Russ Stephenson | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week

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Russ Stephenson

Candidate for Raleigh Council at large


Name as it appears on the ballot: Russ Stephenson
Full legal name, if different: Russell G. Stephenson
Date of birth: 10-29-55
Home address: 213 Oberlin Rd, Raleigh NC 27605
Mailing address, if different from home: N/A
Campaign Web site:
Occupation & employer: Architect & Urban Planning Consultant
Home phone: 919-755-0159
Work phone: 919-828-3699
Cell phone:

1. If elected, what are your top priorities?

If re-elected, I will continue to work for high-quality, sustainable growth that protects our natural resources, attracts the best companies and jobs, and protects our quality of life.

In order for Raleigh to remain healthy and competitive in the long run, new growth will have to be more efficient, requiring fewer taxpayer subsidies for infrastructure and be coordinated with new workplace and transit options that reduce congestion on existing roads, reduce impacts on our natural resources, and protect more open space.

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

According to Wake County’s 2006 Blue Ribbon Committee Report, the biggest challenge facing us in the coming 25 years is a $10.3 billion dollar infrastructure funding gap – mostly a gap in school and road funding – with no way to close the gap except by raising property taxes. Since high quality schools are so important to the future of our children and our city, I decided the Raleigh City Council should go on record as advocating state legislation to provide alternatives to funding schools only by raising property taxes.

After weeks of meetings with our state representatives, school board members and building consensus among my fellow councilors, a resolution based on my efforts was brought to the Raleigh City Council and passed unanimously. Other local municipalities followed suit. Back in the Legislature, I joined with a statewide partnership of state, county, local and business leaders to lobby for, and ultimately win, new funding authority that, if approved by local voter referendum, will provide alternatives to funding schools only by raising property taxes.

There are no easy ways to make up our $10.3 billion dollar funding gap, but my efforts demonstrate a determination to take on the toughest issues, to build consensus among diverse stakeholders, and to help get the job done.

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 fiscal conservative, who voted against last year’s property tax increase. We also need to do more to keep taxes low by raising impact fees on new growth (see item 8 below) and by resisting the urge to provide multi-million dollar tax rebates for private developments in already-growing areas (see item 7 below).

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

Our current drought and the increasingly frequent drought cycle is requiring the city to reassess the balance between the profitability of high volume water sales – much of which is consumed to irrigate lawns and ornamental landscapes – and the responsibility to conserve limited water supplies, giving priority to public health and hygiene uses.

Raleigh should implement water conservation rates similar to those proposed by the city’s own Water Conservation Task Force and as implemented by several neighboring municipalities. These tiered rates would keep drinking water affordable for average home use, but be set somewhat higher for higher-volume users in order to promote conservation and incentivize innovations such as drought-tolerant landscaping, alternate water supply sources and reuse techniques.

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

Some issues that come before the City Council are straightforward, but most bring together a mix of competing stakeholders. Some stakeholders have the time and money to promote their interests, while others do not. In these cases, I believe I have a duty to try to make sure the public process gives everyone an equal voice. I will continue supporting policies that encourage diversity, minority representation and citizen participation in government.

6. In the next two years, Raleigh will complete a revision of its comprehensive plan. If elected, will you seek to influence what it says? If so, how?

Raleigh’s Comprehensive Plan Update is the blueprint for how Raleigh will grow over the next two decades. The challenge is to create a plan that brings together diverse stakeholders to develop a consensus about what we want Raleigh to be like in twenty years. Without a plan, Raleigh will simply become another big, third-rate city. We must learn from the successes and failures of others as we plan for economic competitiveness, natural resource conservation, energy innovation, and fiscal responsibility in order to provide quality growth that will protect our quality of life for the next twenty years.

7. The issue of tax-increment financing (TIF) is before the Council because of developer John Kane’s request for a $75 million tax break in connection with his North Hills East project. Do you support or oppose Kane’s request? In general, do you think TIFs are needed in Raleigh? If so, under what circumstances?

I applaud John Kane’s redevelopment of the old North Hills Mall and would support economic development assistance tied to public benefits in connection with his North Hills East project. However, Raleigh should not provide a $75 million dollar taxpayer subsidy for private condo parking.

TIF financing is one of several forms of public financing that should be evaluated in the context of a comprehensive economic development strategy for the city that emphasizes clear public benefits and blighted areas where private investment will not otherwise occur.

8. Raleigh’s impact fees for parks and roads were increased 72 percent last year, but they remain far below what state law allows. Do you support increasing impact fees further, and if so, by how much?

One of the keys to sustaining our quality of life as Raleigh grows is to make sure that growth pays its fair share for new roads, parks and other growth-related improvements, rather than unduly burdening taxpayers. This year alone, taxpayers will foot the bill for 85% of the cost of growth-related improvements, totaling more than $44 million dollars.

I support Mayor Meeker’s proposal to raise impact fees more in line with neighboring municipalities. A modest increase in impact fees would keep $6-10 million tax dollars in existing neighborhoods, improving property values across the city. The additional impact fees paid by new growth would go - as required by state law - directly to road and park improvements benefiting new growth.

Concerns about the effect of raising impact fess on affordability for new housing must be balanced with concerns about affordability for existing homeowners when property taxes and fees are raised to subsidize new growth. The way to protect affordability for both existing homeowners and new home buyers is with a graduated impact fees based on dwelling size.

9. CAC leaders are asking the Council to help them strengthen citizens’ involvement in city government matters. Should the CACs be strengthened? If so, what specific measures would you support to assist them?

CACs need to be strengthened. CACs were created to be the primary forum for citizens to receive and discuss information about ongoing city affairs and provide feedback to the City Council. This is an important civic responsibility that is not supported by adequate city funding and staffing, nor by a clear mechanism that incorporates CAC advisory comment to City Council on many programs and policies that directly effect citizen’s health, safety and welfare. These changes needed so that CACs can help citizens fulfill their civic responsibilities.

In the past CACs have held City Council candidate forums in order to help educate citizens about their most important civic duty – electing their representatives. Concerns about partisanship in the conduct of the forums should be resolved as soon as possible, with staff support as required, so that the forums can not only resume, but will be encouraged by the City Council.

10. Public transit is a huge issue in Raleigh, but there’s little consensus on what to do about the local bus service, or about regional rail or bus connections. What are your goals in this area?

The experience of every growing American city tells us that Raleigh and the surrounding region are at a transportation crossroads. The rising costs of energy, land, construction, as well as rapidly increasing road congestion and the impacts of growth on our limited natural resources and human health, are challenging the economic viability of just growing ‘more of the same’.

The solution lies in a public transit system that has at least two parts. The first part is a modern, efficient bus and shuttle service designed to provide a safe and convenient alternative to driving, and reduce congestion along existing thoroughfares in lower density areas of the city. The second part of the system is a series of rail corridors designed to attract new higher density development and redevelopment. The higher cost of rail, whether it be streetcars, trolleys or light rail, would be offset in three ways: by the higher tax value of the adjacent high-density development, by the decreased need for extensive road and parking infrastructure nearby, and third, by focusing new growth away from outlying areas, where it would otherwise consume our remaining open space and congest existing thoroughfares.

This system could start small, with one or more demonstration lines that are part of our existing local and regional bus systems, and then grow with demand, to include planned regional and inter-city rail.

With Raleigh projected to almost double in size over the next 25 years, growing ‘more of the same’ is the recipe for becoming a big, sprawling third-rate city. If instead, we intend to become a great city, we will have to do what others have done, and meet the economic challenges of growth with transit system options.

11. Several city or county governments in the Triangle extend employee benefits to domestic partners (including gay and lesbian partners) the same as to married spouses. Raleigh does not. Should it? Is this something you’d support if elected?


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