Sally Kost | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week
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Sally Kost 

Candidate for Chatham County Commissioner

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Name as it appears on the ballot: Sally Kost
Date of birth: November 29, 1952
Years lived in Chatham: 5 1/2
Campaign web site:
Occupation/ employer: Retired, Former Orange County Budget Director

1. What do you believe are the most important issues facing Chatham County? If elected, what are your top three priorities in addressing those issues?

Chatham County’s most important issues center around expanding/ balancing our tax base and local economy while preserving our quality of life and quality of place as the County deals with the onslaught of already approved residential development.

This includes environmental protection, construction of school facilities, transportation issues, affordable housing, and how to pay for services and facilities necessary to provide for the explosive growth. Additionally, the municipalities and the county must work together to expand, grow, and recruit clean, good-paying companies to provide jobs for Chatham citizens.

Chatham needs to consider an Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFOs) or similar infrastructure land use control mechanisms. An APFO is designed to slow the pace of development when there is not adequate infrastructure to support more people. If the schools are too crowded, or there is not enough water, or if there is not adequate recreational facilities, than development can not be approved until the problem is corrected.

My top three priorities are: (1) Improving education; (2) Protecting the environment and preserving our rural character; and (3) Providing quality jobs to balance our tax base and improve the quality of life and opportunities for all residents.

Quality Public Education for All Students

Chatham County must recruit and retain high quality diverse faculty and administrators. We must develop a plan to bring the local salary supplement up to the level of the surrounding school systems which we compete with for teachers. We must support teachers so that their energies are focused on the classroom and on our children.

We must build and upgrade our schools to address increased enrollments and 21st century standards, but we should strive for small community schools with small class sizes and resist the temptation to build mega-schools as the solution to enrollment growth. We need to integrate the Board of Education in the subdivision review process so that there is a connection between houses approved to be built and classroom space. It is unacceptable to have 19 trailers at any school. And as we build new schools to 21st century learning standards, we need to have a long range plan to bring all schools across the county up to these same standards.

Additionally, the County must work hand-in-hand with the community college so that the college is training our students for real 21st century jobs and meeting the needs of the business community.

Protecting the Environment

Our lakes, rivers, and streams have suffered because of intense development in both Chatham and surrounding counties. Under the leadership of George Lucier, Carl Thompson and Tom Vanderbeck, stream buffers have been increased, and we are now doing a better job of protecting our waters. But we need to do more. We must address the issue of storm water management, important because runoff from roads and parking lots are carrying oil, gasoline, and automotive fluids into our waters.

Chatham needs to sign on to the Sierra Club initiative of “Cool Counties.” This is a pledge to reduce global warming emissions by 80 percent by 2050, an achievable average annual reduction of two percent. This initiative would help Chatham limit massive sprawl developments by promoting strategic development in our existing towns and designated economic nodes, and to develop a mass transportation system to reduce carbon emissions. It would encourage more energy efficient design and construction of public and private projects and encourage industries to reduce carbon emissions.

We must do more in protecting our water supplies, as we deal with the impact of climate change. Because so many Chatham citizens depend on groundwater as their water supply, we need to do more to protect the quality and quantity of this source.

We must fully implement the Land Development and Conservation Plan which is a plan to locate development and infrastructure strategically to avoid sprawl and protect our natural resources and farms.

Green/Clean Economic Development

All across the state, industries are moving out and going overseas. Historically, Chatham has been a bedroom community, with more than half of our workforce going out of county to work. Under the leadership of our new commissioners, Chatham contracted with UNC to develop a strategic plan for economic development. We should implement this plan with the goal of recruiting green, high-tech industry/businesses that pay decent wages and provide benefits for its employees.

Chatham needs to aggressively work to ensure high speed internet in all areas of the county. This will encourage business and telecommuting.

2. What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective on the Chatham County Commission? This might include career or community service; be specific about its relevance to this office.

It is critical that Chatham elect visionary 21st century thinkers, who look for innovative and creative solutions to our problem. I am dedicated to open government and collaborative decision- making and I have the vision and the experience to lead this county.

I have over 20 years of professional experience working in the public sector, including public budgeting, finance and program evaluation. As former budget director in both Wake and Orange Counties, I have dealt with many of the challenges that Chatham County now faces. I am knowledgeable of all county services and understand the revenue structure of local government. I have extensive knowledge in school design standards, school financing, and long range capital planning.

This experience will serve Chatham citizens well as we wrestle with how to provide services within the budget limitations.

I am the current chair of the Chatham County Planning Board, and am familiar with all the ordinances and plans that govern development in Chatham County. I am the former Democratic Chair for the East Williams Precinct, resigning only to run for office. I also chair the subdivision regulations review committee, which is studying changes in our regulations to make the subdivision process more collaborative with citizens, among other things. I serve on the Major Corridor Task Force and currently represent the County on the Triangle J Smart Growth Committee.

Additionally, I have served on various professional committees, including the NC County Commissioners Association legislative goals committee.

As former vice chair of the Chatham Coalition I have collaborated with diverse citizens and community leaders to develop a platform of issues and to elect county commissioners and school board members who support this platform.

3. 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 progressive Democrat. I believe strongly in open and collaborative government, and believe that processes used in the county should be citizen focused. I support the Chatham Coalition’s campaign platform for green/clean economic development, quality schools for all children, responsible land-use planning, energy-efficient and health communities and open government.

The Coalition’s issues and platform were collaboratively developed by soliciting input from over one hundred community members. I believe all elected officials should be held accountable by the voters for the agenda upon which they ran. I want to be held accountable.

4. The Independent’s mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to office help further that goal?

We must celebrate and respect diversity and find a way for all citizens to have the opportunity to prosper and to participate in their government. The county must be an active partner in planning for and funding affordable housing. Further we should insist that employers pay a living wage with benefits and we should recruit green clean industry and businesses that are committed to that.

5. What specific steps should the county commissioners take to preserve and protect Chatham’s environment and natural resources In the face of its booming residential growth? State specific initiatives or policies you would introduce and support to accomplish this goal.

As stated above, we need to revise and fully implement our Land Conservation and Development Plan. We need to develop a storm water management program. We need to continue our joint efforts for planning with Cary around Jordan Lake, an initiative that has stalled.

The subcommittee of the Planning board studying the county’s subdivision regulations will be recommending substantial changes to the regulations that integrate more extensive environmental assessment of subdivisions into the review process. This subcommittee is also studying a tree protection ordinance. Further, the county needs to strengthen its erosion and control ordinance.

I am gravely concerned about my opponent’s push for 19 million gallons per day sewage capacity into the Cape Fear River before the board has completed its land-use plan. This amount of capacity will support over 300,000 people. Although I fully support the need to work with the municipalities to improve their infrastructure, I worry that without a strategic plan in place, this enormous amount of sewage capacity will result in random infrastructure expansion, sprawl, and environmental destruction.

6. Define “economic development.” What does that term mean to you? Given the state of the national economy and local job losses such as the closing of the Pilgrim’s Pride chicken processing plant, what specifically can you do as a county leader to strengthen and support Chatham’s economy?

Economic development for Chatham is creating clean, green jobs that pay a good wage and provide benefits. I do not consider building rooftops as economic development, in that residential development rarely, particularly when it is sprawl development, pays its way.

The first step in creating jobs in Chatham was to assess our strengths and weaknesses and to build on those strengths and improve those areas where we are weak. That year long citizen-driven process is about to be completed, thanks to the strategic leadership of our board majority.

Clearly our location is an asset and we need to build upon that, as is our rural quality of life. We need to preserve and enhance our rural character and small town life as attractions for small 21st century business that are spin-offs from the Triangle and Triad high-tech industries. We need to take advantage of our location to top research universities to become the state’s center for the newly emerging and rapidly growing green economy. Further we must develop a better relationship with our towns and with our neighbors.

As mentioned, Chatham also needs to take advantage of our assets – our natural resources and our location. For example, we could promote low-impact tourism through our arts, agriculture, historic downtowns and natural area amenities.

7. The county enacted a one-year moratorium on new residential developments that expires in June 2008. Should this moratorium be lifted or renewed this summer? If it is lifted, what growth-control measures should be enacted to ensure infrastructure such as schools, roads, etc. can keep pace with the population?

The moratorium was not enacted as a permanent growth control measure but was instead enacted to give the county a chance to improve on its ordinances and regulations. When the policy tools and ordinances are in place to protect the environment, prevent sprawl development, and link available infrastructure with development, then the moratorium should be lifted.

8. Give your assessment of the major corridors task force proposal.

I served as an active member of this task force. The charge to the committee was to provide development guidelines along the County’s major corridors as recommended by the Land Conservation and Development Plan. The stated purposes of these guidelines are “to ensure sufficient traffic flow, protection of environment, esthetics and rural character of these major thoroughfares and to provide and map designed economic nodes as recommended by the Land Conservation and Development Plan.”

The major corridors included Highways 421, US1, 87, 15-501 and US 64.

The proposal currently being considered by the Planning Board is an excellent one although there are a few areas which can be strengthened (such as including more green building standards for commercial development). The location of the nodes (with a slight adjustment), the buffer requirements, the building standards, and the landscaping requirements are excellent.

Transit stops, and even re-charging centers for electrical automobiles, were encouraged in the design standards. Additionally, biking and walking was considered important, as was tree preservation, and shading of parking lots. Parking requirements were reduced from what is normally standard, to limit the amount of impervious surface.

One of the major objectives was to encourage development in our existing towns, and the proposal does this.

Finally, we need to do better job of communicating how implementing this plan will actually provide home owners better protection of and even enhance their property values.

9. With the failure of the land transfer tax last fall and the county’s schools impact fee now at its maximum, what are your suggestions for finding new revenue for the county to keep up with its expenses, particularly school additions and renovations?

The best way to keep our property taxes from soaring is to balance and expand our property tax base with green/clean industry and business, instead of relying primarily on residential development that costs more in services than in tax revenues provided.

Other revenue options are limited although I do support increasing fees for services to recoup more of the costs. For example some of our building fees are set to recover just 50 percent of the cost of providing the service. These fees need to be studied.

I also support linking property tax collection on vehicles to the registration process. This would significantly increase the collection rate on personal property taxes.

The other side of the equation is to look for innovative alternatives to provide certain services. This can include integration of the internet into our county processes. Additionally, the county commissioners should be establishing their goals and objectives, and evaluating the effectiveness of programs to ensure that we are spending taxpayers’ money on the highest priority areas.

The commissioners authorized a study to identify the ceiling amount for impact fees, which will certainly allow the impact fee to be increased. I am troubled since this fee must legally be the same amount, no matter if the residence is a modest home or a two million dollar mansion.

The county should also follow its own fiscal policy and all enterprise funds should be self-sustaining.

10. Please state your general philosophy on what role citizens should play in government decision-making. In general, do you think Chatham residents have enough opportunities to make their voices heard? If so, state some examples. If not, what are your ideas for improving and incorporating citizen input in county government decisions?

The county has many boards and advisory groups and opportunities for individuals to participate on these are plentiful. However, the county does not do an adequate job in getting input in the capital improvements plan. In fact, this plan is $270 million with practically zero input from citizens.

Additionally, the county has limited citizen involvement in the transportation planning process and I believe should establish a Transportation Advisory Board to do a better job in this area. I would also like to see more citizen input in the legislative goal process.

I believe the commissioners should hold more community meetings in all area of the county to hear more of what the concerns of citizens.

And finally, I believe that all the commissioners meetings should be held at a time when more citizens can participate. This would mean moving the first meeting of the month from a day time meeting to an evening meeting.

11. If you are a challenger, how would you rate the job the incumbents are doing? Be specific in criticisms and compliments. If you are an incumbent, how would you rate the job you and your colleagues are doing? Be specific about accomplishments or challenges.

Patrick Barnes has voted fairly consistently with the Land Development and Conservation Plan, although not always. But I would give him a much lower rating for his governance style. He often takes an ad hoc and sometimes closed approach to decision-making, and does not always seem to want to include citizens in the process.

Mr. Barnes campaigned for the development of the Siler City Business Park; a $10 million investment of taxpayers’ money with absolutely NO input from citizens; NO needs assessment; and NO marketing strategy. This was an ad hoc decision using an antiquated economic development model. Also, the location of the business park has environmental consequences (it is on the Rocky River).

Mr. Barnes also brokered the Harnett County water deal, and just prior to the new commissioners taking office, chose to ignore Commissioners Lucier, Thompson and Vanderbeck in their request to hold off the signing of this bad contract for Chatham. The Harnett deal was a short term expensive solution to a long term problem, whereas we would have invested $30 million into upgrading the infrastructure in Harnett County, while ignoring our own water treatment plant. Fortunately for the taxpayers in Chatham, shortly after taking office, the new commissioners voided the contract. We are now on the right track and in a very good position to draw water out of our own lake and invest in our own infrastructure.

Mr. Barnes also supported the one-sided county manager contract, which only protected the county manager, and gave no protection to the citizens of Chatham. This was another very bad deal for Chatham.

I am concerned about Mr. Barne’s approach in working with Cary. His number one issue seems to be to prevent Cary from annexing Chatham County property. But instead of building good working relationships with Cary officials, he prefers what he calls “blackmailing” and threatening them, which is not likely to affect their ability to annex Chatham at all. This has caused very strained relationship between the Town of Cary and Chatham County, which in the long run, has hampered our ability to get a joint land use plan agreed to with Cary.

12. Identify a principled stand you would be willing to take even though it cost you popularity points with constituents.

The Board of Commissioners should be expanded from five seats to seven for more balanced geographic representation. While I favor our current system of district representation with at-large voting (a commissioner must run from a geographic region but is elected from voters countywide), I would favor adding a combination of at-large and district seats to respond to some of the concerns of western Chatham voters who feel their interests are under-represented.

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