Board holds public hearing on Sanford merger


PITTSBORO — While the weather roared outside of the Chatham County Agriculture & Conference Center on Monday evening, Pittsboro commissioners held their last meeting of the month, which included conducting a public hearing on the Sanford water and wastewater merger. 

Assistant Town Manager Kent Jackson gave a presentation on the merger during the hearing, where he gave a brief overview of how the town got to where it is today. The summary was documented in a memorandum, which was given to the board prior to the meeting. 

“On August 12, 2022, the Town engaged with Freese and Nichols to perform a study and analysis of the opportunities and challenges of a merged system with the City of Sanford,” the memorandum read. “Phase 1 of this comprehensive study focused primarily on financial options and impacts, including system development fees and rates. The findings and conclusions of Phase 1 indicated significant opportunities and advantages for the potential merger and therefore Phase 2 was authorized. Phase 2 has focused on governance, assets, system operation, and capital funding.”

Jackson said the merger would help mitigate several issues with Pittsboro’s current infrastructure, such as limited sewer capacity, unsteady utility rates and more. 

“Even smaller projects … cannot be supported because of the very limited wastewater capacity,” he said. “The benefit of this arrangement with Sanford is to enable us to achieve that sewer capacity, mainly through the force main project, but also through other upgrades.”

Jackson also ran through some questions regarding the merger various residents and board members have expressed throughout the planning process. Jackson said current customers would still receive the same level of service under the merger, as both Sanford and Pittsboro utilize the same software and systems for billing and collection.

Customers can also report issues through the same mediums they currently use, such as going to town hall in-person, calling the department or submitting a request online. Utility bills are expected to remain steady, but the report stated the system development fees (SDFs) in Pittsboro could increase under the merger. 

A concern water quality activists in Pittsboro have revolves around Sanford’s water contamination. Sanford has PFAS and PFOA — potential human carcinogens — in its water supply, which the city said it plans on addressing by installing a Granular Activated Carbon (GAC) system in its water treatment facility. Pittsboro already has a GAC system installed in its water treatment plant, which was put online last July. 

Commissioner John Bonitz said residents have approached him with concerns regarding the water quality of Sanford’s water, and if it would have a negative impact on Pittsboro’s supply. 

“I am hearing constituents ask specifically for the pollutant goals or limits or Sanford’s GAC plan,” he said. “I’m pleased they’re going to install that level of advanced filtration and have plans for even more, but we do need to know at what level that GAC will be operated and managed.”

Bonitz said he appreciates all of the work staff and contracted agencies have done to create the drafted interlocal agreement, but he said most of the public seems to be “hungry for more information.”

“They’ve not been able to find it, or they’ve not been able to find it easily,” he said. “We’ve been kind of sprinting to catch up with this ambitious set of timelines, which is no fault to any of us.”

Bonitz suggested creating a webpage on the town website where residents could go to find more information on the merger and interlocal agreement, which he said would help fill the void of questions from residents. 

Jackson said creating a page for the merger would be possible, if that was something the board wanted to move forward with.