SILER CITY – At 67, Siler City Mayor Thomas K. "Chip" Price III shows no signs of slowing down. His busy schedule includes city government, part-time work in retirement and managing his cattle ranch.
Price, a Siler City native, wanted to skip town once he was old enough — but life had other plans. After graduating from Jordan-Matthews High School, he attended Western Carolina University, where he earned a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Technology.
"When I graduated college, I was ready to get out of here like every other kid," Price told The Chatham News & Record. Instead, Price found himself back in Siler City, working for a furniture company and climbing the ranks.
Now in his 12th year of service in Siler City government, including two years as mayor, Price has witnessed fundamental changes across Siler City and Chatham County. "When I first went on the board of commissioners, it wasn’t a pretty picture," Price said. "There weren’t many opportunities for the kids to stay here... I felt it was important to give back to the community that I love and show the younger generation that we need them."
During his tenure on the board of commissioners, Price and his colleagues worked to improve life for Siler City's residents. However, the unexpected deaths of several town leaders added to the challenges of city government.
"I didn’t want to see the hard work that we had put in being destroyed," he said, explaining why he ran for mayor two years ago and why he's running again. "I felt obligated to keep serving."
As manufacturing business and numerous franchises moved in, it had a domino effect on growth, Price explains. "It brings more activities, better restaurants and shopping as the quality of life improves with these higher-paying jobs."
Noting that affordable housing attracts outsized attention, "it dawned on me that being able to afford a house is about having a job that pays a livable wage," he says. "There's hardly a house on the market for less than $300,000, and at a $30,000 a year salary – you can’t afford it."
He believes this job-focused approach will increase Siler City's standard of living to better match the eastern part of the county.
"If we don’t continue to be pro-business, people will leave here. They might not move, but they will go elsewhere to work and take their dollars with them," he says, noting that this trend would spell disaster for a local economy. "I’m just trying to level the playing field."
The work is never done, though. Major issues face both residents and government, including water bills, water pressure, sewer issues and aging water pipes.
The sewer system is Price's top priority. "Our infrastructure is over 50 years old," he says. "We have implemented a plan to start replacing sections of the pipes over time, and replace water meters." The average lifespan of a water meter is less than 20 years, and some in Siler City are barely hanging on.
"Some of these meters are over 35 years old," Price says. New meters will be digital, allowing customers to manage their accounts online and saving the city money on meter reading costs. This project won't be completed in a two-year term, which is one reason Price hopes to be reelected and see these plans through.
Price's water bill increased recently too, so he sympathizes with the complaints of residents who have seen their bill go up.
"If you have a concern over your water bill, please contact the town," he said. "There could be an issue with your meter, or it could have been read wrong. Please contact the city and let us know. Even my mom got mad at her water bill!" Price laughed, adding, "I’m serious."
"But you have to look at it on a case-by-case basis," he added, noting the rising costs of chemicals and materials required to maintain the water and sewer utility operations.
Price hopes to serve the people of Siler City for as long as possible. As for any future plans of running for mayor again after this election, he's taking a wait and see approach.
"I just want to improve the lives of the people in our community."