Name as it appears on ballot: Susan S. Romaine
Party affiliation: Democrat
Campaign website: romaineforcarrboro.com
Occupation and employer: Nonprofit director (unpaid)
Years lived in Carrboro: 15
1) In 300 words or less, please give us—and our readers—your elevator pitch: Why are you running? Why should voters entrust you with this position? What are your priorities, and what would you want to see the Board of Aldermen do differently or better over the course of your term?
I am running for a seat on the Board of Aldermen to work on a wider range of issues affecting all Carrboro citizens. Public service on the Board would be a natural extension of my 15 years of community service in Chapel Hill-Carrboro. Two projects have been my primary focus for the past decade, both involving the Carrboro community. I joined with friends to form the local hunger relief initiative, PORCH, in 2010, and Orange County Living Wage in 2015. Beginning as small, grassroots organizations, PORCH and OCLW now play a significant role in addressing the immediate need for local hunger relief and a longer-term solution of living wages.
Through community organizing, I have learned that change never comes as quickly as we would like, and it is most impactful when it is collaborative in nature. I would like to bring my skills and experiences as a collaborator to the Board and work toward real, meaningful change on a much wider array of issues including affordable housing, business development, climate change, and transportation. I believe voters can entrust me in this position based on my proven track record in the community as someone who reaches out to stakeholders, listens carefully, studies all the options, and makes fair, level-headed decisions.
The Board of Aldermen and town staff have done a remarkable job providing high quality services in Carrboro. A recent survey shows 92% resident satisfaction, with the one glaring exception being affordable housing. That said, I am very concerned about the long-term financial sustainability of Carrboro. Property tax revenues are relatively flat, not even keeping pace with inflation, and the tax burden falls way too heavily (90%) on homeowners. As a Board member, my #1 priority would be building our commercial tax base through a more aggressive economic development strategy generating much-needed revenue to support our high-quality services.
2) Given the direction of Carrboro government, would you say things are on the right course? If not, for what specific changes will you advocate if elected?
If we took a snapshot of Carrboro government today, the picture is quite rosy. Residents are pleased with Town services, assigning an overall, impressive grade of A-, according to the Biennial Citizen Survey Report. They feel safe and well-informed about Town activities, and report a high quality of life in Carrboro. Our fiscal position is also healthy, notching a triple-A bond rating.
Yet, I am concerned that Carrboro’s character, community, and diversity will be difficult to maintain because of the trend in the cost of living. First, housing is very expensive. According to Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce’s 2019 State of the Community report, the median home price in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools district is $377,000, near the highest in the region. Median rent in Carrboro is $983/month, also among the highest in the region. Around half of the renters in Carrboro report that they are rent-overburdened, meaning that they pay more than 30% of their income toward housing.
Second, property taxes in Carrboro are very high. Data from the NC Department of Revenue indicate that Carrboro has the highest all-jurisdictions (county, town, school district) property tax rate among the 532 cities and towns in North Carolina. What’s more, it appears a tax hike is right around the corner. In Town Manager David Andrews’ presentation of the FY2019-20 budget to the Board of Aldermen, he noted these pressures on our Town budget:
• a double-digit rise in health insurance and a spike in retirement costs for the Town’s 165 employees;
• aging town facilities including Town Hall and the Public Works Department;
• rising costs associated with upgrading stormwater facilities, climate action, Chapel Hill Transit, road and greenways projects, and keeping staff salaries competitive;
• property tax revenues that are not even keeping pace with inflation; and
• an over-reliance on sales tax revenue that is especially vulnerable to a downturn in the economy.
Against this backdrop, many residents are being priced out of Carrboro and moving to outlying areas including Alamance, Chatham, and Durham Counties. We know of this anecdotally, but also through income earning data for Orange County. The Orange County Affordable Housing Coalition notes that from 2009-15, the number of low-income households (i.e., earning less than $50,000) decreased by 11% while upper-income households (earning more than $75,000) increased by 15%. A disproportionate number of these low-income households are comprised of people of color.
This brings us to Carrboro’s greatest challenge over the next decade: protecting the diversity that goes to the core of who we are as a community. Carrboro rightly prides itself on being an inclusive community for people of all ages, races, ethnicities, gender identifications, incomes, religions, and socioeconomic backgrounds. But, the trend in affordability means that we run the risk of becoming a very white, affluent town.
To ensure Carrboro remains a home for low- and moderate-income families, retirees living on fixed incomes, and those with no income, I would prioritize these three specific changes for making our town more affordable:
Increase density, especially with more affordable housing, so our housing supply is more in line with demand.
I applaud the work the Town has done with community partners such as CASA and Community Home Trust to create or preserve 119 affordable units in Carrboro. But still, there is much more work to be done with very limited resources ($350,000) in our Affordable Housing Fund. As examples of cost-effective ways to offer more affordable housing, I support a comprehensive critical repair program, allowing folks to safely stay – and age – in their homes. I also support a pilot master lease program, much like the one Town of Chapel Hill and Community Home Trust are spearheading in Glen Lennox, in which rent is subsidized for low- and moderate-income working families. We can also do more to subsidize down payments and deposits for first-time homeowners.
Broaden our commercial tax base to ease the property tax burden on homeowners.
Carrboro’s property taxes are very high. In fact, our all-jurisdiction property tax (county, town, and special school district tax) is the very highest among the 532 cities and towns in North Carolina. How can this be? For one, we enjoy high quality services. We also have a very narrow commercial tax base, which puts an unusually heavy burden on homeowners. As Alderwoman, a top priority of mine would be finding ways to broaden our commercial tax base, to take some of the pressure off homeowners. This begins with offering more affordable commercial space such as an incubator (like LAUNCH) spinning off small businesses; shared work space (such as PERCH); a maker village (perhaps on Highway 54) for a glassmaker or wood maker; and more home-work space (similar to the Mapping Our Future plan for the Rogers Road community).
As we broaden our commercial tax base, let’s target businesses offering living wage jobs.
The Chamber’s State of the Community report shows that only 13% of people who work in Carrboro also live here, the exact same portion as Chapel Hill. One reason for this is that Orange County’s 2019 housing wage (the hourly wage needed to afford Fair Market Rent) is $17.35/hour, or over $36,000/year. This is considerably higher than typical salaries in the service industry (such as restaurants, coffee shops, and breweries), which dominates Carrboro’s business landscape. Working with the Orange County Economic Development Department, let’s more systematically identify and recruit technology start-ups and light manufacturing companies with good-paying jobs to locate here in Carrboro.
Here are some other recommendations for addressing affordability:
Focus our new development near transit corridors, so residents have more access to free bus service.
According to the Housing Plus Transportation Affordability Index, a family can get by if it is spending no more than 30% of disposable income on housing and no more than 15% on transportation. In other words, the H + T index is no more than 45%. In Carrboro, residents are spending on average half of their income on housing and transportation – which is simply unsustainable. One way of lowering transportation costs is living near a transit corridor and riding a bus, for free, to work. So, as we build new homes, let’s build them near transit. Riding a bus has the added bonus of reducing our greenhouse emissions, making it a win for the household budget and a win for our environment.
Provide more affordable daycare opportunities.
A typical American household spends as much as 10% of disposable income on daycare. Even more shocking, a recent Economic Policy Institute report found that full-time childcare for a 4-year-old is more expensive than in-state public college tuition in 23 states – including North Carolina. Carrboro must attract more daycare facilities and even consider subsidizing the cost of childcare for some of our low- and moderate-income working families.
Adopt more progressive tax reform.
Sixteen states allow their municipalities to levy income taxes, which typically include a sliding scale based on ability to pay. State law prevents North Carolina from doing so. As the composition of our state legislature changes and becomes more supportive of home rule, let’s adopt tax reform here in Carrboro to ease the heavy burden on low- and moderate-income working families. Specifically, let’s replace our two primary sources of revenue, the regressive sales and property taxes, with a more progressive local income tax.
Explore a multisector, comprehensive approach to affordability.
Let’s bring together advocates for affordable housing, living wages, tax reform, transit, hunger relief, workforce development, and daycare to create an Affordability Coalition. The coalition would be assigned the task of exploring a multisector, comprehensive approach to making Carrboro more affordable for all. Carrboro is a progressive leader in our state in so many ways. Let’s now become the flagship for addressing affordability.
3) What are three of the most pressing issues the town currently faces? How would you propose to address them? Please be specific.
The most pressing issue that Carrboro faces is our high cost of living, which is putting at risk the diversity that goes to the core of who we are as a community. My plans for addressing affordability are detailed in Question 2.
Second, a simple cost/benefit analysis should become a standard feature of our overall budgeting process. Our current bar for success focuses heavily on project completion. But, to what extent are we assessing and reassessing whether a project is really worth it? Did it have the predicted effects? And, at what cost? It seems very hard for Carrboro or any of our neighboring jurisdictions to cut spending, which puts tremendous pressure on creating net new jobs and revenues (ideally from commercial growth). Yet, we live in a town that prides itself on maintaining a “village” atmosphere, making it challenging to bring into the fold big box retail, light industrial, or any building higher than 2–3 stories.
Given these challenges for significant commercial revenue growth, I would like to see Carrboro share a simple cost/benefit analysis for citizens as it reviews each project over a certain monetary threshold:
• Prior to the approval of any town project (i.e., bike lanes, greenways, traffic calming devices, affordable housing, road diets, etc.), provide an honest assessment of the cost and benefit of the project.
• When deciding whether to approve a project, make predictions about what the project will actually accomplish. What would “success” look like? How would we define “failure”?
• After the project is completed, assess just how well the project lined up with our predictions? It seems to me that this third step is rarely done.
As just one example, I would point to the Homestead Chapel Hill High School Multi-Use Path (Phase 1B). This $1.5 million project, which ran over budget in part because the bridge needed to be rebuilt, is designed to improve connectivity and encourage more walking and bicycling between some of the northern neighborhoods and nearby schools (Chapel Hill High School, Smith Middle School, and Seawell Elementary School). Will the Town share a comprehensive assessment of the usage of the multi-use path one year out, two years out, etc.? And, how will the information gleaned from those assessments be used for future greenway planning? Those types of decisions must of course be made in the context of the town’s many competing needs for its limited resources.
Third, the Town needs to expedite implementation of our climate action plan. Our Community Climate Action Plan sets an ambitious goal of cutting emissions in half by 2025. To meet this goal, the Town recognizes the need to mobilize the community on many fronts including a more extensive bus service, assistance for those facing flooding in their home, the aquatic health of Bolin Creek, and conversion of streetlights to LED lights. Progress toward our Climate Action Plan goals is being made, largely as a result of the town’s switch from coal to natural gas as an electricity source; emissions are down by 14% over the past seven years. Yet, much work still needs to be done to meet our goals.
As a first step in expediting progress, I was pleased to see the formation of the Orange County Climate Action Council, which brings together Orange County, Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and Hillsborough governments as well as UNC, our school systems, and local residents in a collaborative effort against climate change. Strategies can be shared and resources pooled, with the county taking the lead in supporting smaller jurisdictions such as Carrboro. But most importantly, just one action plan is being put into place for all municipal governments and other large employers in Orange County, to ensure everyone is moving forward on climate action in a thoughtful, coordinated way.
In addition, our town’s Environmental Advisory Board (EAB) needs to be more fully staffed to help lead the implementation of our climate action plan. Currently, the EAB oversees development review projects and climate action and the mandate is simply too broad. I would prioritize the recruiting of new members for the EAB while also dedicating some members to climate action implementation only. Recruitment efforts should target UNC undergraduate and graduate students, who are very under-represented on all of the town’s advisory boards and would bring tremendous energy, knowledge, and passion to climate action efforts.
4) What prior experience makes you qualified for and passionate about the Board of Alderman and its duties? What made you seek this position?
Over the past decade, I have had the opportunity to serve as founder and director of PORCH and Orange County Living Wage, both volunteer-driven, grassroots organizations. Through neighborhood-building and community organizing, PORCH’s monthly food drives have grown from 230 cans of tuna in October 2009, to $2.4 million in local hunger relief one decade later. Orange County Living Wage was incorporated in July 2015, shortly after certifying our first living wage employer, Marcoplos Construction. Four years later, there are over 200 living wage employers on our roster, who together have raised wages by $720,000 and provided a cumulative $2.5 million stimulus to our regional economy.
As a member of the Board, I would like to use these hunger relief and living wage partnerships as a springboard for many more productive, cost-effective collaborations. What’s more, my work with PORCH and OCLW puts me into regular contact with folks who often lack a voice in the Board’s decision-making process: low-income families (disproportionately families of color) coping with the day-to-day challenge of simply staying afloat, undocumented neighbors fearful of public settings, low-wage employees working multiple jobs (often with night shifts) to make ends meet, and local merchants who work long hours and cannot attend Board of Aldermen meetings. It would be an honor to bring their voices and concerns to the Board.
In addition to my work on local hunger relief and living wages, I served for 13 years as Democratic Party precinct chair for the Hogan Farms Precinct. As precinct chair, I worked with leaders in the historically African-American Rogers Road community, neighbors in the Northern Transition Area, farmers in Orange County along Old 86, and friends in the various housing developments lining Homestead Road. Much of the town’s new development is slated for these areas, which already comprise a significant portion of the town’s property tax base. But sadly, there is little representation on the Board from the northern neighborhoods. In fact, there has never been representation on the Board by a resident from our town’s largest development, Lake Hogan Farms, where I live. Nor has there been a resident from the nearby Claremont and Winmore developments. I would welcome the opportunity to bring a new voice from the north to the Board.
Prior to moving to Carrboro, I worked with Tax Equity Alliance for Massachusetts (TEAM), a broad coalition of good government groups, civic and business leaders, human service advocates, and unions sharing the conviction that fair taxation and quality services go hand-in-hand. While pushing for progressive local and state tax reform, TEAM opposed Proposition 2 ½ and other ballot measures that would have slashed taxes and the ability of the state to support important programs and services. Through TEAM, I became well-versed in progressive state and local tax reform, an issue that I hope will get more attention with a more like-minded state legislature. In the meantime, Carrboro is forced to rely heavily on its sales and property taxes which fall disproportionately hard on low-and moderate-income families – the very same families we are trying to support with our affordable housing programs.
After obtaining my master’s degree in public policy from the University of Chicago, I was retained by a small economic development consulting firm based in Chicago, Charles Rial Associates. My work focused on creating a pilot consortium of Chicago-based steel companies (with shared marketing, printer, office space, etc.) to cut costs in the face of rising global competition. I would like to explore a similar model in Carrboro, as we look for ways for local business to cut costs and remain competitive through shared space/infrastructure opportunities.
Even earlier, following my graduation from University of Virginia, I worked as a legislative aide for U.S. Congressman Harley O. Staggers, Jr. Here, I received a crash course in electoral politics as well as the ravages of poverty and black lung disease in West Virginia’s coal mining district. I also gained a deep appreciation of the importance of constituent services, often a last resort for financial and emotional assistance in very complicated, troubled situations. I would bring that same commitment to constituent services to the Carrboro Board of Aldermen.
Through these past experiences, I believe that I am well-positioned to make a positive impact on the Board. Together, these experiences have armed me with organizing and coalition-building skills, a passionate voice for the under-served and marginalized in our community, a conviction that fair taxation and high-quality services go hand-in-hand, first-hand experience in business development, and a deep appreciation for constituent services as the last resort for helping many of our most marginalized citizens.
5) As with most places in the Triangle, Carrboro is grappling with issues related to affordable housing. How would you like to see the town approach affordability issues over the next few years? What do you believe the town is doing right? What could it do better?
Despite our best efforts, the gap between the supply and the need for affordable housing continues to widen in Orange County. According to the Orange County Affordable Housing Coalition, rental costs rose by 16% from 2009 to 2015. More than 40% of Orange County households are eligible for income-based affordable housing, while only 3% of our housing stock is permanently affordable. In shear numbers, there are currently 12,500 households in Orange County in need of affordable housing. All too many lower-income households (disproportionately people of color) continue to be priced out of our housing market, leaving us at risk of losing the diversity that goes to the core of who we are as a community.
To address this housing crisis in Carrboro, our Board of Aldermen approved a half-cent hike in the property tax for fiscal years 2018-19 and 2019-20, designated for our Affordable Housing Fund. The Board will consider a third and final half-cent hike for 2020-21, which I would support as a way of raising much-needed revenue to meet the town’s affordable housing goals. For every penny hike in the property tax, the town raises approximately $225,000.
Nearly half of the Town’s $358,000 Affordable Housing Fund is earmarked for housing partners including Community Home Trust, Partnership to End Homelessness, Empowerment, and Self Help. With the remaining half, I support the Town’s general approach to stretching its net as widely as possible to help residents obtain or remain in affordable housing.
These measures include:
• critical repairs of naturally occurring affordable housing (NOAH), allowing folks to remain safely and age in their homes;
• rental and utility deposit assistance; and
• acquisition of land or housing units to add to our town’s affordable housing stock.
Looking ahead, I’m hopeful that Carrboro and Chapel Hill can successfully team up with CASA to build a high-density, affordable housing complex on South Merritt Mill Road. Many of the units in the three-story, 48-unit apartment are set aside for households making up to 60% of the area median income, an especially at-risk group. The development will be located on a free bus line and walkable from Downtown Carrboro and Chapel Hill. The one remaining hurdle is approval of a low-income housing tax credit through the Internal Revenue Service.
With our limited funding, I would also like to see the Town pilot a master leasing program similar to the one at the Glen Lennox Apartments, partnered by Town of Chapel Hill and Community Home Trust. In this model, a nonprofit housing partner secures a long-term lease with property owners for control of a block of rental units. The nonprofit then assumes responsibility for subleasing the apartments. Tenants pay a maximum of 30% of their income toward rent, and the housing partner/municipality subsidize the difference between that and the market rate price. According to the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce, for the same subsidy required for affordable homeownership, 25–40 families could benefit from a subsidized rental program such as master leasing.
I also support affordable housing set aside specifically for teachers. The attrition rate for teachers in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools is among the highest in North Carolina at 13%, compared to a state average of 8%. The main reason behind this high attrition rate is our area’s steep housing prices, forcing teachers to commute long distances to find housing within their budget. To boost our teacher recruitment and retention rates, I would like to see the Town partner with State Employees Credit Union to build some housing specifically for teachers in our public school system. SECU recently opened a 24-unit apartment complex for teachers in Buncombe County, following similar initiatives in Hertford, Dare, Durham, and Hoke Counties.
Our best opportunity for more affordable housing is the 164-acre Greene Tract, jointly owned by Orange County, and Towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro. While the Greene Tract includes a beautiful hardwood forest that should be preserved, it also offers a rare opportunity to build a significant amount of affordable housing on publicly-owned land. I would love to have the opportunity to lend my voice to the conversation among these three governing bodies in finding just the right balance in preservation and affordable housing.
The South Merritt Mill Road project, a master leasing program, an affordable housing program for teachers, and a significant affordable housing development in the Greene Tract require resources beyond what is available in our current Affordable Housing Fund. While a smaller tax hike for more affordable housing may be needed in coming years, I would not support a larger tax hike for fear it would make Carrboro all the more unaffordable for the very people in need of affordable housing.
Finally, there are a few actions the Town can take to provide more affordable housing without necessarily incurring additional costs:
• regulating Airbnbs and other short-term rentals in an effort to protect neighborhoods’ character and complexion, as well as our workforce housing and affordable housing stock;
• negotiating more density bonuses with developers, such that building higher goes hand-in-hand with setting aside affordable housing units;
• offering steeper payment-in-lieu formulas for proposed market rate rental projects;
• increasing employment opportunities that pay at least a living wage through workforce development programs, intentional recruiting of small businesses paying a living wage, and the voluntary living wage certification program offered through Orange County Living Wage.
6) In what ways should Carrboro work on growing its tax base?
Carrboro receives roughly 90% of its property tax revenues from residential property owners, and the remaining 10% from commercial property owners. By comparison, Chapel Hill’s residential to commercial split is 80 percent to 20 percent, and Hillsborough’s is an even more balanced 70 percent to 30 percent split.
In terms of growing our tax base, I would focus on shifting the burden away from homeowners by focusing on these three commercial areas:
Light industrial. I would like to see Carrboro return to its manufacturing roots as a mill town by developing a maker village, perhaps in an industrial park on NC54 or on land off of Old 86. The maker village would include artisans such as a wood maker, glassmaker, and furniture maker – generating new business for Carrboro-based suppliers such as Fitch Lumber and Rice’s Glass Company. Maker villages tend to provide better-paying jobs than the service sector, which currently dominates Carrboro’s business landscape; and this in turn creates more opportunities for those who work in Carrboro to also live in Carrboro. According to the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce’s State of the Community report, only 13% of Carrboro employees are also Carrboro residents, similar to Chapel Hill but significantly below surrounding areas.
Small technology. Carrboro needs its own LAUNCH, which has been a hugely successful new business incubator for Chapel Hill. Through mentoring and synergies with other businesses, close to 100 businesses have spun-off from LAUNCH, most landing in Chapel Hill and just a few relocating in Durham. The spin-offs have been largely small tech companies, including biotech, taking advantage of a pipeline of recent graduates from the University of North Carolina. Carrboro could easily have its own LAUNCH, in say an abandoned building in downtown, within walking distance of Weaver Street Market and various restaurants and food trucks. Tenants of a Carrboro-based, small tech incubator would be offered shared space, short-term leases, mentoring, and built-in UNC connections to assist with raising venture capital. Our incubator, too, would spin-off businesses, generating much-needed revenue for town coffers.
Professional services. As a leader in climate action, Carrboro is ideally suited for a green, light-filled office park filled for professional services (i.e., legal, engineering, architecture, and financial firms). Rather than harking back to our roots as a mill town, Carrboro’s green office space would be looking ahead to the day in which we are a 100% renewable energy economy. Because a green office park aligns so well with Town goals, Carrboro might consider offering tax incentives to support the development, possibly in conjunction with Orange County. The county’s recently approved climate crisis mitigation tax would be an excellent source of revenue for offering a tax incentive to a green office park developer.
In addition, the 203 South Greensboro project, housing a branch library and town recreation and parks offices, offers a rare opportunity for downtown commercial development. With the library as the project’s anchor, residents will be spending more time downtown and patronizing restaurants, coffee shops, and bars while there. We should build as much space as we can afford in the 203 South Greensboro project, including space that could be leased to commercial partners.
Finally, the future Lloyd Farm development includes a Harris Teeter, much-needed housing for the 55 and overpopulation, office space, and eventually some affordable housing. When completed, it is expected to be a revenue-generating equivalent of four Carr Mill Malls.
7) The town is considering implementing a paid parking system downtown. Do you think this is a wise option? What do you think is the best course of action for the town’s parking issues? Should the town hire a consultant?
Yes, I am in favor of paid parking downtown. Here’s why:
Over the past several months, I have had the opportunity to talk with dozens of small business owners in Carrboro. While I had assumed that merchants would be almost universally in favor of free parking, to encourage more patrons to drive downtown, I have come to realize that many do not. They are frustrated by UNC students who drive their cars to the municipal lots, park for free, and then ride their bicycles to campus. Meanwhile, patrons are left circling the block multiple times to find an available parking space.
In addition, paid parking makes sense as a penalty of sorts on cars contributing to greenhouse emissions. Revenues can be earmarked for access improvements to downtown such as evening transit service and bicycle/pedestrian projects.
As a way of rolling out paid parking, I would recommend a dynamically priced system in which cost varies based on location and time of day. For example, parking at Cat’s Cradle at 7:00 am on Saturday would be in low demand, and thus free; downtown parking at 7:00 pm on Saturday would be in peak demand, with a comparable price. A dynamically priced system has several advantages:
• It’s a gentle transition to paid parking; you can still find some for free if you go at the right time.
• For the right price, you can always find a parking space downtown, regardless of when you go.
• With electronic meters, you have an ongoing “parking study” keeping statistics on use and price, and making it easier to forecast changes in supply (i.e., the new library built on a municipal lot).
• Phone apps (i.e., Parkmobile) and license plate recognition technology can be easily added to the system to improve the overall management of parking.
Dynamically priced parking is just one component of a parking pilot, suggested by CityBeautiful21 blogger Patrick McDonough, which I enthusiastically support. Known as CarrPark, McDonough’s pilot offers a simple way to close the gap between downtown merchants’ perceived parking shortage and a 2017 study by Town of Carrboro documenting a large surplus of downtown parking. Why the gap? During the busiest time of day, from 11 – 1, free municipal lots are often full (some with cars of college students) while as many as 2,000 spaces in private lots (inaccessible to the public) sit empty.
Under McDonough’s pilot, downtown parking is managed much more efficiently. Merchants with empty parking spaces are invited to release them – for compensation – into a public pool that also contains our municipal lots. All of the spaces in the public pool would then be identified, with visible signage, as being a part of the CarrPark system.
As a first step in growing CarrPark, the Town’s parking study shows that the Bank of America lot has 15 parking spaces free, all the time. Fitch Lumber may be another good prospect. One by one, downtown merchants would be approached about putting their private spaces “in play” as part of the public pool of priced spaces. The Town could then use the pilot to determine if a well-managed CarrPark can meet our downtown parking needs. Pay stations at each of the CarrParks would be data driven and dynamically priced. A parking app would direct drivers to open spaces. Parking enforcement would be tightened.
To conduct the CarrPark pilot, I would recommend the Town retain a consultant. If the pilot is successful, CarrPark offers a simple, affordable alternative to the exorbitant expense of a parking deck (as much as $24,000 per space). I’m hopeful that CarrPark will prove to be successful.
8) In your view, how can the town improve public transit, especially in terms of serving lower-income residents? How can bike lanes be made safer and more efficient?
For the past 15 years, I have lived in Lake Hogan Farms, which is not particularly convenient for public transit. To catch a bus on the HS route, I walk 1.5 miles to Morris Grove Elementary School for buses that run once an hour – and are often running ahead of or behind schedule. To make transit more convenient in the northern neighborhoods, I would support a pilot route with bus stops at each of the housing developments along Homestead Road. There may not be enough density in this part of town to support transit; but at the same time, the pilot would at least give northern neighborhoods another opportunity to be a part of the solution to climate change. Let’s see if we jump at the opportunity.
There are also ways the town can improve transit service for lower-income residents. I was pleased to learn that for the first time, there will be seven-day-a-week transit service in Carrboro beginning next year. This benefits many low-income residents working in retail, hospital, university, or recreational settings that are open seven days a week. I hope we can soon get additional funding for improved evening service, benefiting many of these same residents.
Infrastructure is also key to improved transit service. This summer, I had the opportunity to attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new sidewalk and bus shelter along Rogers Road, a historically African-American community. By offering protection from the elements, the bus shelter improves the overall transit experience – making it more likely that a rider will become a regular user. I hope that we can place new bus shelters in other low-income neighborhoods in Carrboro.
As for safer bike lanes, bike boulevards (sometimes known as bike ways) would offer more safety, along with sharrows (showing a bicyclist where to ride to avoid flung-open car doors and vehicles passing too closely). In addition, road diets are proving to be a very successful way of boosting bicycle safety, by turning four-lane roads into three, with the middle lane now left turn only, and using the extra lane for wider bike lanes on each side of the road.
If we’re looking at bicycle safety specifically for Carrboro, there are four areas in particular where we can increase safety by providing more separated space between bicycles and cars: the busy East Main Street and North-South Greensboro corridors; Old 86 (also known as Old Fayetteville Road) used as a connector to rural Orange; Smith Level Road south of Carrboro High School; and Homestead Road lining many northern neighborhoods. Visible signage throughout the town should make clear where bicycles have the right of way.
Bike lanes are made more efficient by increasing connectivity within neighborhoods, between north and south Carrboro, and between northern Carrboro and Orange County. While in general I support increased connectivity through greenways, I oppose the proposed paving of Phases 3 & 4 of Bolin Creek Forest. As an alternative, let’s prioritize a rails-to-trails bike path along the Norfolk-Southern railbed when UNC converts its energy usage from coal.
9) Carrboro has traditionally struggled to attract businesses run by people of color. Why do you believe that is? How can the town work to attract minority-owned businesses?
According to the Chamber’s State of the Community report, the minority business ownership rate in Carrboro is 15% (despite the fact that minorities comprise nearly one-third of residents). But before we jump to the conclusion that the town is struggling to attract businesses run by people of color, I think we need to survey minority-owned businesses in surrounding counties with a higher portion of minority businesses (i.e., Alamance, Durham, Johnston, and Wake). Why are their businesses there, and not here? There may be reasons that have nothing to do with our Town’s recruitment strategy for minority-owned business (i.e., perhaps the owners choose to work close to where they live). If, however, the Town can do a better job attracting minority-owned businesses, it should start with getting some specific strategies from the minority business owners themselves.
Carrboro suffers from an inability to attract locally-owned businesses of all types, not just minority-owned. Any strategies to attract more locally-owned businesses will also help to attract minority-owned businesses. So, let’s look at some strategies for attracting more businesses to Carrboro, with the added benefit of attracting more minority-owned businesses.
Improve access to capital funding, through loans and grants, to better enable small businesses to launch and grow. Carrboro’s Revolving Loan Fund provides start-up cash to local businesses at reduced interest rates. To improve access to the revolving loan fund, the Town scrapped a requirement that business owners be turned down twice for bank loans before seeking Carrboro’s assistance. It also simplified its application to ensure the paperwork is less time-consuming and cumbersome for a small business owner. These kinds of changes are good for small business – and good for minority-owned small business.
In addition, Orange County offers a Small Business Loan Fund for local companies with limited access to conventional financing. As of March 2019, the county’s revolving loan fund had approved 23 loans, 9 of which were for women-owned businesses and only 2 of which were minority-owned. Only one business in Carrboro has received a loan from the county, the only business from Carrboro to apply. I would like to have a better understanding as to why these loans are not more widely utilized, especially among minority-owned businesses. Is it simply a matter of more public education? Or, is something else going on? The Carrboro-based Latino Community Credit Union offers another way for Latinos and other people of color in our community to access credit, invest in a small business, and build wealth. While the Town is prohibited by state law from banking with LCCU, it can create more public awareness around LCCU and the ways the credit union can assist minority-owned businesses with access to capital funding.
Remove or reduce barriers for launching or growing a small business. Barriers can include everything from site plan approval delays to high permitting fees. Based on my conversations with business owners in Carrboro, site plans are often delayed as a result of a very detailed (some may say, micro-managed) review by our Board of Aldermen. As a Board member, I would bring a broader perspective to the review process and entrust town staff with the details.
Offer more affordable commercial space for small businesses, including those which are minority-owned. There is a lack of commercial space in Carrboro, and especially affordable commercial space. To offer more affordable location options to small (and especially minority-owned) businesses, let’s have an incubator (much like Chapel Hill’s LAUNCH) and more co-working space (such as Carrboro’s PERCH). I would also like to see maker space with say a wood maker and glass maker, in light industrial space on Highway 54. Finally, let’s allow more work-home space similar to the Mapping Our Community’s Future plan for the Rogers Road neighborhood.
With better access to credit, more affordable commercial space, and speedier approval processes in place, I believe we can attract and retain more small businesses in Carrboro – including more minority-owned small businesses.
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To see my full platform, please visit my website at http://romaineforcarrboro.com.