CCEC has again searched the latest State of the County Report for truly good news, but regrets to report that on certain key points, the Report contains misrepresentations and distortions.

In its recently-issued 2014 State of the County Report, the Board of Commissioners (“BOC”) claims that Chatham County added 1,177 new jobs in 2011 – 13 as compared to only 319 in 2009 – 2010, a claimed increase of 270%. But, according to data supplied by the Labor and Economic Analysis Division of the NC Department of Commerce (“LEAD”), Chatham has lost many jobs since 2008 when it had an employment high of 16,498. For the 3rd quarter of 2013 (the last period for which information is available), the number of jobs had dropped to 13,880. The BOC brags about 1,177 new jobs, but the unfortunate truth is that 2,618 jobs have been lost since 2008. That represents a decrease of 15.8%, not a gain of 270%.

More relevant to the BOC’s time period, LEAD reports that since the recession ended in December 2009, Chatham has lost 725 jobs, a 5.2% decrease in employment, while the State as a whole had a job increase of 2.1%. One item of good news is that Chatham gained 287 jobs in net employment from the 4th quarter of 2011 to the 3rd quarter of 2013 — still far less than the 1,177 reported by the BOC.

The BOC credits the Chatham Economic Development Corporation (“EDC”) for its job information. The problem is that the EDC obtains its numbers directly from employers expanding or opening businesses. The result is that the EDC data reports only new jobs, but says nothing about the number of jobs lost or about employment levels generally. The result is that the EDC data fails to tell the whole story.

The State of the County Report also claims payroll of $28 million associated with the new jobs, as opposed to $11 million for the two earlier years, a claimed increase of 155%.  But, again, the BOC numbers don’t tell the whole story. According to LEAD, Chatham had a high level of total wages in the 4th quarter of 2010 of approximately $128 million. But in the 3rdquarter of 2013, that number had dropped to $112 million, not a gain of 155%, but a decline of 12%. Looking for good news, however, the LEAD data does show that the $112 million in the 3rd quarter of 2013 reflected a slight increase from $110 million in the 3rd quarter of 2012.

School Funding

The BOC claims that funding for school current expenses was increased by $714,904 in FY13 “to offset state budget cuts.”  The Report also states: “School operations up 20.02%.”

The amazing distortion in this claim is that, in order to get the 20% increase, the BOC used Fiscal Year 2008 as the starting point. But that included increases over four fiscal years involving the prior BOC, and for which the current BOC majority can claim no credit. Indeed, in their first year in office the current majority decreased the school budget from $25.3 million in FY11 to $24.9 million in FY12.  Had FY12 remained at the FY11 level of $25.3, the increase to FY13 would have been 1.6%, not 20% as claimed by the BOC.

Environmental Issues

In the March 17th State of the County address, Commissioner Brian Bock stated that the BOC had strengthened environmental protections of Chatham County’s natural resources stating that, “We should be proud that Chatham County took action several years ago to implement stormwater and stream buffer regulations that were more stringent than the state recommended with its proposed Jordan Lake Rules.”

Mr. Bock is correct in lauding the policy initiatives of the previous BOC aimed at protecting Chatham County’s waters, and adopted in anticipation of the Jordan Lake Rules. The report states that the Board of Commissioners voted in 2012 to continue implementing these rules.

But Commissioner Bock does not talk about the following efforts of the BOC majority under his leadership, which are documented in the public record:

  • The elimination of staff positions (Sustainable Communities Director and Resource Conservation Manager) and their respective departments that oversaw environmental issues.
  • The rescinding of LEED Certification for county-funded buildings greater than 20,000 square feet. While they promised that there would be some requirement of energy efficiencies Chatham County citizens have no assurance what these requirements are or whether they are being implemented.
  • Removed the requirement for an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and removed the Environmental Review Board (ERB) from the review process for commercial projects of 2 or more acres in general-use zones.
  • Raised the threshold for the EIA requirement for major subdivision from 25 lots to 50 lots and removed the ERB peer review of those EIAs of projects over 50 lots. Those peer reviews will instead be conducted by consultants hired by the developer.
  • Failed to make the necessary provisions to protect Jordan Lake in the drafting and adoption of the Chatham Cary Land Use Plan both in the densities allowed in the areas abutting the lake and the failure to specify stream buffer rules for streams that would protect fragile watersheds in case of annexation by Cary whose watershed rules are not as protective as Chatham’s.
  • Refused to appoint two highly qualified nominees with environmental expertise by Commissioners Kost and Cross to the Environmental Review Committee (ERC) and the Planning Board respectively for seemingly partisan and ideological reasons.
  • Proposed to reassign the role of Watershed Review Board (WRB) from the ERC to the Planning Board. (Thankfully they ultimately heeded staff recommendations and citizen input, and the ERC appropriately retains the responsibilities of the WRB.)
  • Proposed to reduce buffering requirements for headwater streams by an amendment to the Chatham County Water Shed Protection ordinance to reduce the buffer requirements on ephemeral streams by changing the standards by which a stream would be rated as requiring a buffer. After a vote that arbitrarily set a low standard for the rating of headwater streams requiring buffers, the board changed their vote to reflect the recommendation of county staff to raise that standard. Though Mr. Bock now proudly proclaims the importance of having local rules that are more strident then state rules, at the time of this debate, the BOC majority challenged those rules for exceeding state minimum requirements.

We are grateful that the BOC backtracked on these last two initiatives and that they voted in 2012 to continue to follow the rules. We also appreciate any letters or attendance of state meetings that our BOC has engaged in on behalf of the Jordan Lake Rules and local controls of environmental regulations.

The State of the County Report attempts to reassure Chatham Citizens that the BOC recognizes the importance of Jordan Lake as a regional water resource. But the record of the current BOC majority regarding watershed and environmental policies over the past 3 1/3 years has not always shown a strong commitment to environmental protection, and the rules that they are now applauding did not always have their full support.