We stand behind Democratic incumbent Mayor Bill Bell, who has established a solid record during his three decades in elected office in Durham. Bell has earned a reputation as a fiscally prudent leader, unafraid to assert his views but willing to compromise in order to advance the city's goals.
Among Bell's best qualities as a leader: He doesn't pass the buck. He addresses problems head on, and with openness.
Bell is accessible and responsive to his constituents. He has advanced progressive causes that could have proven politically risky. In the past year, he and members of City Council challenged Arizona's regressive immigration reform and also protested a possible state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. In the past, Bell also helped institute domestic partner benefits for city workers.
We have never questioned whether Bell has the city's best interest in mind when making tough choices. We feel confident keeping him at the helm for two more years.
The other mayoral candidate is pastor Sylvester Williams.
This year, the Durham City Council endorsements presented an unusual situation for the Independent Weekly. Steve Schewel, who is among six candidates running in the general election for City Council, owns the Indy.
After careful consideration and consultation with an ethics expert at the Poynter Institute, a journalism training center, we are not endorsing in the City Council race in order to avoid a perceived or actual conflict of interest.
In addition to Schewel, the candidates are incumbents Eugene Brown and Diane Catotti, and challengers Solomon Burnette, Donald Hughes and Victoria Peterson. [Links are to available 2011 Candidate Questionnaires.] —Lisa Sorg
Durham County voters are considering two potential new sales and use taxes this year, each representing a portion of a penny for every dollar spent inside the county. The taxes would NOT be applied to food, medicine, utilities, housing, cars or gasoline.
We endorse the quarter-cent education tax, which could generate as much as $9.2 million in its first full year for Durham Public Schools, Durham Technical Community College and early childhood development for the county's youngest residents.
Earlier this year, our state legislators failed to renew a temporary 1-cent sales tax that previously had helped save the jobs of thousands of educators statewide. Without this revenue, more teaching jobs will be on the chopping block again.
As county commissioners assured in a resolution last week, the money from this tax would go to education, the broadest and perhaps most crucial service the county provides.
About 89 percent of the revenue would go to Durham Public Schools to maintain the jobs of teachers and other school-level personnel as the district endures federal and state funding woes. Part of that allocation would also pay the debt on capital projects for the district, including new schools. About 9 percent—roughly $825,000 in the first full collection year—would go to Durham Tech. Most of the money would provide need-based grants for students; the number of them receiving some form of financial aid has doubled since 2009.
Just over 2 percent of the revenue would go Durham's Partnership for Children to ready students for kindergarten. Given state-level cuts this year to programs focused on early childhood development, these funds would provide more support in the critical years before kindergarten that can set students on a path to success.
One penny for every four dollars we spend is a small price to support teaching jobs, modern facilities and students trying to earn their degrees, especially when education in Durham County continues to be a top concern for voters, according to a poll commissioned by the county in February. Of the more than 400 registered voters surveyed, two-thirds said they would support a quarter-cent sales tax. (The survey has a 5 percent margin of error.)
Envision the Triangle 20 years from now. Can you imagine this highly sought-after region bustling with hundreds of thousands of new residents relocating for our universities, corporate corridors, theaters and museums without public transit to connect them to it all?
We can't—which is why we endorse the half-cent sales tax for bus and rail investment in Durham.
It's a penny sales tax on every two dollars spent, and a penny that most shoppers won't miss. Until just a couple months ago, Durham County residents, like the rest of the state, were paying an extra cent on the dollar to accrue emergency cash to keep teaching jobs. With just half that amount, purchases in Durham could soon be pooling as much as $17 million in the first year to benefit us locally with expanded bus service, commuter trains to RTP and Raleigh (read: no more Durham Freeway/Interstate 40 logjams) and light rail from Durham to Chapel Hill.
These rail projects require partnerships with Orange and Wake counties, and leaders in both counties say they're interested in asking residents to approve a transit tax next fall. Durham leaders are pushing forward, but county commissioners publicly stated that they won't start collecting any transit tax until one or both of the neighboring counties moves forward with its referendum. If voters in one or both counties approve, supporters anticipate that state and federal grants will match local dollars, as they did for the Charlotte Lynx system, to build a $645 million commuter rail system by 2018 and the $1.4 billion light rail to Orange County by 2025.
Voters who have participated in local and regional polls have already shown their eagerness to plan for the Triangle's future. More than half the respondents in the polls conducted this spring said they would support a half-cent sales tax for transportation. Many respondents also believed they would benefit from investments in mass transit, even if they didn't use the services.
We endorse the incorporation of Rougemont, which would make this small town the second municipality in Durham County. A focused group of residents of this largely agricultural community near Person County has been lobbying for incorporation for the better part of 20 years. But a major policy issue stood in their way: If Rougemont were a town, that would snarl long-standing discussions between the city and county to merge governments. Durham City Council made it clear in the past that it wouldn't support Rougemont's becoming a town if it complicated a city-county merger.
However, this year, state legislators for Durham agreed to allow the community to vote on whether to incorporate, but only under the following condition: If the city and county of Durham were to merge, Rougemont wouldn't stand in the way—its status as an incorporated town would be revoked.
With this issue resolved, it's time Rougemont residents finally got their say. Becoming a town would allow them to set their own priorities for rural and agrarian lifestyles—a culture that's rarely represented at the county level.
Incorporating will also give Rougemont residents new opportunities to secure funding for road improvements and a public water supply to replace private wells, many of which are contaminated with benzene. We ask Rougemont voters to support incorporation: You'll pay $50 for every $100,000 of property value you own, but the town will be eligible for thousands more in shared revenues from the state and county, as well as government grants.
If incorporated, Rougemont would skim less than 1 percent of the county's annual budget, but that 1 percent could buy significant improvements for this rural community.
These residents impressed us with the leadership they have shown on county boards, service organizations or through their daily jobs. Together, this group represents a broad sample of the citizenry, from those who have lived in Rougemont from birth to those relative newcomers. They are diverse in life experience, career choice, race and economic background. But most important, they all agree that Rougemont should stay a small, rural town with selective economic development and growth. The other candidates are Wallace O'Briant, Layton Oakley, Denise Smith and Danielle Kowalczuk.