Comments from Chatham County (NC) Commissioner Sally Kost
January 21, 2014
Chatham County has been my home for nearly a decade. I love this community and it has been my honor to work with many local citizens in service to the community since being elected to this board in 2008.
Life is full of twists and turns, and my life has taken a big turn. My husband of 39 years, Tom, has retired from GSK, and with that retirement is pursuing a new business. We’ve sold our home and will relocate to Golden, Colorado. So, effective February 1, I am resigning my position as county commissioner.
I ran for office on the platform of open citizen-based government, building strong public schools, protecting our natural resources, promoting economic development and sound financial management. I am proud of my record, and I have stood firm on this platform.
in parting, I’d like to share a few thoughts on issues that still need to be addressed.
The budget process - You know that when we work through the budget, I ask a lot of questions. So when this board voted to approve the 2012 budget with no discussion about county programs, revenues or issues, I was stunned. I urge you to use the budget as an avenue to learn more about public needs, county operations, department issues and challenges, and ensure that we have recognized all efficiencies and opportunities to save precious county dollars.
Expanding broadband – The prior board had made this a high priority and worked diligently in tackling this difficult issue for a rural county. But the current board has made little progress. The lack of adequate broadband services in this community hurts our citizens, who need better access to the internet at home and for their small businesses. It also hurts economic development by holding back the development of new business, in some areas of our county. You have just starting talking about this issue, and I hope as you move forward you will make this a much higher priority.
Landfill –It is time to address a long-range solution to our trash disposal needs. Since January 2011, when this board stopped the landfill selection process, there has been no further public discussion. As the community grows, so does our need for a long-term solution. To not do so, will cost the taxpayers more. I urge this board to address a long-term solution and to implement as soon as feasibility possible, co-mingled recycling to further reduce our waste stream.
Agriculture - It is past time to begin addressing the recommendations of the Agricultural Economic Development Plan and the Agricultural Land Use Plan. Some of these recommendations require resources, some don’t. There was considerable community input in developing this plan and the plan had the buy-in of our farming community. Yet, although the plan is approved on the books, what have we done to implement it, including addressing the farm protection land use implications of this plan?
Fairness of the water availability fee - One of the many items for which I have advocated has been for a more fair water availability fee. Staff has told us there are implementation issues, but we are a smart county with smart people so we should be able to figure out how to implement a fee so that a citizen with a two bedroom mobile home is paying a lower rate than a citizen with a much larger home.
Strategic planning - Long range financial planning will save the taxpayers in the end. This includes getting out in front of the need for new schools – having dialogue with the Chatham Park developers and resuming our land banking for new schools. The cost of real estate in Chatham, especially in the areas of higher growth, will only increase. And we know new schools will be needed. Let’s work with the Board of Education and identify areas of the county where new schools are needed, and develop a plan to buy land before the costs escalate.
And speaking of the Board of Education. This board likes to talk about our strong working relationship with the school board, but we have had only one public joint meeting in three years. Perhaps some board members are working behind the scenes, but I believe it is incredibly important that the board of county commissioners’ work with the board of education openly and in the public eye to develop a plan for better pay for teachers, lessen the impact of budget cuts on education, and address the need for new facilities.
Regional planning - The value of participating in the Metropolitan Planning Organization for transportation planning has been a hot topic for this board. And some of the questions raised are good. But not participating in the MPO for the past three years has done nothing but hurt this community. I strongly believe that participating in regional issues elevates Chatham County’s status in this region. When I served on the MPO, I developed relationships with leaders in other communities and in return the citizens in Chatham had a much stronger voice in regional issues. I pushed for completion of the Farrington Road Corridor study. The notion that you can attend an MPO meeting only when there is an issue that impacts Chatham County directly is politically naïve and short-sighted. I urge this board to become involved in regional issues, promote our community in the region, and develop relationships with other elected officials in the area.
Public health - I know you campaigned on eliminating the health educator position that was needed to coordinate the efforts to combat the number one health issue in Chatham County – childhood obesity. You can’t just leave this to parents. When childhood obesity ends up costing the taxpayers, it becomes a public issue. I hope that you will take up this issue again, now that you have some experience under your belt, because these problems don’t just solve themselves.
Fracking - When the chair of the environmental review committee presented the annual report of that committee, he was told that the Board of Commissioners didn’t want the committee to make a recommendation regarding fracking. Fracking is not a partisan issue. I have been hard-pressed to find anyone who really wants it here. I urge you to get involved, ask our advisory committees to evaluate it, and take a stand to protect our water, air and people.
Economic development - Chatham needs good jobs. What ever happened to the Economic Development Strategic Plan? Why did we abandon the industry cluster strategy that was recommended as the key recruitment strategy of that plan, which lined it up perfectly with the Triangle region’s economic development strategy? If we have abandoned it, let’s be upfront about it. A great deal of work went into that plan, but I don’t see Chatham working to implement it.
Other issues that this board should address include: developing and implementing energy standards for public buildings; integrating the conservation plan and other plans into a comprehensive land use plan that includes a map; increasing the wages for our solid waste convenience center workers and the transit drivers; developing a real strategy for affordable housing; and making sure that the county staff has the resources to do their jobs.
That’s a tall agenda, especially for a staff that is already over-burdened. So it means you need to be strategic and efficient.
It has been an honor to serve this amazing community. I am grateful to our staff for their dedication and professionalism. I’m also thankful for all of the local residents who speak out and volunteer their time to make this an even better place.
Your job is not easy, but our community expects you to address the tough issues, and to stand up for them.
I hope you will keep open doors and open minds, and work together with local citizens on these issues and more.
The Democratic Party will be meeting in February to discuss identifying my replacement. I urge you to respect the party’s recommendation. This will re-enforce that you truly do believe what you have said, that diversity in opinion makes for better decision-making.