HILLSBOROUGH - Two Republican candidates and a Libertarian are seeking to unseat three well-established Democrat incumbents on the Orange County Board of Commissioners.
Three commissioners' seats are up for re-election, with incumbents Alice Gordon, Steve Halkiotis and Barry Jacobs running, along with Republican challengers Jamie Daniel and Robin Staudt and Libertarian Seth Fehrs. Daniel and Staudt, making their first bids for elected office, have focused in part on local taxes, saying they would not support future increases in the county's property-tax rate.
The incumbents have said they're also concerned about taxes, pointing to their decision in the 2001-02 budget to defer some capital projects, not give employees cost-of-living increases this year and enact a six-month hiring freeze. The commissioners raised property taxes for this year by 2.5 cents per $ 100, with about two cents going to cover debt from the 1997 bonds. County Manager John Link had recommended an increase of 4.5 cents.
Daniel, 30, lives on Sinai Circle near Hillsborough with his wife and three children, and he works at Duke University as a computer-programming consultant. Before moving to Orange about three years ago, he spent eight years in the U.S. Army as a member of the U.S. Army Band. He grew up near Beckley, W.Va.
"I'm just a down-home coal miner's son from West Virginia," Daniel said Saturday. "I say it like it is."
Daniel said he wants leaders to do more to tap into resources already in the county, promote more economic development and look for wasteful spending.
"I would not vote to raise taxes in any way, shape or form," Daniel said. "I would like to see the line held on taxes, or to lower taxes. If you lower taxes and put more money in people's pockets, they're going to spend more.
"I'd like to continue the education support in this county," he said. "We have the most well-educated population in the state, and I'd like to keep that support up. One of the things I would like to change is to bring a new perspective to it, because I think sometimes people equate support with taxes."
As an example of supporting schools in ways other than with more funding, Daniel said leaders should help elderly residents come into the schools as volunteers to read to the students, using the existing transportation services in the county.
Asked to name a defining moment in his life, Daniel described the death of one of his grandmothers in West Virginia. She was diagnosed with cancer and went from being perhaps the strongest person he knew to very weak. When she died, about 500 people attended her funeral, and it made Daniel think, "You need to do the best you can, live your life the best way you know how, never waste a minute," he said.
Fehrs, 40, lives on Woodland Park Drive in Hillsborough with his wife and son, and he works at Duke University Medical Center in programming and database design. He grew up in New York and has lived in the county for about six years. He graduated from Duke with an undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering.
Fehrs could not be reached for comment on Saturday afternoon. In the information he submitted for The Herald-Sun's Votebook, he described himself as economically conservative but socially liberal. He ranked himself at 2, on a political scale ranging from 1 (extremely conservative) to 9 (extremely liberal).
He stated that his top priorities would be "relieving the tax burden for rural home owners and farmers," keeping the budget balanced and focusing on efficiency in the county government.
"I believe people minding their own business should be left alone, or to 'live and let live,' " Fehrs stated. "I tend to prefer the privatization of most government services, but given that we have things like public schools, I'd like to see them run as efficiently as possible."
He contended that neither Republicans nor Democrats are "serious" about limiting the size of government, and that the county commissioners should pay only for countywide services, such as schools and the Sheriff's Office.
Gordon, 65, lives on Edgewood Drive south of Chapel Hill with her husband. She grew up in Columbus, Ohio, and came to Chapel Hill in 1972 with a doctorate in psychology from Stanford. She's retired as a research psychologist at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at UNC.
Gordon is running for her fourth four-year term. She was commissioners chairwoman in 1999, and she has focused on issues like transportation and schools, serving on groups including the Schools and Land Use Councils, the board of the Triangle Transit Authority and the Transportation Advisory Committee of the Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization.
She is stressing her support for schools, inclusive county government, environmental protection and county programs like Lands Legacy, through which the county has purchased conservation easements and several hundred acres for parks and open space. She's eager for the county, towns and school boards to agree on the proposed adequate public facilities ordinance for schools to prevent overcrowding in the schools.
The various boards may vote on that ordinance in the coming weeks. It would link the rate of residential development with the availability of classroom space in local schools. If a proposed development were expected to push schools beyond their capacity for students, then the project would be deferred until new classroom space is available.
Gordon said a defining moment was when she decided 12 years ago to run for county commissioner, after serving as chairwoman of the county Planning Board and president of the city school district's PTA Council.
"It's not the defining moment of my life, but it certainly was an important moment," she said, since she was able to take her interest in schools and land use to the next level. "If I was going to go on to contribute to the community, the commission was the place to do it."
Halkiotis, 58, lives on Franklin Road near Hillsborough with his wife. Halkiotis was chairman of the County Commissioners last year and is now vice chairman. He was first elected as a county commissioner in 1986 and is running for his fifth - and what he says likely is his last - term.
Halkiotis has pointed to the construction of school space and two new senior centers in Chapel Hill and central Orange as among the efforts he wants to continue.
"The kids are going to keep coming," he said Saturday. "As much as people think we're anti-development, we need to remember that we grew faster than Durham County, according to the last census."
He grew up in Haverhill, Mass., and came to Chapel Hill in 1967 to earn a doctorate in Latin American history. He was a teacher and administrator in the Orange County school system and principal at Orange High School from 1981 to 1996. He currently is the school system's director of auxiliary services, which covers bus transportation, school maintenance and child nutrition.
Halkiotis also is stressing his support for parks and open space, environmental protection and the concept of sustainability. He said he's concerned that the financial troubles at the state level aren't over, and that next year the numbers could look even worse for the state budget, which could lead to more cuts affecting local governments.
"We had to do something," he said about the commissioners' decision this fall to add a half-cent sales tax starting Dec. 1, as authorized by the General Assembly. "Nobody wants to run around and enact additional sales taxes and this and that, but what do you do?"
As for a defining moment, Halkiotis pointed to the birth of his daughter, Christon, about 24 years ago.
"I think being the father of a daughter shaped and defined my whole attitude toward equal opportunities for women, a level playing field for women," he said.
Jacobs, 51, lives on Moorefields Road near Hillsborough with his wife, adjacent to the historic Moorefields estate where he works as caretaker. He currently is chairman of the county commission, and he's seeking his second term. He served six years on the county Planning Board and five years on the Orange Water and Sewer Authority board.
Jacobs grew up in New York and graduated from Duke University, and he is a journalist and author of works including the annual "Fan's Guide to ACC Basketball," "Coach K's Little Blue Book" and "The World According to Dean." He has been chairman of groups ranging from the Library Services Task Force to the Soccer Symposium Task Force, and was appointed to the state Commission on Smart Growth, Growth Management and Development.
He said one of his goals continues to be encouraging "smart growth," which he defines as growth that acknowledges limits on natural resources and infrastructure and does minimal damage to the environment. He also points to his support for schools, social justice, collaboration with citizens and other local governments and efforts like Lands Legacy.
"I'm proud of the fact that we're preserving basically one acre for every acre developed," he said. "I think that's one of our proudest achievements."
As a defining moment, Jacobs referred to 1969 at Duke, his freshman year, when a group of black students took over the administration building and called for changes, such as more black professors and creation of an African-American studies program. Duke had been integrated only for a few years, and it was a time when the relatively few black students were fighting for a voice, Jacobs said. He decided to join students who blocked entrances to a building to keep protesters from being removed.
"You may not fully embrace the tactic, and the situation may not be of your choosing, but sometimes you have to put yourself out on a limb and stand up for what you think is right," he said.
Staudt, 48, grew up near Pittsburgh and moved to Orange County about six years ago. She and her husband live on Bushy Cook Road in Efland. She currently is a homemaker and floral designer, and she owned a hairdressing business back in Pennsylvania. She has a degree in landscape design from the Community College of Allegheny County and a certificate in cosmetology from the Steel Valley Vocational and Technical School.
Staudt was a delegate to the Republican state convention last year, and she is a member of the executive committee of the Orange County Republican Party, a founding member and vice president of the Regulator Republican Women's Club and member of Citizens for a Sound Economy, which has asked candidates to sign no-tax-increase pledges.
Staudt's call for a "tax freeze" is featured on her campaign signs. She is pushing the theme of more economic development for the county, to take some of the tax burden off residential property owners.
"In the county, there are so many people who just don't have the income to handle any more tax increases," she said. "We have to become creative for how we raise our money."
Staudt supported the Hampton Pointe shopping center for Hillsborough, and she said she supports the Waterstone development along Old N.C. 86 and Interstate 40. She said she's heard a lot of concern about the water supply for central and northern Orange, and she believes the county should try to build another reservoir, using land the county owns along Seven Mile Creek. The county plans to use that land as a nature preserve, possibly with trails and limited camping.
"We don't need a wildlife preserve," Staudt said. "It's an excellent place to consider having a reservoir."
As a defining moment in her life, Staudt said she was shaped by her family's involvement in the community and her father's death when she was 13 and the oldest of five children. Her father had been president of the local chamber of commerce and an active Democrat, and her grandmother was an active Republican.
"They taught me at a young age that it was important to be involved, that it does make a difference," she said.