As local elections approach, we reached out to the candidates for Hillsborough Board of Commissioners and asked them a few questions. Election Day is Nov. 5. Early voting starts Oct. 16.
Daily Tar Heel: What is the biggest issue facing Hillsborough right now?
Mark Bell: At this moment in time, it is probably the pressure of growth on the town and what that means for our resource allocations and also the social pressure that puts on the residents of the town as well.
Matt Hughes: I don’t think there's any singular issue that the town is facing, but I do think there are a lot of issues that fall into either two categories: one of which is managing the growth of the town and the impact that the growth that we know will be experienced will have on town services, on infrastructure on traffic. And then on the other side is affordability. Are folks of all income levels and ethnic groups and ages able to afford to live in town. Do they have access to affordable housing? Are the water rates reasonable? What’s the impact on taxes as it relates to affordability?
Evelyn Lloyd: By far our most pressing issue is the budget. It is likely that the town will face recessional conditions in the near term. At the same time it faces capital expense needs that will exceed $30 million. These needs include completion of the reservoir expansion, upgrade of the water and wastewater treatment plant, adding a second power station, upgrading police facilities, upgrading public works facilities and additional sidewalks just to name a few.
Kevin Mason: In my opinion the biggest issue is growth and traffic. There’s more and more development going on, the road system is being taxed to a point where it is struggling to keep up. I think that would be my priority moving forward.
DTH: Orange County Schools have seen a lot of changes recently. How can the Town of Hillsborough support the schools and their changes?
Bell: So the Town and the county and the School Board communicate with each other about planned development and capacity and long-reach planning for additional school capacity. Housing developments usually take years to come online – they don’t happen overnight. That gives the county time to communicate and coordinate about estimated population growth. The county is about to embark on the reassignment process that will factor into trying to balance the school capacity they have with where residents actually live. It is kind of a calculus of communication and planning and coordination between these different entities.
Hughes: I would say that all governments — whether it is the School Board, County Commissioners, or even the other municipalities in Orange County — we all need to be working together with a common emphasis on delivering high quality services to our residents. One of the reasons people want to move to Hillsborough is because we have two of the best school systems in the entire state, two of the best-funded school systems in the entire state. So naturally people want to live in a place like Hillsborough ... I think that there are a lot of ways that the Town and the school system and the county can really work together on issues related to affordable housing or making sure our community is an inclusive community and I would like to see more of that ...There is a new superintendent in Orange County Schools, I went to her installation ceremony and introduced myself. It is important to show support to our partners in the community and just say, ‘Hey, welcome to Hillsborough, welcome to Orange County, let me know how I can help you and any way I can, I will.’
Lloyd: When we first approached them about Cedar Ridge, we were told that the changes wouldn’t be a problem. We later found out that Cameron Park and Cedar Ridge are both near capacity. We were also told they would have to buy two new buses and they would have to change the bus routes so that children would have to leave home earlier and get home later.
Mason: I don’t know how much the Town can actually do, it is a county-run system. I haven’t heard that Orange County Schools is looking for a whole lot of assistance from the Town, although they should be considering a bulk of their students are coming from the Hillsborough area. I think that Orange County schools are struggling. I would be open to hearing anything they like from us.
DTH: The town has seen demonstrations recently in response to Confederate activity in the community. How do you view these protests and how would you respond if elected?
Bell: So as a Town Board Commissioner, I am very supportive of the counter-protests that have occurred and am very much opposed to the kind of racist, hateful speech that sometimes comes to our town. As a town, we don’t support that type of speech and what the Town Board seeks to do is to support our citizens in uniting against racism.
Hughes: We have already responded, I hope we continue to respond. I think part of that response is letting the community know how its elected officials feel on issues where people feel threatened or feel as though there are folks out there who don’t respect people’s basic rights or in some cases, their humanity. There are things I have asked the Town Council to investigate so that we can better handle some of these situations when they come up. The establishment of a free speech zone for example. When you have folks who want to demonstrate on the sidewalk, you get a lot of folks who are driving past who are interacting with those folks, that’s gonna be a public safety issue. But we also want to respect people’s First Amendment rights. Looking at ways we can be proactive within how the courts have interpreted the First Amendment is very, very important as well as making sure that we encourage people to go through a special event permitting process. We need to have something in hand. I think people are holding onto a South that never existed that didn’t respect people’s basic humanity whether it's the Civil War or the Civil Rights Movement, and it’s very unfortunate.
Lloyd: Since I’ve been on the board 28 years, I have only seen two marches from the Ku Klux Klan, and it was over an argument that (the Town) wanted a Confederate memorial taken off of the library ... Hillsborough formally adopted equity and fairness as its governing values and has come a long way from the Hillsborough of the 20th century when community values and board policies were not as inclusive or welcoming to all. Since joining the Town Board, I have supported and have seen the Town make great strides in encouraging diversity and fostering a sense of home for people from all origins, backgrounds and walks of life. The town has, and will continue to promote inclusion through policy practices and open dialogues with our residents. Over the past five years alone we have stood as a united Board and government condemning hate and white supremacy while taking a stand affirming our town’s value of being welcoming and inclusive. Although the Town has room for improvement, we have made strides in institutionalizing equity and inclusion in town operations. I’m hoping things are going to be better.
Mason: I would like to see both sides take a pause. I do not think we are gaining anything by protesting a counter-protest. I certainly don’t think they represent the bulk of Orange County citizens. When the Klan showed up, that was stunning. I certainly didn’t want to see that in my hometown. At the same time I think it was an outlier, I don’t think they represent what Orange County stands for, I think the citizens of Orange County don’t stand for that. I am not in favor of the free speech zone in downtown. I would like to see more enforcement of the special use permits, and certainly if there are any weapons or guns being noticed at a demonstration that they should be charged on the spot, we shouldn’t be looking for them three days later.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.