The future of the Confederate statue, downtown parking lots, early childhood education and fire departments are in Durham County's plans this year.
Wendy Jacobs, chair of the Durham County Board of Commissioners, gave her "State of the County" address Monday night. Here are the highlights:
"This year we have seen our country's struggle to confront our history and the legacy of white supremacy play out here in our community," Jacobs said.
In August, protesters pulled down the Confederate soldier statue outside the Durham County Administration Building, a former courthouse where the commissioners meet. The city and county decided to form a joint committee about Confederate monuments.
It has yet to meet, but the co-chairs have been named: Duke University professor Robin Kirk and N.C. Central University professor Charmaine McKissick-Melton. The committee will make recommendations "regarding the disposition of the county’s Confederate memorial and other remaining symbols," she said.
"I believe we can bring people together to move forward in a positive and productive way that helps us face our past and create a better future," Jacobs said.
County-owned land downtown
Durham County wants to redevelop two parking lots it owns downtown.
The surface parking lots are at 300 E. Main St. and 500 E. Main St. The county heard from 230 residents and staff members about what they want for the sites.
Some still want parking.
"Strong public priorities have emerged including providing parking for county staff and clients, support for multi-modal transportation, affordable and workforce housing, a vibrant streetscape and affordable local retail and service options," Jacobs said.
"Amidst all of the resources and opportunities we have in Durham County, our child poverty rate increased from 22.2 percent in 2016 to 26 percent in 2017," Jacobs said.
The county will consider the national model "Strive Together, Every Child, Cradle to Career" that will bring together nonprofits, the private sector, educational institutions, workforce development agencies and government partners to address the need, Jacobs said.
"A foundation of a Cradle to Career pipeline is universal access to high-quality, early-childhood education," she said.
"Research tells us that every $1 invested in early childhood education yields a $7 rate of return in successful life outcomes. This year we fully funded the $1.5 million needed to operate the 8 pre-K classrooms at the newly renovated Whitted School, which serves many low-income families and Title 1 elementary schools in the surrounding neighborhoods."
Jacobs said a study of Durham's pre-K supply and demand is underway.
The county raised the property tax rate by one cent per $100 of assessed property value last year to increase its funding for Durham Public Schools.
Fire departments merging
In July, the city and county fire departments will consolidate.
Jacobs said the city and county are working on a consolidation plan that will help them to be more efficient, better deliver services, improve response times and reduce insurance rates for homeowners.
Durham's newest fire station, under construction on Leesville Road in southeast Durham County, will open in May as Fire Station No. 17.