The Daily Tar Heel

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Thursday May 26th

County commissioners bring five topics to general assembly

The Orange County Board of Commissioners came up with five topics to discuss with their legislators at the N.C. General Assembly short session on April 18.

The Board of Commissioners chose topics to discuss so the general assembly can determine the next course of action for implementing any new rules regarding the issues at hand.

The topics to be discussed include:

1. Raising the juvenile age in court from 16 to 18.

North Carolina is one of two states that prosecutes 16- and 17-year-olds as adults. 

According to Commissioner Barry Jacobs, this transition of raising the juvenile age would give courts more time to work with juveniles and address the behavior that got them into their situations.

"I think it's feasible," Jacobs said. 

"I think people can recognize some things are less just than others and treating people who are in their teens like adults is unfair."

2. Discuss prioritizing school issues, such as calendar flexibility and driver's education funding.

The commissioners plan to discuss several factors about the school systems, including how the school calendar is organized and the lack of flexibility that goes along with it.

Modern day school calendars are based on tourism schedules and what times of the year coincide with a student's ability to work and increase profits made through the tourism industry.

Jeff Nash, spokesperson for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, said the calendar flexibility forces the school districts to make tough choices. 

"They tell you when you can start and when you can finish. Well, within those dates there is not enough time," he said. 

"The school board is put in a tough spot when deciding whether or not to come on Saturdays or Memorial Day or other holidays. If we could just simply add a few days or have the freedom to select when we start our school years, this issue goes away and it wouldn't be a problem at all."

According to Jacobs, if a school system should want to change their calendar for situations regarding weather or religious holidays that don't pertain to Christianity, the school system should not be held back by their current restrictions. 

3. Expanding broadband capability to underserved areas of North Carolina in attempts to foster business and farm development, along with the creation of new jobs. 

Commissioner Penny Rich explained that the commissioners are pushing to make broadband and internet access a utility. 

"The folks that can have it and have access have a different level of intelligence," she said. 

"Just like everything you use on a daily basis, the internet should be a utility."

According to Jacobs, there are locations throughout Orange County that don't have any broadband access or the speed of the internet is extremely slow.

"One of the things we added was to have a minimum standard," he said. "So you can't claim a speed which is not available to everybody, it either exists or doesn't exist."

Jacobs said the addition of broadband networks to areas that don't already have access will also lead to the creation and development of businesses and jobs.

"In order to be competitive, business needs to be able to move at speed through the internet and if it takes a while to download anything, you're obviously at a disadvantage," Jacobs said. "You can accommodate people working at home, which allows for more small businesses to operate and keeps down the miles to travel, which improves air quality and quality of life."

According to Rich, residents can't live in the more rural areas of Orange County and be successful without access to broadband.

4. Seek legislative action that will provide all North Carolina governments the authority to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes to protect them from discriminatory practices. 

"It's self apparent. We believe in equal treatment and social justice," Jacobs said. "We don't believe in singling out anybody to not be protected by the law."

According to Jacobs, the board passed a resolution, before the legislature held its session, and asked the legislature to "leave alone the rights of local governments to make decisions that they think best fits the wishes of their constituents."

"I think it's important to not accept discrimination without speaking up against it, even though you think you have no chance to change minds that are closed," Jacobs said. 

"If you don't speak out, then you're acquiescing. There's too much of that in history to not learn a lesson."

The commissioners are asking for a repeal of House Bill 2 with addressing this topic at the general assembly. 

5. Clarify that farms on which production of crops and livestock is the primary use are the only properties that qualify for previous zoning exemptions.

Orange County saw a difficult situation as a couple registered their property under the federal government as a working farm, but instead of using the space as an area for crop or livestock production first, they turned their farm into a wedding venue and grew flowers on their property to keep the title and protection from zoning laws.

"There are all sorts of benefits to having a farm that the federal governments gives to people," Rich said. 

"If you are a functioning working farm, you are allowed to have a secondary business on your land. This is a way to get around Orange County zoning rules to create a party space where a party space doesn't belong."

Rich said the commissioners are addressing this issue to make sure it does not keep happening and the secondary farm usage does not become the primary reason for the property. 

"If people are buying farms, they should be functioning farms," she said. 

"It's not so much other farmers that they're affecting, it's the surrounding neighborhood. What used to be a quiet dirt road is now a busy dirt road with a lot of noise until late at night. In all aspects, it's not the way Orange County wants these numbers to be used."


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