site underconstruction
cc courthouse vfa 1 Here are 21 A-to-Z highlights of what the Chatham County Board of Commissioners accomplished in 2015:

1.  Affordable Housing. This complicated issue involves low-income rentals, housing for purchase, repairs to dilapidated homes, as well as temporary housing such as shelters.  We had a two-day facilitated workshop on this issue to help us clarify our goals as a Board, and figure out some next steps.  Our Council on Aging took a leadership role in getting non-profit providers together to discuss their specific repair services and population served.  In the near future: A clearinghouse for people to find out what repair services might be available to seniors, disabled, and veterans.

Chatham Housing Authority.  Although the Housing Authority is funded by U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development and operates the Section 8 rental housing voucher program, there is an issue with people not being able to afford security and utility deposits along with first month’s rent.  Chatham County has 470 vouchers to subsidize low-income individuals and families in rental housing.  The Housing Authority asked the County in November to provide $13,000 for a revolving fund that would guarantee security deposits for 20 new renters.  This allows a new renter to pay a portion of the security deposit over 6 to 24 months along with their monthly rent.  Since all renters must take household budgeting classes, this guarantees that the fund will continue to be repaid.  The Housing Authority has organized a new 501c3 non-profit called the Chatham Housing Initiative to operate the loan fund and hopes to become a one-stop to assist homeless people and individuals needing temporary housing by coordinating and working with community service providers.

Collaboration. The county will provide $10,000 toward a $30,000 collaborative project with United Way and Triangle Community Foundation to address a specific problem in the broad category of affordable housing.  This pilot will seek strategies to help us make a collective impact on one aspect of housing.

Housing for Sale. On the housing for sale issue, there is a shortage of workforce housing at affordable price points. Habitat for Humanity is developing a property in Pittsboro (behind Piggly Wiggly shopping center) that will include both family homes, and smaller homes for singles.  County will seek public-private partnership for redevelopment of historic Henry Siler School property in Siler City for both market-rate and affordable housing on this site.  Other opportunities will be identified.

2.  Broadband. Most county residents have NO access to Broadband; many are on dial-up or have spotty wireless service. County IT staff propose to apply for federal E-rate funding to expand county fiber ($400,000) and install it in a triangle from Pittsboro to Siler City to Goldston and back to Pittsboro, and at the same time place “dark” fiber in the same conduit.  This could entice a private vendor into a public/private partnership to operate broadband within Chatham County.  The County can not “compete” with the private sector, but “dark” fiber could build that investment bridge, if we are lucky.

3.  Budget:  Almost $95 million (schools are $32 million of that total). Property tax rate $0.6219 stayed the same for a sixth year. The budget allows $230,000 for non-profit support, primarily in the areas of hunger, housing, and health.

4.  Chatham Arts Council.  We added $35,000 to the current year budget (Walter Petty voted no) to fund two artists-in-residence programs in Siler City at the Virginia Cross School (bilingual) and Siler City Elementary.  In addition, to help the Arts Council direct more of its funds to programs, and less to facility rent, the County is leasing a small building we own at 118 West St. in Pittsboro to the Arts Council for basic utility costs. This will provide greater visibility for the Arts Council downtown, a place to meet, and a showcase for our artists.

5.  Capital Improvements Program.  The Agriculture Conference and Convention Center in Pittsboro is on target to be completed in 2016.  We have moved up the Animal Shelter’s new building in the schedule.  We will invest in a Health Sciences Bldg. for Central Carolina Community College to accommodate increased training needs; the building is fast-tracked to open in 2019.  It will be built at Briar Chapel to anchor their new commercial center on 15/501 (Hales voted against this site, preferring the Pittsboro campus).  Hales asked for geothermal technology to be used; staff estimated $450,000 for this energy efficiency.  One advantage to the CCCC building at Briar Chapel is that it will permanently serve as the north Chatham early voting site. The current county administration building is still on track to have façade improvements and enclosure of the open breezeways within the next year.  The courtyard entrance to the building, facing the historic courthouse circle, will have signage, be more inviting and pedestrian friendly.

6.  Chatham Transit is now providing exclusive bus service between UNC and Pittsboro.  They will purchase two new small buses in 2016 to run between Pittsboro and Chapel Hill as part of a NC DOT grant aimed at reducing traffic along that corridor. Chatham Transit serves the Council on Aging, Group Homes, Chatham Trades, community college campuses in Siler City and Pittsboro, and low-income people.  They will expand routes and service in the future.

7.  Chatham Trades and CORA Food Pantry.  Chatham Trades in Siler City is a sheltered workshop that provides work for 38 adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. There is no room to expand at their present 8,000 sq. ft. facility in Siler City, which results in turning away paying customers because of lack of space for workers and warehousing.  They have proposed a purchase of a 31,000 sq. ft. building in Siler City, with some County assistance. This is pending.  Also, the CORA Food Pantry in Pittsboro is inadequate and the County is seeking a solution, which may be through adding a second story to the existing building.

8.  Climate Change Committee.  In September, citizens requested BOC to create a new advisory committee to investigate possible county strategies to reduce our carbon footprint.  This could include building standards, use of solar, and a wide-ranging look at what we can do within our jurisdiction.  Nine members of the new advisory committee were selected in December, with additional appointments from Pittsboro Town Board, Siler City and Goldston.  The first meeting was February 9, 2016.

9.  Coal Ash.  Chatham had no authority to stop 12 million tons of coal ash from being dumped in Moncure at the former Brickhaven clay pit.  We did send a resolution, dated Dec 15, 2014 opposing the disposal of coal ash in Chatham County and I detailed the problems with the permit at the State’s public hearing at our courthouse that month.  However, the “structural fill” permit was approved by the NC Division of Mining and Land Resources in 2015 and the work on expanding the clay pit (from 29 acres to, eventually, 350 acres) and making giant coal ash burritos is underway.  Trucks began hauling in late October, and several truck accidents occurred because of increased traffic.  Coal ash transport changed from truck to primarily rail in January 2016 when the railroad spur was completed.  Over time, the county will receive $18 million ($1.50/ton) for taking this stuff.   The initial vote on the deal with Duke Energy was 3 to 2 (Karen Howard and Diana Hales, against).  In November 2015 the BOC agreed to spend the initial $6 million Duke Energy money on Moncure needs; almost $2 million will be spent on upgrading the Moncure fire department equipment and paying off their debt, as well as additional funds to finish the Sprout Youth Center in Moncure, citizen water testing, connections to county water as needed, air monitoring, and other contingencies as they occur.   Bottled water is now being provided (until connections are established to County water lines) to four residences in the area with high levels of hexavalent chromium, which was discovered in the county’s baseline water sampling.

The County will continue to inspect and monitor the dump site where we have local authority in storm water and erosion control, coal ash sampling and groundwater sampling, and will take action when necessary.  We will report air testing findings on the county website.  The second air testing in November when coal ash was moving by trucks showed increases from the baseline testing in magnesium, silicon and titanium...but were within OSHA air quality standards.  There was NO detection of vanadium or selenium in this sample.

Leachate.  The leachate from Brickhaven coal ash is collected in a million-gallon tank and will eventually be trucked to the Sanford wastewater treatment facility at Buffalo Creek on the Cape Fear.  The leachate contains heavy metals, such as boron, selenium and hexavalent chromium and vanadium, all carcinogens.  At the end of the treatment cycle it is assumed that these metals will be incorporated in the sludge that could be spread on land along Bear Creek in Chatham County where land application sludge permits exist.  The County Environmental Review Advisory Committee is looking into these issues.

10.  Comprehensive Land Use Plan.  Presented through the Planning Board in May 2015, this RFP to hire a consultant was adopted and the consultant, Land Design, was selected in December.  Their first step is to review all the various county plans (agriculture, conservation), and create a comprehensive plan looking out 25 years ahead in Chatham.  A steering committee has been selected to help guide the 18-month process with lots of citizen input.

11.  County Manager.  Charlie Horne, our long-serving county manager retired in October.  His replacement is Renee Paschal, who was the Assistant County Manager for years.  We are in great hands with Renee and we are incredibly lucky that she decided to take on this responsibility.

12.  Family Care Homes.  No decision was made in 2015 about whether there should be a required distance of one-quarter or one-half mile separation between Family Care Homes.  These homes, an alternative to large institutional facilities for assisted living, can house a maximum of six non-related residents in a neighborhood home with 24-hour staff support.  There are several Family Care Homes in Chatham County  already.  What brought this up was a Family Care Home operator who purchased two large cottages close to the Club House in Governor’s Club for residential care facilities for elderly clients with dementia.

13.  Fracking Moratorium.  Diana Hales introduced language for a draft moratorium in April.  A public hearing on a fracking moratorium was held in July and 22 citizens spoke in favor of the proposed two-year moratorium in Chatham and also presented petitions with more than 1,000 Chatham county signatures to ban fracking.  The moratorium passed unanimously at the August BOC meeting.

14. Haw River Trail.  In December the BOC approved an application for a $100,000 Recreational Trail Program design and bridge construction grant from federal highway funds.  This project is part of a 70-mile multi-use trail from Rockingham County to Lake Jordan.

15.  Medicaid Expansion. Citizens petitioned the BOC to adopt a resolution in May in favor of closing the Medicaid Coverage Gap for 300,000 people because NC’s decision NOT to participate is costing us $9 million per day in our economy, and lost jobs.  The BOC adopted the resolution (Walter Petty voted no).

16.  Megasites.  In addition to the Siler City certified megasite of 1,800 acres which is being marketed as an auto manufacturing site by the Chatham Economic Development Corporation, the Moncure Super Park of 2,722 acres was proposed in the Merry Oaks area and the developer provided information to BOC in July. They are also pursuing state certification.

17.  Noise Ordinance and Gun Range.  A public hearing on a changes to a proposed noise ordinance was held in September.  The ordinance changes were in response to complaints about Range 2A, a gun range that was operating in a residential area in the unzoned portion of the county, just west of Hwy 87.  The modified noise ordinance was adopted in October:  4 to 1 (Walter Petty voted no).  The noise ordinance basically prohibits “unreasonably loud and disturbing noise...which is substantially incompatible with the time and location where created to the extent that it interferes with peace or good order.”  Two or more people who have heard the noise, at least one of whom resides in a different home from the others, or the complaint of a duly-authorized law enforcement officer, shall be prima facie evidence that the sound is unreasonably loud and disturbing.  “Sound emission decibel measurements shall not be required for establishment of a prima facie case.”  That last sentence relieves the Sheriff from the requirement that they must take a decibel measurement first, in order to file a complaint.  There are many exceptions, such as emergency vehicles, agriculture equipment and farm animals, aircraft, and construction from 7 am to 9 pm; also permitted events like Shakori Hills, fireworks, parades, and sport shooting ranges, if they were in compliance with a former noise ordinance when the range began operation and complies with General Statute 14-409.46.

18.  O’Kelly Chapel Road and American Tobacco Trail (ATT).  The problem of dangerous speeds and road conditions at the crossing of the ATT was before the Bd. of Commissioners several times.  There are 7,200 vehicles per day and walker/hikers on the ATT are at risk when crossing.  Several strategies are under consideration by DOT and might include rumble strips on the road, signal lights for walkers to push before entering the roadway, and grading of some dangerous shoulders at Pittard Sears Road.  The location of the road places it into two separate DOT divisions, each having their own priority list for construction.

19.  Smoking prohibited.  In June, BOC adopted a policy that prohibits smoking of all tobacco products (including electronic cigarettes) on all county property, including parks.  Areas will be posted.

20.  ST Wooten asphalt plant on Mt. Gilead Church Road.  This has been an issue since NC DOT used this Lee Paving location for testing asphalt solvents in the 1960s and contaminated the ground and groundwater with highly toxic TCE chemical.  ST Wooten was not the owner at that time, but purchased the site knowing the situation, but has done nothing to help mitigate the problem.  There are 80 residences within a half-mile.   Although NC DOT and NC DENR have attempted various clean-up strategies at the 70 similarly contaminated sites across NC (latest strategy involves injecting Pepsi into the ground since its sugars seem to eliminate the cancer-causing toxicity of TCE), the plume of underground contamination is approaching neighboring water wells.  The neighbors came before the Commissioners both in August and November with complaints related to traffic, airborne exposure of TCE...up to 1.2 tons are permitted annually, in spite of a 2002 Superior Court ruling that capped emissions of this compound to 365,000 pounds/year.  Neighbors are seeking relief from the County on a number of fronts, including new water lines to deliver county water where private wells are in jeopardy of contamination.  Although the neighbors want to close down ST Wooten, there might be other avenues the county can explore as a path forward.

21.  Zoning.  After months of discussion and public input at every Planning Board meeting about various approaches to protecting existing landowners, either through some kind of open use and specialized industrial ordinances, or interim zoning, the Planning Board presented a recommendation on November 16.  That recommendation would leave the County unzoned, west of Hwy 87, as it currently exists, and just rely on open use district ordinances.  A minority report from the Planning Board focused on the problems with that approach in that we can’t anticipate every egregious industry that might want to locate in Chatham because there is no zoning in place.  Although the Comprehensive Land Use Plan (see #10) results in zoning when the process is completed, there was concern about leaving the County vulnerable for two years, especially in light of coal ash, fracking, and other heavy industrial operations.  Hales made a motion for the Planning staff to prepare a map and ordinance to extend interim zoning to all unzoned portions of Chatham county and to consider a residential-agricultural zoning, or agricultural exempt classification.   The motion passed: Walter Petty and Mike Cross voted no.  The Planning staff reported back at the December work session with their recommendation, which did not include the agricultural exemption classification (would require 6 to 8 months to identify and map all businesses and farms) and instead presented a strategy for using the R1 (one house per acre) and R5 (one house per 5 acres) classifications only.  R5 will be applied to all river corridors and Siler City’s watershed above their reservoir.  Hales argued for an R2 designation (one house per 2 acres) to provide more density protection than R1.  The motion passed to assign R1 and R5 classifications to the interim zoning.  Diana Hales voted no (in hindsight, should have made this a unanimous vote).

Diana Hales

We can have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth in the hands of a few, but we can't have both.
Louis D. Brandeis, US Supreme Court Justice