Name as it appears on the ballot: Kathleen Ferguson
Party affiliation: Democrat
Occupation & employer: Sr. Director, Strategic Planning, Biostatistical Consulting Services, ICON, PLC (formerly known as PRA Health Sciences)
Years lived in Hillsborough: 20 years- since 29 January 2001
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 Commissioners do differently or better over the course of your term?
I love Hillsborough and believe government serves best when board members reside in as many neighborhoods as possible. My commitment to Fairview and the Cornelius Street Corridor redevelopment plan remains as strong as ever, along with the drive to preserve and create housing affordable for the vulnerable, seniors, young families, first responders, educators, and folks who form the backbone of our community. So many of our issues exceed Town limits, which calls for collaboration with fellow electeds, nonprofits, and others within the county, region, and state. As the state explores regionalization of services, I continue to look for ways to promote The Hillsborough Way and advance our interests. Coming budgets will be increasingly challenging. We face over $61M in water, wastewater, and public works infrastructure needs, the bulk of which we cannot delay much longer without risking daily fines, reduction of service, and accelerated wear on equipment and facilities. My priorities include addressing these needs in an environmentally and fiscally responsible manner. Given our growth, it is time to get government out into the neighborhoods we serve by holding meetings in the neighborhoods themselves and implementing participatory budgeting. By changing where we sit, we change who we hear from and how we engage the issues. We also would benefit from a youth council and an affordable housing committee. Engaging youth engages our future. A volunteer housing group will help us tap the expertise of the many residents who want to ensure there are places in Town to call Home for all residents. Redevelopment decisions are coming for county and Town downtown properties as well as for our train station property. I would like to see this property redeveloped with boutique hotel, commercial/retail space, space for the arts, along with affordable housing units incorporated.
2. Given the direction of the Hillsborough town government, would you say things are on the right course? If not, for what specific changes will you advocate if elected?
Overall, we live the Town’s vision, mission, and values well. Since being elected, even as our tax rate has fallen from 68 cents to 58.7 cents, we have: maintained a healthy 60/40 residential/commercial tax ratio, increased our affordable housing stock by over 200 units, launched the Citizens and Citizens Police Academies, established the Dorothy N. Johnson Community Center (which I championed on behalf of the Community), Riverwalk, Cates Creek Park, added musical play to Gold Park, refreshed Murray Street and Hillsborough Heights Parks, held more events at Fairview Park, adopted our clean energy resolution, launched a comprehensive sustainability plan incorporating STAR principles; condemned HB2, adopted our non-discrimination ordinance and Crown act when the NCGA ban lifted, joined Government Alliance for Racial Equity, invested in equity training as individual board members, along with the Town manager and many of our staff, we now apply both equity and sustainability lenses as part of our decision-making; completed Downtown Churton Street and West End improvements which increased food/beverage tax revenue funding our arts and tourism; relaunched our pursuit of Churton Street widening, launched pursuit of Orange Grove Road/Cornerstone/86 connector, launched feasibility of an extended greenway (from downtown to our train station and to Cates Creek Park) and the Orange Grove Road/Eno Mountain Road and Orange Grove Road/Mayo Street Road roundabouts. We still limit growth to water / wastewater capacity and will never exceed ~13000 – 15000 within our urban services boundary. The only developments approved since 2013 have been Collins Ridge (I voted against), part of Elfin Pond and new Habitat homes behind Meadowlands (I voted for). Looking ahead, I will advocate for fulfilling on our clean energy resolution (which I led adoption of), keeping/creating more affordable housing units, business-friendly policies, and focus on commercial development for Daniel Boone, Waterstone, and adjacent to 86.
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 issues that the Town has boil down to repair and upgrade of our water, wastewater, and public works facilities; smart development of the few remaining developable properties in Town; and sustainability. All are interrelated. We face over $61M of water / wastewater / public works repairs in upgrades which must be addressed to ensure continuation of quality service and avoidance of daily fines assessed by the State or worse. $2M will be addressed with ARP funds, our entire allocation. Even as we pursue other grants and programs, bond revenue likely is the tool we will need to pursue, which will impact property taxes. How we implement the repairs and upgrades will impact how well we achieve our clean energy and environmental stewardship goals. How we implement also will impact how well we can withstand and recover from severe weather events which are becoming more frequent and severe. How and when we implement impacts the Town’s fiscal health now and for the coming decades. Our comprehensive sustainability plan, which bakes in STAR Community principles will help guide staff and the board as we work together to achieve these goals. Affordability also is part of the sustainability equation. We must invest in property banking and increase financial support of our affordable housing partners by dedicating a funding stream to help ensure residents of all income levels have safe, secure, desirable, affordable, permanent homes in Town now and in the decades to come. Funding, combined with our commitment to only infill development are the best tools for creating an environmentally responsible built environment that allows for walkability once Churton Street is widened, Cornelius Street/Highway 70 is modernized, our north/south greenways are implemented, and the Orange Grove Road/86 connector is completed.
4. What prior experience makes you qualified for and passionate about the Board of Commissioners and its duties? What made you seek this position?
In addition to policymaking, the role of Commissioner is one of advocacy and connection. Fairview and the Cornelius Street/Highway 70 corridor are special to me, and our board needs members who live in all parts of Town; not concentrated in one place. We straddle two economic regions and as long as the NCGA considers regionalized utility systems and interbasin transfers, the need to advocate for regional water/sewer capacity-based growth, sustainability, and equity-based planning only becomes greater. These issues and more require collaboration not only within the county but with electeds, nonprofits, and business leaders across the state. Representing Hillsborough, I have earned the respect of leaders across multiple sectors and chair the OC Partnership to End Homelessness and the Triangle J Council of Governments. I also serve on the OC Housing Collaborative and represent local government on the OC Reentry Council, the OC Opioid Task Force, and helped launch and now am an advisory board member for MentorNC/My Brothers and Sisters Keeper of Orange County with Commissioner Renee Price. I helped launch the County’s Solid Waste Advisory Group as a member and influenced the growth of the County’s economic development investment as the chair of the OC Economic Development Commission. I also chaired the Hillsborough Tourism and Tourism Development Authority boards and served on the OC/Municipal Interlocal Agreement Strategic Growth Task Force, Cornelius Street Redevelopment Plan committee, Carolina Theatre (Durham) Volunteer Advisory Board, Co-founded and presided over the Hillsborough Heights Neighborhood Watch, and am a member of Fairview Community Watch. My early career involved serving state DOTs, emergency management, utilities, state and national governments needing GIS, mapping and engineering systems. I also served as the navigator for a drug-related TBI survivor and am now am a navigator for a domestic violence TBI survivor. All of this experience has informed me of issues facing our Town and our residents from multiple perspectives. I will continue to apply this experience and connections to foster sustainable, transparent, informed, equitable government while also elevating Hillsborough values throughout the region and state, and while connecting nonprofits, and residents with one another.
5. Do you believe the town’s stormwater management plan is effective, or is there a way to make it more efficient and less costly? How can the town decrease the cost of water and sewer services?
For a Town of our size and budget, we are a model of stormwater management. Municipalities across the state look to Hillsborough for planning and implementing stormwater management programs for engaging community members in joint solution finding, and doing so on a limited budget. Hillsborough has the misfortune of being a water island. Because there is no interbasin transfer permitted, the only option other than operating our own water / wastewater system (which is bloody expensive) is to hook to Durham’s system. We studied the Durham option and found it would be three times as expensive. The reservoir and Lake Orange are both fed by the Eno, and it isn’t getting bigger. And, no rivers fed from other aquifers are going to spring up. This limits the number of people and businesses we can support, which limits the number of people and businesses available to pay for both the fixed costs associated with having access to clean water and return of clean effluent back into the environment. By law, our water/wastewater system funding must be self-sustaining and cannot be supplemented by general funds. Thus, we are / will be applying our ARP funds to critical water/wastewater needs,, even as we continue to seek grants and funds. In the meantime, we foster a culture that encourages and rewards innovation and problem-solving that looks for and implements the least expensive options for repair / upgrades / operations. Without that culture, the cost of water, wastewater, and stormwater in Hillsborough would be significantly higher. For example, our original wastewater upgrade was budgeted for $30M. We completed it at $19M (and on time!), which averted costs away from wastewater customers. I will continue to foster the mindset and culture that results in this level of cost-efficiency as we implement future repairs and upgrades sustainably.
6. In your opinion, what are the best methods to attract businesses to Hillsborough? How should the town seek to make itself more attractive? What types of industries should it pursue to grow its tax base?
The strength of Hillsborough’s economic ecosystem continues to be the arts, history, and tourism. For every dollar invested in the arts economy, our Town receives $5! Continuing to support the arts community financially and by making it easy for organizations to hold community events such as Last Fridays, Hog Day, Handmade Parade, and more feeds this ecosystem while also fostering community. How the Town can make itself hospitable to business retention is to actively collaborate with our existing businesses to help them find alternative locations as they grow, to restart our Town/Downtown Merchant summits, and encourage participation by business owners from across town. This kind of dialog is more likely to address potential business opportunities to nurture as well as collaboratively resolve issues that challenge businesses and the Town both. How we make ourselves more attractive to employment center businesses that want to be in our region is more challenging. Over the past 15 years in which I and others have consulted commercial site selection decision-makers, the refrain is that even though Hillsborough is seen as being as business-friendly as Mebane’s, our thru-traffic, population, and density are too small/low as compared to other places by many of the commercial and retail business our residents want. This is why Waterstone, Oakdale, Daniel Boone, and the 86 tract have been slow to (re)develop. For we who want to see more local retail and restaurant options and who want to see some of the professional services, high-tech businesses, light manufacturing, and other employers set up shop in Hillsborough, we need to encourage residential density while resisting the temptation to transform commercial zones into residential zones as well as create a local business fund capable of providing grants and micro-grants and support commercial collaboration that brings together workforce development, entrepreneurs, and commercial property owners/investors.
7. Do you agree with the board of commissioners’ recent compromise to update Hillsborough’s noise ordinance? Do you think it needs to change or be revisited?
I voted for the noise ordinance compromise because I believe it represented the best compromise acceptable to the various stakeholders. Based on recent feedback from residents, they are pleased with the results. Our venue owners report that they have made changes to their operations and have experienced mixed results. While the new ordinance has achieved several goals in the short term. I will continue to be watchful over the impact the ordinance has on the Town’s ability to attract popular bands, host events, and the impact of the fine structure. If hear that our ordinance is a barrier to hosting and experiencing a full range of musical arts, or if the fine structure becomes weaponized, then we will revisit. Music and food bring people together who otherwise would never cross paths. Not everyone lives a 9-5 life. Second shifters and youth need places to kick, and I envision inclusivity as embracing venues for our night owl residents as much as our daytimers. With Redeye and YepRoc Records here, I would like to see us with one or two more venues where locals and visitors alike can socialize while enjoying musical artists associated with our hometown labels.
8. As with most places in the Triangle, Hillsborough 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?
I am proud that Hillsborough established a rental assistance fund and supported the landlord damage mitigation fund championed by the Partnership to End Homelessness. I am proud that we won an $600,000 rental assistance grant to help even more residents stay in their homes. I am proud of the collaboration Hillsborough has had with Habitat for Humanity and CASA, and I am proud I live in a neighborhood with several of these Habitat and Empowerment homes. The Forest Ridge affordable housing funds enabled Habitat transform Odie Street from uninhabitable quarters into a desirable community. However, Hillsborough is the only jurisdiction in the county without a funding stream for affordable housing. We need a stable affordable housing fund dedicated to preserve affordable properties and subsidize our local affordable housing nonprofits so that they can purchase homes and properties and keep them affordable in perpetuity. I would like to see Community Home Trust, on whose board I served on 6 years, come to Hillsborough. Community Home Trust has been instrumental in implementing inclusionary housing in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, and I believe our community would be well-served to have CHT buy and maintain affordable homes in Hillsborough also. I also want to explore resident-owned cooperatives for our manufactured home communities. Although most of these communities within town limits are too small to function as an independent resident-owned community, I am hopeful that two or more together may be able to. If so, we can preserve the community its residents value, offer residents greater autonomy over their homes and preserve affordability for decades. I will continue support of HOME / ARP funds allocations for affordable home repair, preservation, and creation through our non-profit affordable home providers. Lastly, I want to see affordable housing included as downtown properties are redeveloped.
9. Like most surrounding areas, Hillsborough is currently experiencing growth. What are the best ways for the town to manage this growth and capitalize on it?
By design, our growth will top out somewhere between 13,000-15,000, including out of town water / sewer customers. The growth to date has been consistent with Hillsborough’s strategic growth plan, which limited our urban services boundary, limited growth to water / wastewater capacity, and focused growth south of downtown and as infill development. This deliberate approach, which halted residential development north of downtown, has limited in-town traffic on North Churton Street. Because of the natural chokepoint that is Downtown Hillsborough, more traffic is flowing around via the 1-85/70 connector, Cornelius Street/Highway 70, 70-A / Lawrence Road, and Waterstone Drive. As these flows increase, the more desirable the Highway 70/Cornelius Street economic development corridor becomes, which offers promise for Fairview, Kenion Grove, Corbinton Commons, and Hillsborough Heights residents who seek services north and west of downtown. I am hopeful that the county’s Highway 70 modernization efforts, in conjunction with the Town’s commitment to the Cornelius Street/Highway 70 corridor redevelopment vision will result in a safer road with sidwalks/paths that get walkers/bikers off the street and onto a safe surface out of traffic’s way. I also am hopeful that DOT will respond to our second round of Churton Street widening discussions with plans that help us achieve both walkability and increase attractiveness of Daniel Boone and Churton Street properties for commercial growth.
10. Describe something you think the town should have prioritized differently in the current budget.
Given the challenges we face and the trade-offs, the only change I advocated for in the budget and still would like is to allocate 1 cent of property tax towards affordable housing. This would have reduced our rate from 63 cents per $100 assessed value to 59.7 instead of the current 58.7.
11. Walkability and recreation are important to the town. What environmental initiatives would you like to see changed or improved?
Density and infill development continues to be the most environmentally responsible approach to development and cost-efficient for delivering municipal services. It is the only way to ensure that our municipal footprint is compact enough for incremental connectivity projects to have impact. I am hopeful for adoption of the new All-Together plan emphasizing bike/ped and transit-oriented design as it will help our connectivity projects receive state funding. This increased state funding is critical to making real our Churton Street, Downtown/Train Station Greenway, Corbin Street, Highway 70/Cornelius Street, and other connectivity plans. Our comprehensive sustainability plan, which will incorporate STAR principles, is well underway, which I am hopeful will help us achieve our clean energy goals as well as provide a framework for decision-making across the board. As we repair and upgrade our water / wastewater / public works facilities, I would like us to continue to explore how we can reduce chemical usage, implement on-demand/dark sky lighting for municipal facilities where possible, how we can utilize clean energy sources, and how we can further increase our reduce/recycle/reuse practices. Related to this, I am hopeful that the Triangle J Sandbox Challenge, which is exploring building a construction supply chain to reduce waste will yield practices and policies we can adopt which eliminates or significantly reduces construction waste not only in Town but across the county and Triangle region. As renewable energy availability grows and as electric energy is increasingly fueled by renewable energy sources and as clean energy technology improves, I will look to us to incorporate as part of our facility and fleet operations. Last but not least, I will continue to support Fairview’s desire that the old dump sites are remediated by DEQ and transformed into extended park facilities by the County.
12. How do you feel Orange County, municipal, and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City school board officials have handled the COVID-19 pandemic? If you don’t think the pandemic was handled well, what should have been done differently?
We all have the responsibility to prevent infecting others by taking appropriate action, including wearing masks and getting vaccinated. Just as we do not drive under the influence or without seatbelts, we should exercise the same care to when engaged in our daily activities, especially since Covid has killed more Orange County residents than drunk drivers or no-seatbelt incidents. Covid patients and their families have incurred massive medical debt, overburdened our hospitals, medical facilities, and healthcare providers to the point where the overburden has prevented so many from receiving needed treatment or procedures. As elected officials, we have an even greater responsibility to ensure that public policy supports public health and the healthcare system even when those decisions are unpopular.
13. This summer, there were media reports of Proud Boys congregating in a downtown Hillsborough business. How do you believe the town can best project an image of inclusivity? Has the town done a good job of this in the past? In what ways can the town foster a more inclusive environment and better engage with historically marginalized groups?
For residents and visitors to feel included, government needs to support inclusivity with policy, communication, and action. Among local governments in North Carolina, we are a leader. We were the first municipality in the state to adopt a non-discrimination ordinance as soon as the General Assembly’s ban was lifted, after having publicly condemned HB2. We were the third or fourth in the state to adopt the CROWN act. Additionally, almost every board member and department head has personally invested in equity training, and the Town continues its efforts through its participation in the Government Alliance for Racial Equity (GARE). These underpin the racial equity lens we are bringing to our decision-making. Where our Town can better engage with historically marginalized communities would be to hold meetings in the neighborhoods and explore periodically holding meetings on a weekend to make it easier for folks to attend. Youth represent the future of our community, and I would like to see us create a youth advisory board. I further would like us to explore offering stipends to advisory board members to offset the time and expense associated with service and make it more feasible for more to participate in Town governance. I also believe participatory budgeting can offer a channel for residents to bring needs and wants to Town attention while being provided a way to make them happen. At the same time, Town engagement with marginalized communities must extend beyond the official level for it to be meaningful. The most powerful engagement with and stand for inclusivity is at the resident level, where residents and visitors seek out and spend money at minority-owned and women-owned businesses—especially in times where they need support most—and where residents seek out opportunities develop and maintain friendships and relationships across economic, educational, and racial lines.
14. Hillsborough residents (and people across the nation) have expressed concern with the militarization of local police forces. Is this a concern for Hillsborough? What changes, if any, should be made to the Hillsborough police department or to how officers present or conduct themselves?
Hillsborough police has fostered a community policing model for almost 20 years, and has had each of the Eight Can’t Wait policies in practice if not in policy before Michael Brown’s murder occurred. Our agency already had adopted body cameras, robust de-escalation policies, and stringent police hiring criteria that weeds out bad apples. HPD agency culture and policies emphasize accountability and training, and our agency already was tracking use of force stringently, such that if an officer displays a weapon, it is reported as a use of force incidence. Moreover, HPD rewards community engagement over confrontation whenever possible. Our officers are Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) certified, and have been for years. For 20 years HPD and officers have invested in the community through monthly meetings, community summits (including summits with our Spanish speaking residents) as well as initiating, sponsoring, and staffing after school youth programs, basketball camps, and a variety of community watch initiatives. HPD provides works with the community in organizing Fairview Live and officers routinely invest personal time helping out the Fairview Community Garden, Gateway community activities, and more. Hillsborough has worked hard to foster a culture where Town employees, including police, are part of our community and thus are invested in our community and we will continue to do so through seeking like-minded candidates for Town positions and fostering those values in day-to-day delivery of Town services. We continue to work with Chief Hampton and the Town Manager to incentivize hiring of officers of color as well as Spanish-speaking to better reflect the community they serve. Covid has reduced the time officers spend walking the streets of our neighborhoods and downtown, and I hope that once Covid is under control, we will see more officers walking among residents and businesses and resumption of engagement activities such as Coffee with a Cop and the host of community policing programs that Covid halted. I also look forward to hearing the outcomes of the Mayor’s taskforce on reimagining policing.
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