Name as it appears on the ballot: Tom Stevens
Full legal name, if different: Thomas I Stevens
Date of birth: 3/3/54
Home address: 213 W Tryon Street Hillsborough NC 27278
Campaign website: tomstevensformayor.com (& facebook)
Occupation & employer: self-employed Think Leadership Ideas
What do you believe are the most important issues facing Hillsborough? If elected, what are your top priorities in addressing those issues?
The key issue for Hillsborough continues to be how to foster community vitality in the 21st century while maintaining our small town character.
Three key issues I feel are priorities:
Maintaining and supporting infrastructure while keeping costs under control (water and waste water treatment; roads, transportation, and traffic mitigation; public safety, police, and fire);
Completing the links for Riverwalk, a public trail along the Eno River and part of the Mountains to the Sea Trail;
Encouraging and supporting small and mid-size businesses in town, especially those that are locally owned.
What is there in your record as a public official or other experience that demonstrates your ability to be effective on the Town Board? This might include career or community service; but please be specific about its relevance to this office.
In my 6 years as Mayor, I have:
encouraged a climate of civil discourse, open mindedness, and community engagement in dealing with local issues;
strongly encouraged inclusive and effective approaches to planning, governance, and fiscal management (Hillsborough created a strategic plan, adopted a new Unified Development Ordinance, encourages town employee innovation rather than business as usual, and is perhaps the only NC town using a balanced scorecard for management and budgeting);
actively promoted and celebrated Hillsborough businesses, tourism, and the Hillsborough community.
How do you define yourself politically and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?
I consider myself a practical progressive. I believe the moral purpose of government is to protect and empower - doing both lightly as possible to foster individual freedom and responsibility.
Identify a principled stand you might be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters.
On principle, I'd rather respond to real issues before us than make up a hypothetical situation.
Why do you think the races for mayor and for the board are uncontested? Are people generally satisfied with town government or does more need to be done to hear from a wider variety of voices?
I like to think citizens are generally satisfied - and if fact we do regularly collect data to assess how we are doing (see town's citizen survey reports on the town website - http://www.ci.hillsborough.nc.us/content/citizen-survey-results).
Most importantly, because we habitually engage and listen to a variety of perspectives when we deal with issues, our decisions are widely supported. Board members often approach issues with very different initial opinions, but through discussion and open dialogue with each other and citizens, most actions finally win wide if not unanimous support.
Access to the town's work in recent years with regional partners. Do you think Hillsborough has built good relationships with its neighbors?
Good relationships with other governmental and community entities is so important that it is a top level goal written into our strategy map (the one-page strategic plan that forms the basis of budgeting and operational management - more info on town website, www.hillsboroughnc.org). Hillsborough's engagement with our neighbors is evident in that 4 commissioners plus the mayor participated in the last intercity visit where leaders from Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Orange County, and Hillsborough visited Asheville to learn and share experiences and best practices.
What type of growth do you support for Hillsborough? What types of development does the town need? What types can it not afford?
Hillsborough has an excellent balance of it's commercial and residential tax base (approximately 40/60), and we strive to continue this balance when approving additional development. Moreover, our commercial base is diversified between retail, flex and warehouse, and professional, and our neighborhoods represent a wide range of types and affordability of housing.
The growth we seek is well articulated in our strategic plan, our UDO, and in efforts such as the Churton Street Corridor Plan, Cornelius Street Plan, etc. Connectivity within and between neighborhoods is important, and we are just completing the Nash Street project that provides pedestrian connectivity among several neighborhoods, schools, parks and businesses. We are eager to see the construction of an Amtrak station that will form the core of a central transit oriented district that complements the downtown and other commercial areas.
Development in Hillsborough is limited by water capacity, which makes it impossible to grow rapidly in the manner of Cary. Every development counts, we can't afford mediocre "could be anywhere USA" projects simply for the sake of growth. Rather we ask of every development project how does it fit in with the current fabric of the community, how does it make Hillsborough a better place to live, work, or visit.
Why do you call Hillsborough home and what makes it unique? How would you preserve that while advancing it?
Wow, I could write a book answering this question. I've lived in the Triangle for almost 40 years, and in Hillsborough for the last 14, two blocks from downtown. I love being able to walk to coffee shops, to restaurants, to the grocery store, to the bookstore or hardware store, to the library, to music and entertainment, to town board meetings, to places where people are engaged in their community. I thank my lucky stars I'm here, and see serving as Mayor as my volunteer service back to the community.
Hillsborough is a special place, a small NC town busting at the seams with history from the signers of the Declaration of Independence to the founding of NASCAR. It's history is tied to the Eno River, soon to include public parkland from one end of town to the other. The town is friendly, full of characters, pleasant with activity. It is remarkable how it's changed in the last decade, and it's remarkably the same as it's been for centuries.
We need to preserve our historic and natural places, unequivocally. We especially need to preserve our small town character. Hillsborough has a wonderful mix of people from all walks of life, from authors and professionals to farmers and millworkers, from the newly arrived to those whose families have been here long before the US was founded. We will be most successful preserving our character by honoring and doing all we can to preserve the diversity of people who live here.
In May, Hillsborough passed economic development incentives including grants or reimbursements for qualified businesses that would reduce property taxes by up to 75 percent and speed up the town's approval process. Do you support these efforts? If not, what should be done instead. If so, do you think more work is needed to create and sustain local businesses?
Yes, I support the efforts, and the new policy is already generating response.
I share the town board's attitude of approaching these efforts carefully and thoughtfully, with an eye to evaluating results and amending our policies as needed based on experience.
I do think it's worth investing resources to encourage and support economic development, especially locally owned and operated businesses. That being said, we must be careful of our limits and work in ways that generate results commensurate with our investment. Public policies and government actions can have either a positive or negative influence on the local business climate, so we should strive to make our influence positive. However we have little ability or control over what businesses become established or how well they operate. The foremost way to attract business is to run local government effectively, and promote a good quality of life for people who live, work, and visit here.
The budget for this fiscal year eliminated six positions and raised water and sewer rates by 5.9 percent and 8.8 percent, respectively. What more needs to be done to help balance the books in the future? Does more need to be cut, or should taxes and fees rise to keep up with expenditure?
Water and sewer are operated under a separate budget from the rest of town operations, and the utility must be completely self supporting. There is no "profit" from the utility, nor does it support other town services. The increases are primarily due to infrastructure costs, which are fixed, that must be passed on to customers. In particular, our waste water treatment facility is three decades old and must be replaced - replacement is very expensive especially in light of protecting other users of the Upper Neuse and Falls Lake watershed. We provide safe water, are good environmental stewards, run an efficient operation, and keep up with infrastructure maintenance (so as not to artificially defer costs that only become more expensive later) - we can monitor and manage costs as best as we can, and we are looking at alternative ways to make rising water and sewer fees for equitable for those on fixed incomes.
There is precious little "fluff" in local government, and we are already at the point where additional cuts will significantly impact services to citizens. Unless there is a major upward shift in the economy, there will have to be some increases in taxes or significant service cuts in future years. I am pleased our board takes a pragmatic approach to budget issues rather than an ideological one - and that our board, town manager, and staff are constantly looking for innovation, asking what are we providing, at what cost, and is this the best way to do it.