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Notes from the April 15 Chatham County Board of Commissioners work session

By Diana Hales
Posted Thursday, May 30, 2013

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Pittsboro, NC - The Chatham County commissioners met for their April 15 work session in the historic county courthouse. Here are my notes from the meeting.

*Work Session (all present)* Met in Historic Courthouse!

1. *NC DOT funds for Chatham*. Approximately $88,000 left for this fiscal year (ending June 30) that will be spent on improvements for public school access ($50,000) and right-of-way acquisition ($38,000). An additional $53,000 is left from the Highway Trust Fund that will be carried into next fiscal year for the Secondary Roads Improvement Program. The 15/501 road resurfacing from the water tower to the Courthouse circle in Pittsboro (water line replacement) is scheduled for July/August.

2. *Affordable Housing Task Force*. Task force chair Nora Esthimer reported that the task force considered low-income housing needs in Chatham County and the best way to use the $900,000 paid by Briar’s Chapel in lieu of providing affordable housing in that development. The task force divided the money into two pots: $250,000 to address immediate rental needs for approximately 100 households with children in poverty; and $650,000 for long-term housing solutions.

The rationale was that existing non-profit agencies could vet the applicants and this $250,000 could be paid out for rental deposits and utilities to help individual families get into adequate housing. Agencies agreed that it costs about $2,500 to stabilize a family
in rental housing. Could use United Way application process to find local non-profit agencies to manage this program to assist “eminent” homeless families as well as those actually on the streets. This would not duplicate existing programs, but fill in some gaps. Agency receives eight percent to administer the program. The other $650,000 could be used for long-term home ownership or rental programs.

BOC member Brian Bock advised this task force. BOC member Mike Cross said the Briar’s Chapel money was specified to build affordable housing or purchase land for affordable housing, not one-time rental assistance. Bock argued that he thought it was for housing relief, not just purchasing housing. Cross said he reviewed the BOC minutes and this money was for purchase of land.

Bock said the task force was looking at more than home ownership; rental housing stock could be refurbished with this money to
keep rentals affordable. Cross said that would be paying private landowners to fix up their property. Sally Kost said the recommendation for spending $2,500 to settle these low-income families into rental housing does help the root cause of homelessness, which is bad credit and the inability to put first and last month rent plus security deposits together.

Walter Petty asked how would you measure success, and would these families become an agency responsibility? Esthimer said these would have to be grants to the families, not loans (County “could” retrieve the security deposits). Bock said his main concern was housing the homeless children in the County, rather than the long-term housing stock. Kost agreed with Cross that this money was for long-term provision of affordable housing and the County is not set up to administer a housing program. All agreed to discuss further at June 17 BOC meeting.

3. *Two CCCC Board of Trustee Appointments*. Three candidates: George Lucier (former BOC), Brian Bock (current BOC), Patrick Barnes (former BOC and current appointment to two County advisory committees). Patrick Barnes is a former board member of the CCCC Foundation. George Lucier is a board member of the CCCC Foundation and currently serves on the CCCC Board of Trustees (appointment expiring). Brian Bock elected, unanimous. George Lucier *not* elected, 1 to 4 (Kost for). Patrick Barnes elected, 4 to 1 (Kost against).

*Regular Session*
4. *Don’t Repeal Lake Jordan Rules*. Environmental Review Committee asked BOC to send a letter to Legislature in opposition to Senate Bill 515 that would repeal already-delayed Lake Jordan Rules. The reason? Cities upstream (Burlington, Greensboro) on the Haw don’t want to spend the money to clean up their effluent flowing downstream.

5. *Budget for FY 2013-2014, Public Hearing*. This was presentation by Rene Paschal, Assistant County Manager, and public hearing about budget allocations. Chatham County has $9.1 billion valuation of property and a General Fund budget of $92.5 million. The current property tax rate of $0.6192/per $100 valuation will remain next year. The County expects $57.6 million in revenues from property taxes. Other fees, vehicle and personal property taxes, state and federal monies make up the difference.

Paschal said the budget is almost $4 million more than last year, but sales taxes are expected to rise 13%, and other fees will increase. In the budget: Staffing for the new jail (being built at old County Landfill off Hwy 64) will begin in 2014; a 3% pay adjustment for county personnel; four new telecommunications positions; some employees moving from 3/4 time to full time with benefits; $250,000 increase for local supplement for teachers in the Chatham school district; $500,000 for new K-8 teacher laptops so they can access new State testing protocols; $1.5 million for school roofs at Moncure and Sage Academy.

There was $221,500 available to allocate as *grants to local non-profit agencies in the coming fiscal year*. The County’s evaluation process is conducted by teams of community volunteers. The BOC had established that the majority of funds (55%) were to be reserved for relief of hunger, health, and housing. The committee recommended allocations, including a $5,000 award to the Chatham Arts Council, which was *removed* by the County Manager. This $5,000 was added to the $10,000 discretionary pot for the BOC members to allocate to any of the applicants to increase their award...most agencies receive a portion of the amount requested. Most of the public speakers (9) were in support of Chatham Arts Council because of the arts contributions to economic development, quality of life, and their programs in the schools and community; other speakers supported CORA food distribution; the Literacy Council; and the Family Violence and Rape Crisis Center that helped 76 women last year, 3 babies born. Speakers addressed the budget hearing the next day in Siler City, again with a focus on supporting the arts. See #7 below, more on Chatham Arts Council.

*Budget Work Session, Thursday May 23* to finalize the budget

6. *School Superintendent Robert Logan discussed education budget*. There is $9,352.40 in total funding (federal, state, county) per K-12 student. Even though Chatham County has high per-capita wealth, 52% of kids in schools qualify for free lunches. He said Chatham lost $10 million over last 5 years from state funds; Chatham cut 55 teaching assistants (TA) last year. More students mean more teachers; central office staff cut; less music and special services available to students. Health care changes will qualify substitute teachers working 30 hours/week for insurance. Unknown impact of pending state budget and whether TA’s will be cut back in K-3, or how the formula will change relative to increasing class size. Have $3 million in technology needs (2,200 Apples on lease), but only requested $500,000 for purchase of laptops for K-8 teachers because of State testing software. Expect 201 more children in schools next fall, but budget anticipates $95/less per child from County revenues and $45/less per child from the State. There are currently 680 Chatham kids in charter schools.

7. *Budget** **Sprint and the Arts*. Detailed review of entire $92.5 million budget, by functions and departments. Led by Assistant County Manager Renee Paschal, the scheduled two-day discussion was completed within a few hours, since Sally Kost was the only one asking questions about specific items. Limited budget discussion among BOC members until the allocation for Non-profits. Brian Bock wanted the Commissioners to allocate *all* their discretionary $15,000 to augment awards to the non-profits Family Violence and Rape Crisis, Hispanic Liaison, and Literacy Council. Sally Kost suggested increasing Boys and Girls Club award, as well as adding back the Chatham Arts Council $5,000 as allocated by the committee. She had researched the economic impact the arts have made in small communities: This was a small amount of money to say Chatham County supports the arts.

Bock doesn’t “buy the argument” that the BOC is the place for funding the Arts, and is not important as food and human services. Mike Cross recommended that each of the 5 commissioners allocate $3,000 ($15,000 total) to the non-profit they wish to augment. Bock quashed that idea. He stated he could never support any arts funding from the non-profit fund.* [Last year, the Siler City Arts Incubator was denied funding.] *He also made the statement that he would vote against funding Chatham Arts Council because numerous members spoke in opposition to the 9/11 memorial site last fall. Sally Kost still entered a motion for $1,000 for Chatham Arts: it failed 3 to 2 (Koss and Cross, for). The allocation of the $15,000 was divided: $8,331 FVRC; $669 Hispanic Liaison, $2,000 Boys and Girls Club, $2,000 Habitat for Humanity, $2,000 Chatham Literacy Council. Bock said he could support private donation and he said there was “consensus” that each member of the Chatham Bd. of Commissioners would donate $200 to Chatham Arts Council.

*Decision Reversed Out of Public View*
As reported in the Chatham News, May 23, 2013:
Feb 18, 2013: Chatham County Board of Education was unable to reach a decision on appointment of their 5th member (seat vacated when Deb McManus elected to NC House). They asked Deb McManus to introduce a special local bill (H365) in NC Legislature so there could be a countywide election in November to fill that vacancy. Municipal elections (Pittsboro, Siler City,
Goldston) were already slated for November.

March 4, 2013: The Board of Education approved a resolution requesting support from Chatham County BOC for countywide special election.

March 11, 2013: The Chatham County Bd. of Commissioners voted to *endorse a special countywide election* in November for this seat. That election was projected to also include a bond referendum for the new Agricultural Center.

May 6, 2013: The Chatham County Bd. of Commissioners decided NOT to put the bond issue before voters, there was enough debt capacity within the county budget and there was no cost savings by issuing a bond. *Nothing discussed at this meeting about the school board vacancy election.*

May 15, 2013: Local bill H365, sponsored by Deb McManus, was supposed to be in House Government Committee, but scheduling problems meant McManus had to shuffle the bill to the House Finance Committee. On May 15 she was told by the Finance Committee Senior Chair at 8 am meeting that the bill was being removed...because the chair had heard from “three” Chatham County Commissioners stating they did NOT support this bill.

May 15, 2013 email from BOC chair Walter Petty to House Finance Committee chair: Petty sent email stating that he and Brian Bock agreed that since there would only be one issue on the countywide ballot, this election was not a good use of taxpayer dollars, and they could no longer support the bill...but they were speaking as individuals, not as Commissioners. Yet, they were counted as Commissioners...not as members of the general public, some of whom also contacted the same legislators in SUPPORT of the bill.

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Notes from the April 15 Chatham County Board of Commissioners work session

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