BOCC April Update: Bail Reform, Library Cost Overruns, and More

The Board of County Commissioners held virtual business meetings on March 2 and 16 and a virtual work session on March 9.  The agendas covered 547 pages.  The magnitude of these agendas makes it clear just how involved the BOCC gets in our private lives.

The March 2 Business Meeting handled a lot of boiler plate housekeeping issues.  Perhaps the three most significant items were the Civil Rights Ordinance Amendment, the Orange County Bail Reform Initiative Review, and the 203 Greensboro Library and Skills Center Project.  The Civil Rights Ordinance Amendment established discrimination protections based on hair styles, primarily related to those of black individuals.  Wasn’t there a 1960’s song about hair??  The Bail Reform Initiative review basically deals with the pre-trial confinement of charged individuals who cannot afford to pay bail for release.  The premise of the program is that lack of money for bail mostly affects racial minorities and thus money bail requirements are discriminatory.  There is also a component of the high cost to taxpayers of the incarceration of these individuals.  The challenge seems to be the balance between the risk of release of these individuals versus the cost of incarceration.  Not an easy determination to make!  The 203 Greensboro Library and Skills Center project deals with the $1.8 million overrun on the budget of $15.6 million that was just approved for the project proposal in March 2020.  This is still just the proposal stage of the project—if the cost is 12% higher in just the first year of proposal refinement the taxpayers are going to get hosed big time when the project construction gets under way!!  This led to a lengthy discussion of the cost of the existing capital plan, probable/possible property tax increases in the range of 4 to 5% and moving money around to cover this overrun.  This is just a continuation of Orange County government exorbitant spending, borrowing, and taxing!!!

The March 9 Work Session also dealt with housekeeping items of work plans for Boards and Commissions, the process for Advisory Board appointments, and matters about the Board of Equalization and Review.  The big issue in this meeting was the discussion between the Mebane City Council and the BOCC on the Buckhorn Area Plan.  Interested persons should view the recorded meeting video on the Orange County Commissioners section of the county website.  Your future property rights are at stake here.

The March 16 meeting had numerous items including the Public Hearing for the annual report for the Home Investment Partnerships (HOME) program, proposed Employee Health Insurance and Other Benefits, and the Mobility on Demand (MOD) Pilot Program.  During Public Hearing the board was reminded that federal laws make it a felony to shield, shelter, or harbor illegal aliens and that this HOME program should be administered within the boundaries of those laws.  In an item of good news, the upcoming year employee benefits will not result in an increase for the taxpayers or the employees.  However, the MOD program represents an unnecessary expansion of public transit providing rides on demand in direct competition to Uber, Lyft and other private enterprise businesses.  It appears that since the Light Rail fiasco/failure, the Orange County Public Transit department has been looking for ways to spend the Article 43 money that was planned for the Light Rail and have come up with this program.  As the pilot program, they will offer rides in a small van for $5 from Hillsborough to Eubanks Park and Ride area; the $5 would be for an individual or group.  This led to discussion on future costs for more light rail adventures costing billions of dollars and the tax revenue streams necessary for those as well as other transit proposals.  There were even suggestions that the $5 should be reduced and taxpayers should shoulder that reduction.  This whole thing was so ridiculous that it is beyond words!!  The Article 43 sales tax adder needs to be eliminated or reduced.

A word to concerned citizens and taxpayers: this is budget preparation season for the county government with three months to go before submitting it for public hearing/comment and BOCC approval.  Generally, the BOCC has treated public comment as limited to 3 minute statements and thus blocked any real public input.  Now is the time to look at the previous budget in detail and contact the BOCC and government department heads and commissions and let your concerns be known.  Otherwise, the plan of the government officials will steamroll through along with tax increases.  If anyone is willing to work on analysis, review and reduction proposal regarding the budget let me know.  Maybe as a group we can have an impact.  Citizen participation is key to good, lawful and fiscally responsible government.

- Riley J. Ruske
  Orange County Citizen

Editor's Note: The next Business Meetings of the BOCC are scheduled for Apr 6 and Apr 20 at 7 PM. Work Sessions are scheduled for Apr 13 and Apr 22. The agendas may be found here on the Friday prior to the meeting date, or you may go here to stream the video of the meeting live from home.