where they are most needed.

I’m extremely interested in working with towns, communities and local businesses to create services that are easier to access and use, and likely to be less expensive. This is discussed more fully in questions 1.3 and question 4 below. We proved this approach with emergency services when I worked with local fire chiefs and others to improve ambulance response times and radio coverage. Rather than spend $20 million on a separate county infrastructure, I worked to encourage ambulances be placed in fire stations, and change radio protocols to improve communications. Ambulance response times were cut in half, and radio outages were eliminated. At the same time, I supported a long overdue, multi-­‐million dollar investment to upgrade 911 calling systems.

It’s not always about money. With the Rogers Road landfill, it was a moral issue and despite major losses in landfill tipping fees, it was time to finally end the 40 year journey and deliver on long standing promises for the community center, sewer and other amenities.

4. The INDY’s mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would
your election to office help further that goal?

I have a strong, proven track record making our communities “just”. I played an instrumental role in preventing an unnecessary airport and ill-­‐conceived waste transfer station from impacting underserved communities. I helped bring fair sewer rates to Efland when Habitat families risked sewer rates that would be more expensive than their mortgages. I led the Justice United team that worked with the Rogers Road community to close the landfill and bring long promised amenities to the community. All these successes resulted in improvements to public policy that made our community more just. None were isolated requests for funds or programs that made the county less affordable.

Education is front and center to my platform for “just” community. Orange County has always valued public education – but we have not adapted our policies to protect our schools from growing uncertainty in state funding, and challenges from alternative forms of education. Stepping up the county’s support to public education is my first priority and is discussed at length in question 1. This will be especially important as the county’s public schools shift to equity-­‐based funding – where resources are directed based on need (rather than equally allocated).

For a more just community, I’m committed to robust public transportation and rural Internet to make
life more affordable for low income families, and that provide better access to jobs and information. That includes:

o Working with the towns to take a hard look at current and future transportation needs, and revamp the hub and spoke system that mostly serves the university to a more robust point-­‐to point system that serves new and emerging employment and population centers. We need much more service for our transit dependent communities who still rely on multiple bus connections and long travel times to get to low-­‐paying jobs at UNC. I’d like more service to better paying jobs in RTP, Mebane and elsewhere. This is discussed further in question 11.

o Assuring access to wireless communications – especially in District 2. While towns are looking at Google Fiber, many of our rural areas have poor Internet or cell service or its very expensive. Many of our children are issued computers funded with the county’s ¼ cent sales tax, but have to download all their homework because they don’t have Internet service at home. I’d like to look at partnerships with small wireless providers to rectify this situation. I’d also like to be sure that we have adequate access to contemporary computers and printers at all of the county’s community

For me, a just community begins with community – not with gatekeeper-­‐controlled programs and services. My focus is to create stronger and more resilient communities through better access to jobs, transportation and housing. In principle, I will strive toward inclusive communities that span generations, income and race – with a common system of services. In the long term, that’s the best path to assuring consistent, high quality services for everyone

5. What is your vision for development in Orange County? Do your development
ideas include preserving the rural buffer? Do you think it was worthwhile to rezone hundreds of acres in economic development districts to attract businesses?

Orange County is responsible for proving schools and services to all county residents, but only
controls development in the unincorporated areas outside of the town extra territorial jurisdictions (ETJs). Within the county’s zoning jurisdictions, I’m committed to the principles of the rural buffer as a guiding principle for development. It has protected many of our rural areas from sprawl while protecting water quality. Plus it keeps urban style development concentrated in the towns. There
are a few exceptions.

• I support zoning and planning for business parks, mixed used development and residential housing in the county’s economic development districts (Efland and Eno), where there is access to sewer infrastructure and there is no risk to the environment. Unlike the urbanizing town centers, dense development for the county is a shift from 1-­‐2 acre zoning to allow townhouses, garden apartments or low rise buildings, and modernizing county trailer parks to improve land use, energy efficiency and septic. In addition to commercial development, many of these areas are well suited for workforce, senior or low-­‐income housing. There needs to be careful planning with communities, landowners, and investors.

• I’m concerned about development pressure on the rural buffer between Chapel Hill and Chatham, and would be interested working with the towns to reaffirm our commitment to that portion of the rural buffer, and/or make adjustments to accommodate housing, school or other needs.

I believe the rezoning of the economic development districts was a reasonable first step for the economic development districts, but more is needed to successfully attract development. Notice that Orange County land that’s under Mebane’s zoning control is rich with commercial development, workforce and senior housing.

The county’s zoning in the economic development districts is ambiguous and comes with onerous regulations and permitting fees. I’d like to fix that, and work with landowners, developers and communities to put a business park in place. That will take away the zoning and approval risk, and allows businesses to immediately locate in Orange County. There is widespread support for the idea and people are ready to get to work.

6. After the tragic shooting death of one-­‐year-­‐old Maleah Williams in Chapel Hill on Christmas Day, what can the Orange County Board of Commissioners do to promote respect, safety, and peace in your communities—particularly those beset by crime?

The Orange County sheriff is working effectively with local police to make law enforcement part of the
community. More than ever, I believe Orange County has a strong, professional, law enforcement team, and as commissioner I will continue to support their efforts to reach out into our communities and build positive relationships with families and local businesses.

More community-­‐based services, with active involvement from community leaders and law
enforcement should make every community stronger, safer and more resilient. More opportunity for jobs and advancement, local mentoring and support, and stronger personal ties to communities will help to create a meaningful safety net to protect our communities from drugs, crime, and other challenges.

7. Do you have interest in waste-­‐disposal alternatives to landfills in Orange County? If so, what ideas appeal to you? Are there cost benefits to the alternatives you

I have a long-­‐term interest in socially, fiscally and environmentally responsible solutions for waste and recycling. I’m interested in waste-­‐to-­‐energy as a long term solution for handling post recycled waste, along with new waste streams from growing medical centers and sewage sludge discharged from wastewater treatment operations. I’m especially interested in technologies involving gasification as the cleanest option.

I’m support forming a partnership with Durham, Duke and UNC to explore options for a waste-­‐to-­‐
energy facility in the Eno economic development district (where NC70 meets I-­‐85). This is a shared Durham/Orange site, zoned for industrial uses near the interstate and the power grid. I envision an eco-­‐industrial park, anchored by a waste-­‐to-­‐energy facility, which produces energy and is supplemented by businesses that recycle all residual by-­‐products.

A waste-­‐to-­‐energy solution will take 5 years or more to put into place. It’s best handled as a
public/private partnership, with a proven provider (and a binding contract) overseeing the
management, operation and compliance of the power plant.

Regarding the economics, and Orange-­‐Durham partnership would provide sufficient volume to make the project economically feasible. Medical wastes add higher value waste streams that produce more power. Tipping fees might be slightly higher but offset by the commercial property tax revenue from the plant. All these issues would be examined more closely during the planning and evaluation process.

Here’s some other principles that will guide my decisions on waste and recyclables.

• I strongly oppose landfills in anyone’s backyard, and will work against proposals to site new
landfills anywhere.

• Now that the county’s landfill is closed (eliminating millions of dollars in revenue), and the market value for recyclables is eroding, Orange County needs to explore more cost effective ways for handling waste and recyclables.

• I’m strongly interested in composting services as an effective way to reduce waste, assuming
they are voluntary, and do not burden citizens with more trash and recycling fees.
8. Is the current school-­‐funding model working for both districts? Should the board revisit the policy that allocates 48.1 percent of general-­‐fund revenue to education?

I do not believe the current school funding model is working at all. The board should absolutely
revisit the policy that allocates 48.1% of general-­‐fund revenue to education – especially in light of the pressures from the state and the backlog of maintenance on school buildings in both districts. This is my first priority and I outlined my thoughts in more depth in my response to question 1

9. Do you support the $125 million bond package to fix aging schools? Even if voters
approve it, that’s only one-­‐third of what districts estimate they’ll need. What is
your plan for funding the rest?

I support the $125 million bond as a quick fix to get school repairs underway. For the long term, I’d like the county to work with both school districts to incorporate school maintenance projects into the regular ten-­‐year capital budget process, and to fund essential school maintenance as a priority.

To fund all essential capital needs, the county and both school districts need to work together to
critically look at all county and school projects planned over the next ten years ($500-­‐$600 million
total), and identify all the mission critical county and school projects needed over the next ten years.

High priority projects should be approved and funded, and non-­‐essential county and school projects should be delayed or eliminated. Projects can be funded using the proposed school bond or private financing that the county relies on for most of its capital projects. There’s a negligible interest rate difference. The bigger concern is the county’s debt limit and whether or not a tax increase will be needed to protect the county’s AAA debt rating. A good plan should lay all of this out over the next ten years.

In addition, I’d like to see the county and the school boards explore options to contain costs and
reduce revenue impacts, including:

• Use of strategic contracting to reduce costs, improve quality and accelerate results. Rather than bidding each project separately, school districts can solicit long-­‐term contracts with qualified partners/contractors that specialize in school maintenance. These multi-­‐year contracts would include clear standards and performance expectations, and factor in tax credits for energy efficiency and other savings.

• Estimate tax revenue from new development and designate funds for essential school and county projects. The tax impacts of the $125 million bond (5 points per $100 tax increase) can be offset by revenue produced from new development.

• Consolidate county offices and sell underutilized land and assets to free up capital for essential projects. If needed, the county can take a more aggressive approach to sell underutilized land holdings or free up high value real estate in order to place it on the tax rolls.

10. The issue of bicycle safety is on the minds of many people in Orange County,
particularly in rural areas where road sharing can be challenging. What
recommendations could you offer to the ongoing conversation about bikes on

As part of the rural road safety coalition, I have strong track record for finding ways for motorists and cyclists to share the road safely. It is essential for motorists and cyclists to move beyond discussions of “rights” to “responsibility” to share the road, especially given imperfect laws and road infrastructure.

Most motorists and cyclists are doing a great job trying to share the road safely given the circumstances. The greatest challenges are passing on blind hills and curves, and pelotons that impede traffic and emergency vehicles. The laws are ambiguous, and not designed for the growing popularity of cycling in our beautiful rural areas.

I, along with the majority of motorists and cyclists, support the DOT’s recommendations for safe passing where motorists can cross double yellow lines, and cyclists are given the right half of the lane. It's a good start.

For the long term, I’d like to see the county do more to plan and invest in “Complete Streets” infrastructure, including greenways along popular rural route. Consider that Wake County now boasts 120 miles of connected greenways. Planning started 30 years ago. Durham has the American Tobacco Trail. Our towns are already investing heavily in greenways.

Orange County is still allocating its recreational brainpower and resources in isolated parks and hiking trails. While these are beautiful resources, the new $40 million parks plan has no provision for bikeways, and cyclists and motorists agree that the transportation plan is wholly inadequate for bikeways.

I’d like to put the current parks plan on hold, and ask for an updated recreation plan featuring bikeways throughout the county and that connect with town greenways. Since the county’s capital assets need to seriously focus on schools for the next few years, it's a great time wait on parks and start planning greenways.

11. Identify and explain one principled stand you would be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters.

I strongly support public transportation that connects population and employment centers throughout the county and the region (Durham, RTP, Raleigh, Chatham and Mebane). I believe light rail between Duke and UNC is outdated and expensive technology. Its rigid infrastructure requirement is undermining our ambitions for robust, regional transportation that includes ped-­‐ bike features (Complete Streets), and last mile service to our transit dependent communities. Better public transportation means better jobs, less cars, and a more vibrant community.

Rather than spend nearly $2 billion on a single light rail corridor between two university centers, I
support modernizing our transportation plan to take advantage of newer, more flexible and cost effective bus rapid transit (BRT) technology. Dedicated (BRT) corridors with fixed stations provide the same benefits of light rail for smart growth and transit-­‐oriented development, at a fraction of the cost. That frees up needed funds for more high-­‐speed service corridors, last mile service, and bike-­‐ped features.

With more funds and better collaboration, Orange County can work with its towns to replace its university-­‐university based hub and spoke system with point-­‐to-­‐point transportation routes that provide service throughout the Triangle. With a more flexible transportation network, leaders can upgrade service and adapt routes as the region changes and grows.      

Add a comment