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Chatham Commissioners present positive 2014 State of the County

Posted Friday, March 28, 2014

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Pittsboro, NC - At the presentation of the 2014 State of the County Report on March 17, 2014, Chatham County Commissioner Vice Chairman Brian Bock said, "The incredibly positive reports on new jobs and business investment has provided the springboard for even more good news in the future."

Bock pointed to data from the Chatham Economic Development Corporation (EDC) that showed a 270% increase in the creation of new jobs in the county when comparing fiscal years 2011-13 to the previous two-year period. The 1,177 new jobs represented an estimated increase of 155% in annual payroll in this same timeframe.

"The past two years show just how far we have come in a short time," said Bock. "Combined with major growth in business capital, the new jobs have a huge ripple effect in our communities and in county government."

Other positive indicators, include:

* Chatham County's low unemployment rate, which was the lowest in the state in October of 2013 and was low throughout 2013.

* For the first six months of fiscal year FY 2014, both Central Permitting and the Register of Deeds reported increases in revenues for permits (up 21%) and excise fees (up 19%). Both are indicators of recovery and momentum in the local construction and real estate markets.

* Chatham's sales tax revenues increased 4% in FY 2013 compared to FY 2012, well above most counties during that same period.

Commissioner Chairman Walter Petty, who could not attend the meeting due to a family emergency, said that the good economic news will help the county continue its ability to fund critical facilities, such as school improvements, while also reducing pressure to increase the property tax rate. "We have not increased the county tax rate since FY 2011 thanks to careful spending, but this type of economic growth will certainly help us hold the line on taxes."

Petty commended county management for its wise budgetary stewardship. "They have played the key role in ensuring that we are well known across the state for careful spending and fiscal planning. The outside auditor said that our FY 2013 audit report was the most promising of any they had presented this year."

Despite several tough economic years, Chatham County continued to boost its funding of schools. Between FY 2008 and FY 2013, funding for school operations increased more than 20%. This helped offset education budget cuts at the state level and provided a 2% increase in supplements for teachers and teacher aids.

School facilities completed in FY 2013 included:

* Updated heating and air conditioning systems in all high school gyms;

* Revised traffic patterns at North Chatham Elementary to improve safety;

* Completed multi-year bathroom renovations at 10 schools with hot water; and

* Added more restrooms at Chatham Central's softball field as well as at the football fields at Northwood High and Jordan-Matthews High.

Petty cited the April 20, 2013 Grand Reopening of the Historic Courthouse in Pittsboro as a special day for all residents. "We had a crowd of people tour this grand facility on opening day. I doubt that it has ever looked better and we are honored to meet in it every month."

At the presentation, Vice Chairman Bock highlighted several actions aimed at protecting Jordan Lake and other water resources. "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."

Some of the key elements of the county's regulations have been applied countywide, not just in the Jordan Lake control area.

The General Assembly has more recently taken action to delay compliance with the Jordan Lake Rules for several years, but Bock said that the Board of Commissioners voted in 2012 to continue implementing its own rules. "We recognize that Jordan Lake is a precious resource and will continue our efforts to protect it."

Bock added that the Board of Commissioners has consistently urged General Assembly leaders and other state officials to allow local officials to determine environmental protections. "One size does not fit all 100 counties when we each have different natural resources."

Bock pointed to several important projects on the horizon point to a bright future. "We have not one, but two, economic development megasites in progress. These are huge potential manufacturing locations and would be the first certified megasites in the state."

The Chatham-Randoph Megasite west of Siler City is in the final stages of state certification, while the Moncure site is just getting started in that process. Both have the potential of adding thousands of jobs and up to a billion dollars in capital investments.

The Strategic Land Use Plan adopted in July 2013 will provide a framework for development. Petty commended the Chatham EDC, county planning and GIS employees, town planners and many volunteers from the private sector who helped develop the plan.

Commissioner Pam Stewart noted earlier that day that the county is starting to see some new efforts to expand broadband access around the county. "We have revised the Tower Ordinance so to make it less burdensome for companies to locate wireless towers here. We also are promoting efforts by a couple of companies to expand DSL coverage in remote areas using federal grants.

Chairman Petty said he wants folks to know about an exciting new education partnership, Central Carolina Works, which will place academic and career advisors in all high schools, with the goal of increasing students taking advantage of tuition-free college credit classes. The partnership includes with Central Carolina Community College, K-12 schools and two other counties. "Central Carolina Works will help prepare many young people sooner for jobs, give them more career options, reduce the dropout rate and have so many other benefits. It is a no-brainer to get behind such a great idea," Petty said. He commended Golden LEAF Foundation for providing startup funds.

The State of the County presentation did not include the many departmental and technology highlights in the printed report, but the entire report can be found online as a news item on the homepage. Printed copies are available at the three county libraries in Siler City, Pittsboro and Goldston, starting on March 20, 2014.

 
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Chatham Commissioners present positive 2014 State of the County
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