Chatham commissioners hear water utility update, discuss sales tax revenue

BY HANNAH MCCLELLAN, News + Record Staff
Posted 4/21/21

PITTSBORO — The Chatham County Board of Commissioners considered sustainable water and wastewater utility services at its work session on Monday, following discussion by the town of Pittsboro …

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Chatham commissioners hear water utility update, discuss sales tax revenue

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Posted

PITTSBORO — The Chatham County Board of Commissioners considered sustainable water and wastewater utility services at its work session on Monday, following discussion by the town of Pittsboro re-addressing the issue of its notorious drinking water contamination.

The board heard a presentation from Charles Archer of Freese and Nichols, a privately-owned engineering, planning and consulting firm hired to explore Pittsboro’s and the county’s options in addressing water issues. Archer previously presented to Pittsboro and Sanford, as the presented study was commissioned by the municipalities.

“The purpose of this study was to look at opportunities for economies of scale to work together — obviously it’s a lot more affordable when local governments can work together,” Archer said on Monday. “And we did know that Chatham County and Sanford have a history of working together on utility projects.”

The city of Sanford is in the process of expanding its water treatment plan. While plans are also under way to install a filtration system at Pittsboro’s water treatment facility that will remove about 90% of PFAS contamination in 1 million gallons of water per day, Archer said the town will need additional water supply in years to come.

Based on data provided by the town and from Chatham Park, Freese and Nichols estimated that Pittsboro will exceed its water capacity by 2024 if nothing changes.

The town is permitted now to supply 2 million gallons of water (mgd) per day. Its treatment facility, however, can only process 1.8 mgd. By 2040, the town will need about 6 mgd, and 12 mgd by 2060.

Plans to expand the plant or build a new one are under consideration, but construction will likely complete after Pittsboro’s water needs have already exceeded current capacity. An alternative solution, Archer presented, could be a partnership with Chatham County and Sanford to supply the town and some unincorporated areas with water from Sanford’s facility, as the News + Record previously reported.

Archer also raised the issue of Pittsboro’s drinking water contamination. The News + Record previously reported that a national study found the town’s water was among the worst in the nation due to such contamination of PFAS, a family of carcinogenic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances.

“PFAS is a concern, it’s a legitimate concern,” Archer told the board.

Still, from a county-wide perspective, Archer said Chatham was “in pretty good shape” to meet future water demands. The transmission of water lines in Sanford could begin this summer Archer said, with the goal of having the water lines finished and operational by 2024, for a $34 million cost shared with Pittsboro and Sanford.

“That’s a high conservative number that can be shared among three local governments,” he said.

The study and planning emphasize Pittsboro, but County Manager Dan LaMontagne said county planning “certainly keeps Siler City in mind as well.” About two years ago, the county put in more water lines connecting to Siler City which allowed for up to an additional million gallons a day.

Commissioner Karen Howard asked whether the timeline to complete the project by 2024 felt aggressive; LaMontagne said it did. “But we know where Pittsboro is, and I think their need is there,” he said.

There was no action associated with the presentation of future water utility options.

Other meeting items

The board also approved the Chatham County Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Plan for 2021-23. The initiative will be led by Courtney Jones, the county’s human resources analyst.

The plan is meant to ensure county government complies with federal anti-discrimination laws, and to create and maintain a more equitable, fair and diverse workplace.

“We have some work to do,” Jones said.

The plan includes an analysis of county programs and policies, the race and gender composition of staff, the development of a method and working group and more.

“I’m very proud that Chatham County is taking this on and looking at making a real, I hope, difference,” Howard said about the policy. “There is no way to get around fixing something if you don’t have the people directly impacted in solution making.”

The board also heard a third quarter budget update and approved a plan for the Disbursement of Additional Article 46 sales tax proceeds.

Through six months, the county’s sales tax collection is at just over $9.2 million, which is $1.7 million more than the same time period last year, or a 19% increase. If the current collection pace is maintained, the county could have around an excess of about $600,000 in budgeted funds.

Commissioner Diana Hales proposed the possibility of allocating those funds to the schools, ultimately making a motion to give some of the funds to CCS, which had previously been budgeted to offset the increase in the school’s supplment due to retirment/benefits increases, and splitting any remaining funds three ways among housing, agriculture and parks and recreation. That motion passed.

At the end of the work session, the commissioners received a presentation on potential redistricting of the county based on the 2020 census. Due to delays caused by the pandemic, census data is now not expected to be finalized until September. In Chatham, residents vote for all commissioners, regardless of what district they live in.

“I hope people listening at home, or following minutes weeks from now, understand that we each vote for all our commissioners,” Commissioner Mike Dasher said, “and regardless of district size everybody is equally represented.”

The board also approved a resolution amending county personnel policy for paid parental leave as well as proclaiming several commemorative months and a day in Chatham — April as Child Abuse Prevention Month, April 20 as National Therapy Animal Day, May as Older Americans Month and Vulnerable Adult and Elder Abuse and Exploitation Awareness Month from May 9-June 20.

Reporter Hannah McClellan can be reached at hannah@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @HannerMcClellan.

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