Pittsboro board declares intent to merge with Sanford water infrastructure

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A view of the Haw River, Pittsboro's drinking water source.
A view of the Haw River, Pittsboro's drinking water source.
Courtesy of Haw River Assembly
Posted

PITTSBORO — Commissioners authorized Town Manager Chris Kennedy to send a letter of intent to the City of Sanford to merge the two municipalities’ water and sewer capacities during Monday’s meeting.

“I think this is a tremendous opportunity with perhaps a finite window to work with the city of Sanford,” Kennedy said.

This move follows two decades of conversations and research between Sanford and Pittsboro seeking solutions to Pittsboro’s inadequate water capacity and treatment capabilities.

Kennedy’s resolution details of the discussions and negotiations leading up to present day, saying it was important to document the 23 years since the town established a moratorium related to limited water capacity.

“What I endeavored upon when I was working on this resolution was when we first formally talked about coordination with the city of Sanford,” he said. “I felt like it would be appropriate and productive to map that out, going back 23 years until April of 1999, and looking at that and saying we have created opportunities for ourselves today to do better to provide water and sewer.”

The Sanford-Pittsboro partnership would allow the two municipalities to “regionalize the public water and wastewater utility systems of the Town of Pittsboro,” which would include water treatment plants, distribution, wastewater treatment and public wastewater collection infrastructure.

During his nearly two-year tenure as town manager, Kennedy said he has prioritized finding a solution to Pittsboro’s decades-long water capacity issues.

“I told the board when I got here I was going to work very hard to provide the town and the community generations’ worth of water and sewer capacity to the best of my ability,” he said. “This is an attempt — this is not a guarantee, Sanford is under no obligation to work with us or take on our water and sewer needs. We feel we have a good partner with them (Sanford).”

Commissioners expressed support for the resolution, but some shared concerns over job security of the public works employees who operate the town’s water infrastructure.

Mayor Pro Tem Pamela Baldwin said she had received comments from staff concerned that a partnership with Sanford’s water infrastructure could result in job losses.

“They have worked hard … for the town of Pittsboro — you have one main (line) break, they are there, in the ditch, with their contractors,” she said. “I know that this here is just a resolution of intent, so all of those particulars are going to be down the road, and hopefully there will be options towards those employees.”

Mayor Cindy Perry also expressed concern for employees. She said some had spent most of their careers in the town and may have special expertise others may lack.

“We’ve talked about how these people who have worked for us for so long really know the secret side of down under the Pittsboro streets,” she said. “Our system may be where we have to do a tweak that maybe only so and so knows about … that’s what makes Pittsboro so wonderful, and I think Sanford recognizes it, and they want that expertise.”

Kennedy said employees will have opportunities to continue working for the town in different capacities. The resolution of intent is not concrete, however, meaning no jobs are in jeopardy at this point.

“There’s a lot of questions as to how this is going to work,” Kennedy said, “and a lot of that is to be determined.”

The town manager also said some had described this merger as a “last resort” solution to Pittsboro’s water woes. He called the partnership a good opportunity for the town, not a last ditch effort.

“We’ve investigated obviously for 23 years now, and we’ve investigated different strategies,” Kennedy said. “This is an opportunity — there’s been conversation like this is a last resort, and I don’t believe this is a last resort.”

Commissioner Kyle Shipp backed the resolution of intent, which passed unanimously.

“This is a plan to make a plan — it’s not binding, but we need to come up with a plan,” he said. “It’s been 23 years that we’ve had this problem, and the time is now to act … There’s a lot of things we need to figure out as a part of this process, and this is just the start of figuring out.”

Reporter Taylor Heeden can be reached at theeden@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @HeedenTaylor.

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