Campaign Website: www.reneeprice2016.com
Phone number: 919-593-1904
Years lived in Orange County: 23.5
Orange County has several priority issues, and all are interrelated and interdependent. I believe these three currently have precedence: public schools, affordable housing and economic development.
Public Schools: “Get an education; it’s the one thing no one can take away from you,” as my father says. I believe in the power of education, and I am committed to excellence in education, and in assuring that we in Orange County continue to:
• Invest in our children and teenagers,
• Support our teachers and school staff, and
• Provide safe and secure learning environments.
Orange County is home to two outstanding school systems—Orange County Schools and Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools. As Commissioner, one of my goals is to help make every traditional public school in Orange County the first choice for education, and assure continued excellence for our young people.
In recent years, the Board of County Commissioners has had to compensate for some of the budget cuts to education made by the NC General Assembly. We do this because:
• our children need teacher assistants in their classrooms, and
• our faculty and staff need to be paid appropriately for their professional work.
In fiscal year 2014-15, I voted with my colleagues on the Board of County Commissioners to appropriate 48.75% of the county general fund expenditures toward education—i.e., $93,635,266. I will continue to support our students in this manner.
Among my ultimate goals in education is to close the achievement gap. No matter the color, ethnicity, religion or socioeconomic background, each child deserves the opportunity to develop her or his skills and talents. Every individual has the right to knowledge and the chance to excel.
Regarding school facilities, I have seen the condition of our aging buildings and outdated campuses. I would like to strengthen the relationship between the school board members and the BOCC, and collaborate to determine and address the facility maintenance and renovation needs for the sake of our children, and to include those improvements in our respective budgets. I will continue to be active with the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners [NCACC] that has been lobbying the General Assembly to restore the promised level of educational lottery funds to counties so that we can better address our capital needs.
Affordable Housing and Living: Despite our wealth, Orange County has families and individuals that are living in substandard housing, and others that are homeless. Also, our housing stock of lower-income rentals has diminished, our workforce faces challenges when trying to secure mortgages, and the cost of living in Orange County is, for many, unaffordable. People are struggling and people continue to move to neighboring counties.
The Board of County Commissioners is planning to put a bond referendum on the November 2016 ballot. A portion of the bond package is a proposed allocation of $5 million for affordable housing. I urge voters to pass the bond referendum. The Orange County Department of Housing, Human Rights & Community Development will be able to utilize some of these funds for such programs as the Urgent Repair Program.
My hope is that other bond funds will be distributed to the non-profit organizations that are engaged in the development of lower-income rentals, workforce housing, senior housing, housing for military veterans, and people with disabilities, including mental illness. Should the bond referendum fail, I would propose that the County appropriates at least $1 million per year to capital housing needs.
In addition, I proposed and will continue to support a measure wherein the BOCC appropriates at least $1 million per year to housing from the Operating Budget to address non-capital needs such as rental assistance. We voted to do so for the next five years to coincide with the proceeds of the bond.
Small businesses and Jobs: In recent years, the County has intensified efforts to bring economic development plans to fruition, and is endeavoring to build a diversified base of retail, manufacturing, service and professional industries. I would advocate for increased support of small businesses and family farms with intensified outreach regarding the Small Business Loan, the Business Investment Grant and the Agriculture Economic Development Grant programs, while encouraging larger enterprises and institutions to remain as vital parts of the economic fabric.
Orange County also should further its efforts to attract and retain businesses that provide living wage and salaried jobs to unemployed and underemployed residents. Meanwhile, I would hope that we continue the relationship between our Economic Development Department and Durham Technical Community College to assure a ready workforce, and support public schools in teaching STEM and STEAM courses to prepare our youth for a competitive edge in the global economy.
While Orange County government is unable to provide jobs to all individuals in needs, it can forge forward with a campaign to attract, sustain and retain a range of businesses and employers. The County can continue to promote the living wage movement by seeking to do business with companies that offer living wages to their employees.
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.)
My early work experience involved inner-city neighborhood revitalization, land-use planning and historic preservation in Rochester, NY, subsequent to receiving a Master of Regional Planning degree. Eventually, I moved to Albany and was on the team that initiated the first low-income and affordable housing trust fund for the State of New York. I then relocated to New York City where I served as assistant project manager in the Office of Environmental Impact, reviewing development proposals. Returning to Albany, I served as Director of the Joint Legislative Commission on Rural Resources for the General Assembly drafting legislation and reviewing land use statutes.
Arriving in Orange County in 1990, I became involved in sustainable agriculture, travelling across NC and the Southeast to promote small family farms, rural economic development and natural resource conservation. Years later, my career took me to Alabama where I worked with The Federation of Southern Cooperatives/LAF to develop and direct a sustainable forestry program for minority and traditionally marginalized landowners throughout the Deep South.
I became engaged in community affairs since returning to Hillsborough in 2000, supporting such nonprofit organizations as the Hillsborough Arts Council [Chair] and the Historical Foundation of Hillsborough & Orange County. In 2010, I co-founded Free Spirit Freedom, a cultural arts project that explores and celebrates the rich historical diversity of Orange County. My past involvement in governmental advisory boards includes: Commission for the Environment [Chair], Orange Unified Transportation Board, Planning Board [Vice-Chair], Historic Preservation Commission [Chair and Vice-Chair], Inter-local Agreement Committee between Hillsborough & Orange County, and Human Relations Commission [Chair, Pauli Murray Award Committee].
Since taking office in 2012, I have maintained my focus on equity, justice and equality. I served as co-chair of the Rogers Road Task Force and plans now are underway to provide long overdue sewer service to the Historic Rogers Road neighbors. To improve accessibility, I advocated with residents and collaborated with staff for new bus routes in rural areas and expanded bus service between Hillsborough and Chapel Hill. When community residents called, I responded and joined with them to preserve an historic African-American school building and to establish the Cedar Grove Community Center, opening in Spring 2016.
As part of the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners [NCACC], my activities include: Board of Directors [2013-2015]; President’s Special Task Force on Mental Health Engagement [2014-2015]; President’s Special Task Force on Economic Development [2013-2014]; Justice and Public Safety Steering Committee [2013- ]; and Health & Human Services Steering Committee [2015- ]. The NCACC has partnered with the UNC-School of Government to offer the Local Elected Leaders Academy, and in one year, I completed the coursework and requirements to be recognized as a Mentor—in a progression from practitioner to master to mentor. In addition, the NCACC recruited me to participate in the second class of the Advanced Leadership Corps, from which I graduated in 2014.
As part of the National Association of Counties [NACo], I have been appointed to the: Community, Economic & Workforce Development Steering Committee [CEWD], [2013- ]; CEWD Workforce Development Subcommittee, Chair [2014-present]; Arts and Culture Commission, Vice-Chair [2014- ]; and Rural Action Caucus [2014- ].
The information and insight gleaned from my involvement in NACo and the NCACC has broadened my knowledge and skills so as to represent and serve the people of Orange County more efficiently, effectively and efficaciously.
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 progressive Democrat. As a Democrat, I believe in the four freedoms expressed by FDR: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear. As a progressive, I support these priorities: ending wars and occupation; health care as a human right; economic and social justice; clean, fair and transparent elections; mitigate global warming and environmental protection; stop voter suppression and restoration of democracy; and ending mass incarceration.
Throughout my life, personally and professionally, I have been striving for civil rights and human rights. I grew up in the Sixties and came of age in the Seventies; my life has been influenced by the events of those times, including desegregation, environmental crises, voting rights, civil rights, feminism and the Vietnam conflict. Over the years, I have registered voters in numerous canvasses; assisted black farmers with their appeals in the Pigford v. Glickman lawsuit settlement; defeated a road project through community organizing; and helped draft resolutions for the Democratic Party platform that were approved, including one regarding the adoption of the Equal Rights Amendment.
The thrust of my present campaign platform is Equity, Justice and Equality, which coincides with the description of a progressive Democrat.
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?
Similar to the mission of the INDY, my mission is to help build a just community wherever I happen to dwell. Four years ago during my campaign, I emphasized “your voice, your vision.” By listening and collaborating, we have reached several milestones in the effort for equity and justice here in Orange County and the Triangle area.
With my election to a second term, I will build upon the momentum we have set in motion. I will work to close the achievement gaps, eliminate income disparities among people of color and women, and eliminate the inequities in housing and services. I want to provide greater opportunities for our children and adults to prosper, to thrive and to live in dignity.
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?
My vision for development in Orange County is sustainability, prosperity and diversity. We need to diversify our tax base in order to take some of the burden off of homeowners and property owners. Orange County needs industries, institutions and cultural amenities in order to prosper. In addition, our future growth and development should be environmentally sound, economically viable and socially just.
My hope is that we can work in cooperation with the urban areas for some of our economic development, where entrepreneurs may take advantage of various services, the proximity of companion enterprises, and easier access for employees. Regarding the rural buffer, I am willing to allow for cluster development of smaller homes, and also the agricultural enterprises, provided that natural resources are conserved and the rural character is preserved. At the same time, we should continue to focus efforts in the designated economic development districts where we can site additional light manufacturing and similar industries—while protecting family farms.
The designated EDDs are “a work in progress.” The progress has been slow, yet I would say that the rezoning has had some value to date. Over time, the County has deviated from the original intentions, and may have to show further flexibility in consideration of growth and trends since the lines were drawn.
Morinaga America Foods is now in operation in the Buckhorn EDD, and other industries are showing interest in locating in the area. In Hillsborough, the Waterstone Business Park is now home to the UNC Medical Center and UNC Hospital, joining the Orange County Campus of Durham Technical Community College. These institutions should serve as anchors for small-scale retail and food enterprises, as well as medical and health-related businesses. The Durham/Eno EDD was drawn partly because of existing industries, which are expanding. Notably, the area also has an established residential neighborhood and other scattered homes. I therefore would like to re-conceptualize the district to contain mixed-use developments, office parks and compatible commercial uses—thus protecting the residential uses while allowing economic growth.
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 BOCC works in tandem with our Sheriff’s Office, law enforcement agencies and criminal justice system. We support them through our budget and serve jointly on task forces and working groups to understand and address the issues of our community. As commissioner, I will promote respect, safety and peace in our communities by continuing to communicate with our justice and public safety personnel, considering their recommendations on policies and programs, and acting accordingly.
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 favor?
Yes, I do have an interest in waste-disposal alternatives, and have attended presentations on waste to energy projects. At the moment, Orange County lacks the volume of solid waste necessary to make a waste to energy project—such as plasma gasification technology—feasible or cost-effective. As the technology advances, we may be eligible for an alternative project. I would encourage the County to continue to look for innovations in waste management and also broaden the conversation to include our abutting counties that may have similar interests.
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?
In my opinion, the current school-funding model is working. The BOCC allocates a portion of the revenue based on the budgets presented to us annually by the two school districts. The percentage changes year to year based on the stated needs of the schools, and in context with other essential needs of the county and its residents.
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?
Yes, I support the $125 million bond package that includes $120 million for schools capital needs.
The BOCC and the two School Boards, even now, are contemplating ways and means to finance the existing renovation and repair needs of our aging school buildings, as well as the future needs for new construction. One possibility for addressing the remaining needs would be to maintain line items in the Capital Investment Plan for school facilities. Another potential source of funding would be the issuance of another bond for schools in another decade or so.
In addition to county revenues, elected officials and staff should continue to work with our state legislative delegation to restore the promised level of lottery funds to counties for our schools. The North Carolina Association of County Commissioners [NCACC] has been lobbying the General Assembly to restore the educational lottery funds for a number of years.
Furthermore, we need to consider future population trends, changes in average daily membership and residential development patterns. Whether to fund new facilities or add to existing schools will depend on future land inventories, cost analyses and feasibility studies. Plans for funding the extended repairs and renovations should be determined by these and other variables.
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 roads?
My recommendation is that we, as a community, work to cultivate a culture of sharing the road. Bicyclists, as well as pedestrians, want to be able to use our roads for commuting, transportation, health and recreation. I would like to bring together representatives from various sectors of our community—bicyclists, motorists, scooter users, motorcyclists, emergency services, fire fighters, Sheriff’s deputies, police officers, state highway patrol officers, truck drivers, parents of young children—to deliberate the concerns and challenges of our multi-modal society.
All of us pay taxes for these roads and we have a shared responsibility for safe travel. We should be talking about ways in which vehicles and bicycles can interact on the roads—as well as with pedestrians. Certainly, we must obey the traffic laws; we need safety regulations that are reasonable; and we would gain much by respecting one another.
Education already is part of the discussion and should be emphasized. I would recommend that all users of the roads and byways be required to learn specific rules of the road—in elementary school, when purchasing a bicycle, when getting a driver’s license.
The NC Department of Transportation, which owns county roads, previously had been focusing on highways to economic development sites, and more recently, funds are being made available for bikeways and walkways. I would recommend that Orange County research the possibilities for infrastructure that would improve bicycle and pedestrian safety, and discern the availability of the local match for funding with a view to vying for funding at the state and federal levels.
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.
The Mountains to Sea Trail is being praised as an amenity for Orange County residents. It will be a source of social activity, and has the potential to boost economic development as hikers and walkers take excursions to visit our towns and crossroads. Still, some people have reservations about the trail being built on OWASA land, and among these residents, some are adamantly against that segment of the project.
I believe that property owners and landowners have certain rights as to the use of their holdings. At the same time, we should be mindful of neighbors and the interests of those whose lands abut ours. For these reasons, I support the use of OWASA land for the MST.
I live along the Eno River, and at times did wonder about the accessibility of my home to unknown persons walking along the river. Only once do I recall a stranger walking up from the river and through my yard. Today, a portion of the MST is on the other side of the river and I have walked it. Signs are posted to keep people on the path. The same situation could hold true for other parts of the trail that abut or are adjacent to private properties.