Chatham County Board of Commissioners

Budget approval and broadband updates highlight June meeting

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PITTSBORO — The Chatham County Board of Commissioners officially approved the county’s fiscal 2022-23 budget last Tuesday at a meeting which also featured updates about broadband access and a new historical marker coming to Pittsboro.

With no public discussion and limited fanfare, it would have been easy to miss the commissioners’ unanimous approval of the county budget for the next fiscal year. The commissioners earlier held budget work sessions and public hearings on the budget. The final version of the spending plan saw limited changes from the proposed version commissioners saw last month. The $164.9 million budget is based on a maintained property tax rate of 66.5 cents per $100 of valuation.

“We continue to experience rapid development, including the recent announcement that electric vehicle manufacturer VinFast will be locating its US production facility at the Triangle Innovation Point East megasite in Moncure,” Chatham County Manager Dan LaMontagne said. “Throughout this budget, residents will see that we are focused on ensuring that the county’s development is well-monitored and aligns with the long-term vision that Plan Chatham has laid out for Chatham County.”

The budget also includes more than 70 new county job positions and substantial revenue increases. (A full breakdown of the budget can be found in the May 26-June 1 edition of the News + Record.) A full copy of the budget document for FY 2022-23 is available on the Annual County Budget section of the county website at https://www.chathamcountync.gov/government/county-budget.

G.R.E.A.T. grants

Commissioners also heard updates about the Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) Grants. The money aims to improve broadband access and bring high-speed internet to rural counties in North Carolina, including Chatham. The county is eligible for up to $8 million in funding through the GREAT grant.

Applications for the grants became available to private broadband service providers on May 31. The applications have since closed and Chatham saw six providers apply for funding: AT&T, Spectrum, Brightspeed, Conterra Ultra Broadband, Northstate and Randolph Communications. The applications cover more than 10,000 residential and business addresses — meaning those homes and businesses would soon have access to high speed internet provided by the companies.

Brightspeed accounts for the most addresses covered with the grants at 5,578 total addresses, with more than 5,400 of those being residential. No other company has more than 1,500 total addresses.

While the program would lead to improved broadband access across the county, there are several challenges that come along with that expansion. For starters, there’s an expectation that with these grants there is up to a 15% local match, which means the county would have to contribute up to $1 million in addition to the grant funding to make the project possible.

LaMontagne also speculated there would be an extended “challenge” period for the grants, meaning even after the money is allocated there are still problems to sort out.

“I think it’s the uncertainty in the maps of the coverage is why they put the challenge period in the GREAT grant,” LaMontagne said. “I would think we will see more refined numbers and maps of what the expected coverage areas are.”

The county manager said he hopes the county will be awarded two GREAT grants — meaning Chatham would be awarded up to $16 million of the state’s available $350 million in the GREAT program.

Regardless of the outcome of the GREAT grant program, more grant funding is available to the county for broadband access. The Completing Access to Broadband (CAB) Grant program is expected to open soon. CAB provides an opportunity for individual N.C. counties to partner with the state to fund broadband deployment projects in unserved areas of each county. The CAB grant, however, does come with a higher local match expectation of up to 30%.

Commissioners were not provided with an expected timeline of when the GREAT grants would be awarded.

New appointments

The board also appointed several new members to various county committees including the Library Advisory Committee, the Recreation Advisory Committee and the Chatham County Appearance Commission.

The Library Advisory Committee had two open seats in Districts 2 and 5. Dist. 3 commissioner Diana Hales nominated Lisa Padgett, who serves as an at-large board member for the Friends of Chatham Community Library, a nonprofit that aims to help Chatham County Public Libraries. Chairperson and Dist. 1 Commissioner Karen Howard appointed Margaret Goldston, who previously served as treasurer of Friends of Goldston Community Library.

The Recreation Advisory Committee had two vacancies in Dist. 1. Howard nominated William Sparrow and Keith Shea for the positions. Sparrow is an attorney with Bugg & Wolf Law Firm, where he practices construction law. Shea serves as the travel team director and interim vice president of Siler City FC and the JV women’s soccer coach at Northwood High School. 

The Chatham County Appearance Commission had one vacancy. Dist. 3 Commissioner Diana Hales nominated Tony Mayer, a teacher at the Hawbridge School in Saxapahaw and owns a landscaping business specializing in design and consulting.

These nominees were all unanimously approved by board vote.

Honoring Chatham’s lynching victims

Commissioners also unanimously accepted the donation of a historical marker to honor the six victims of lynchings in Chatham County: Harriet Finch, Jerry Finch, Lee Tyson and John Pattishall in 1885, Henry Jones in 1889, and Eugene Daniel in 1921.

The marker is being donated to the county by the Equal Justice Initiative and the Community Remembrance Coalition-Chatham.

“White mobs terrorized and lynched at least six Black people in Chatham County,” the marker will read. “Creating a legacy of violence, intimidation and injustice.”

According to the EJI, the Historical Marker Project works with local groups to erect narrative markers in public locations describing the devastating violence, today widely unknown, that once took place in these locations. These projects and the other engagement efforts that community coalitions develop center the African American experience of racial injustice, empower African American community members who have directly borne this trauma, and invite the entire community to use truth to give voice to those experiences and expose their legacies.

Howard said she was proud to be part of a government that is recognizing the past and paving the way for a better county going forward.

“It feels like a timely placement,” Howard said. “I’m proud to be able to say that we are taking a step in the right direction on behalf of all the families that didn’t get to experience the longevity of their relatives.”

The marker will be displayed on county property located on the south side of the County Government Annex at 12 East St. in Pittsboro.

The Chatham County Board of Commissioners next meeting will be at 2 p.m. on July 18 at the Historic Courtroom in Pittsboro. For more information visit chathamcountync.gov. 

Reporter Ben Rappaport can be reached at brappaport@chathamnr.com or on Twitter @b_rappaport. 

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