Chatham-Triangle J relationship produces tangible benefits for county, towns

BY ZACHARY HORNER, News + Record Staff
Posted 10/18/19

The Triangle J Council of Governments is something like the United Nations.

It’s a gathering of government representatives, seeking the best for their hometown, city or county while working together to make the region a better place.

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Chatham-Triangle J relationship produces tangible benefits for county, towns

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PITTSBORO — The Triangle J Council of Governments is something like the United Nations.

It’s a gathering of government representatives, seeking the best for their hometown, city or county while working together to make the region a better place.

The TJCOG Regional Summit was held last week in Pittsboro at the Chatham County Agricultural & Conference Center, and while the meeting was designed for municipalities and counties to share ideas and work together to make the TJCOG’s seven-county region a better place to be, it was also an opportunity to reflect on what Chatham County has gained from being part of this group.

“It’s a tremendous resource with everybody here involved,” said Chatham County Manager Dan LaMontagne. “We’ve got so many good technical people in this region in all the local governments. It’s great to have that collaboration with all of them, and that’s a lot of what we’re going to be seeing today.”

Discussion topics included regional transportation projects, affordable housing, resiliency from natural disasters and economic mobility, all issues familiar to Chatham County government officials, and the county and municipalities have already benefited from the work of TJCOG in some of those areas.

The TJCOG was started in 1970 as part of a system of Councils of Government. What was called the Research Triangle Planning Commission became the Triangle J Council of Governments and included Chatham, Durham, Johnston, Lee, Orange and Wake counties. Moore County was added to the group in April 2001.

“It’s become an advisor and clearinghouse for local elected officials for every issue, from budgeting to natural resources preservation to everything,” said Chatham County Commissioner Jim Crawford, who currently serves as the TJCOG’s chair.

There are three specific projects that the county has been or could be benefiting from that TJCOG has undertaken in recent years.

The organization has spent $85,000 over the last two years in providing staff support on affordable housing work in the county, Goldston, Pittsboro and Siler City. The work includes facilitating monthly meetings of the county’s Affordable Housing Advisory Committee and producing an Affordable Rental Housing Report & Strategy Toolbox for Chatham and its municipalities in 2017. None of Chatham or its municipalities’ annual fees have gone into the project.

TJCOG Executive Director Lee Worsley said the organization’s help with affordable housing is symbolic of what they do for all its members — provide efficiency.

“Rather than Chatham and Pittsboro and Siler City and Goldston work on this issue individually and all alone, us providing support to them collectively provides better efficiency and also we’re able to generate better ideas that provide more value across jurisdictional lines,” Worsley said. Another initiative started by TJCOG is Jordan Lake One Water, which is a plan to “develop an integrated watershed management plan for the Jordan Lake watershed by facilitating collaboration among the multitude of interested parties and providing an avenue whereby recommendations on potential policy frameworks may be presented to the State Department of Environmental Quality,” according to the organization’s website.

Crawford referenced stormwater and other water issues upstream from Jordan Lake and the effect that would have on the county and municipalities’ drinking supply, how TJCOG is helping.

“They are getting the whole region to come up with a good approach to solve our upstream issues,” he said. “We have the lake, but the lake isn’t the problem — it’s what’s going into the streams that’s going into the lake. We don’t have the jurisdictional power as Chatham to really fix the problem, so we need to engage those upstream.”

Finally, the TJCOG has put a lot of emphasis recently on the state tier system. The organization published a report in March called “Hidden Distress: An Analysis of North Carolina County Tier Designations.” The report argued that low-income municipalities like Goldston and Siler City are missing out on helpful state dollars by being in a Tier 3 county, which normally receives less funds than Tier 1 and 2 counties for projects like economic development, infrastructure and 911 operations.

“The current tier system presents an obstacle to economic development for many member governments in the Triangle J region,” the paper states. “Revising the structure and use of the state’s tier system will assist efforts to coordinate a region diverse with rural and urban communities, small and large municipalities, and pockets of both wealth and poverty.”

The county and the municipalities annually pay dues to the TJCOG. This past year, Chatham paid $41,926, the Town of Siler City paid $3,292, the Town of Pittsboro contributed $1,795 and the Town of Goldston paid $106. Members dues make up just under 6 percent of the organization’s total budget, and Worsley said they help TJCOG “go after other funding sources” by providing matches to grants and sometimes fund portions of staff salary.

The work it does in Chatham may be used elsewhere, Worsley said.

“Many of these issues that we face as a region don’t pay attention to jurisdictional lines,” he said. “We provide that glue sometimes in the region to deal with these issues.”

LaMontagne agreed, saying that “there’s so much overlap” between the municipalities and counties.

“That’s the really big part of this,” he said. “It’s not just about Chatham. We’re part of the greater region here.”

Crawford says the organization provides a “social element” where mayors and commissioners and city council members can collaborate and learn from one another. It also provides a framework to keep initiatives going, even if elected officials lose their seats.

“They provide a permanent tissue among all the leaders because people come and go,” he said, “but the COG kind of maintains a culture and an understanding that whatever is going between the counties doesn’t die on the vine because there’s an election.”

Reporter Zachary Horner can be reached at and on Twitter at @ZachHornerCNR.


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