Mayor Encourages Involvement and Knowledge to Continue Town’s Good Life
Friday, April 27, 2018
Hillsborough Commissioner Mark Bell couldn’t be at the State of the Town Address on Monday night, but a photograph of him on his front porch — strumming his banjo by his dog — was.
Since the commissioner was working out of town, “we get to talk about him,” Mayor Tom Stevens said to laughter at the start of his 12th annual address April 23 in the meeting room of the Whitted Human Services Center.
The mayor used Bell’s photograph to illustrate the good life in Hillsborough, where folks can gather and talk with others passing by, and to illustrate that not everything is so obvious. He recalled that while he was sitting on Bell’s porch, a passerby who had stopped to chat asked, “Why do so many of the houses have porches?”
“This is a good reminder that not everything is so obvious,” the mayor told the crowd of about 75.
Knowledge and the good life
Throughout the evening, Stevens circled back to that concept of understanding and to Hillsborough’s good life. Later in the evening, he noted how he used to assign themes to his town addresses — with the first address centered on the year of growth and the second on the year of construction.
“I realize now — that I have a good decade behind me in doing the State of the Town — that it seems like we’re probably going to always be under some kind of construction,” Stevens said. “That’s one of the things that is probably ‘happening’ for Hillsborough. We are a growing and thriving town, and that’s one of the realities we’re going to have to deal with.”
In addition to highlighting the many reasons that people love Hillsborough, the mayor also discussed the basis for the decisions that town leaders make, encouraging the community to get involved with their town government and to read the wealth of information provided on the town website, both of which will help them understand the long-term nature of decisions.
Changes occurring now in Hillsborough, he said, are the result of decisions made years ago — decisions that involved input from citizens, including through public hearings and advisory boards. He cited as an example the current reservoir expansion that likely will require utility rate increases. The board’s longest-serving commissioner, Evelyn Lloyd, was part of that process about 25 years ago, he noted, in which droughts led to the building of a reservoir.
The reservoir was designed and built for expansion and enough property was bought “so that people 20 years later wouldn’t have to figure out how to do that,” Stevens said. “Well, that 20 years is here, and we are now expanding because of decisions that people made many years ago.”
During the address, the mayor also highlighted the results of last fall’s community survey, in which respondents reported they are happy about life in Hillsborough, rating their satisfaction with the community and town services higher than the national average and higher than the average for communities with fewer than 30,000 people.
“The state of the town is generally pretty good,” Stevens said, adding that much of it is by design. “A lot of it starts with this very central document called the Strategy Map.”
The map includes the vision for Hillsborough, the town government’s mission and the Board of Commissioners’ strategic priorities and values, the mayor said in explaining how leaders and employees determine the services to provide. The strategy map also includes the town’s strategic objectives, which capture who the town’s customers are (both internal and external) and the goals to be met. It forms the basis for Hillsborough’s balanced scorecard, a system of measures and objectives tied to the town’s budget for what the agency wants to accomplish each year. Town leaders use the strategy map and a set of priorities for funding each year in creating the annual budget and three-year financial forecast, Stevens said. Those priorities are:
- Take care of what we already have.
- Invest in Hillsborough’s future.
- Minimize rate impacts on citizens.
The mayor also discussed the two types of funds that make up the town’s approximately $23 million budget:
- A general fund mainly provided by taxes that pays for operations such as planning, public works and police.
- Enterprise funds provided by water and sewer rates and stormwater fees to cover the costs of those operations.
To get a comprehensive look at the town’s finances, Stevens encouraged the community to check out the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report or its easier-to-understand companion report, the Citizens Annual Financial Report, which includes uses and sources of town funds.
The evening also included highlights of the past year and of what’s ahead, with the inclusion of the board’s commitment to sustainable energy by the year 2050 drawing applause. Charts of municipal population projections for Orange County and the build-out status for Hillsborough also were shown.
“There are real concerns about growth in town,” the mayor said. “Hillsborough is experiencing unprecedented growth — that’s true. Hillsborough is not experiencing exploding growth. Hillsborough is not experiencing exponential growth.”
He reminded the audience that growth in Hillsborough is limited by the town’s water supply, roads and boundaries — both geographical and those set by town leaders.
“We can grow to double the size — and we probably will — but that’s still a small town,” Stevens said, adding later that “construction is moving at a reasonable pace.”
He reiterated a four-part plan he shared during last year’s address to keep Hillsborough’s small-town character:
- Deal with the real — This includes acceptance that growth will occur but is limited.
- Make and follow a plan — This includes the town’s strategic growth plan, its strategy map and other guidance that leaders follow when considering development proposals. Proposals that meet the goals the town outlines must be approved.
- Build it “town-like” — This includes plans and ordinances to ensure varied development in town that fits with the town’s character.
- Welcome and bring new folks on board — This includes involvement from the community in the decisions that affect the town.
Through the night, Stevens reiterated the importance of community involvement. He encouraged the following:
- Make use of the town’s website, www.hillsboroughnc.gov.
- Sign up to receive town news by email.
- Volunteer through the town’s advisory boards or through one-day volunteer events.
- Show up for meetings and public hearings — If planning to speak at a public hearing, be prepared, the mayor advised. Some hearings are legislative, which help establish policies for the future, while others are quasi-judicial, which proceed like a court hearing and help decide the application of policies. "As I tell folks in public hearings,” Stevens said, “whether you oppose something or whether you are for something, if you are talking about it in terms of what’s good for Hillsborough and if you are giving us information that helps us make a better decision, I want you to make your best case.”
- Participate in the town’s citizens and police academies. Look for announcements via the town’s news releases and website.
- Meet your town leaders formally or informally.
- Engage in national issues — “There’s a lot of things that impact us that we have little or no control over,” the mayor said, noting issues such as affordability, disparity, education, health care, immigration and climate change significantly affect Hillsborough but are determined by systems much larger than the town.
- Understand the framework for decisions in town — “We’re not just starting from scratch,” the mayor said. When determining positions on a proposed project in town, community members should think about where the project fits in relation to the whole of the town’s goals. “If you understand that, you’ll be in a position to be able to provide us with information that will help us make good decisions,” he said.
The mayor also discussed the town’s plan for connecting its various places with sidewalks and trails to continue to make Hillsborough more town-like. Getting that and other plans developed will require a lot of involvement, he noted, saying some of the questions the town faces are:
- How do we pay for this?
- How do we prioritize?
- How do we make hard decisions about trade-offs?
- How do we focus on transportation other than the automobile?
“Those are the kinds of issues that we’ll be addressing, and I hope you all get involved,” Stevens told the crowd near the end of his address. “People did it 20 years ago and 40 years ago. We need people to be involved today for what happens 10, 20 years from now.”
View the address