Siler City’s Public Works, Utilities department to split

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SILER CITY — As Siler City continues to grow, new Town Manager Hank Raper says expansion of town services will become a necessary step to ensure residents are satisfied with the work of town departments.

One first step: expanding and separating Siler City’s Public Works and Utilities department into two separate entities.

“We want to draw businesses here, we want to draw residents here, we want our community to look good,” Raper said. “We need to start making plans for the future and look at Siler City as to what we expect it to be with the growth rather than what it’s been.”

Raper proposed this split at the town’s most recent commissioners meeting last Monday, and commissioners unanimously approved the split. Since that meeting, Raper has made job postings for both departments.

His reasoning: as it stands, Raper said most of the work the current department does is with water and sewage, but there are still maintenance calls for road repairs, trash pickup and more.

“As a town, that (water and sewage) is top of the list when it comes to essential services that we have provided,” he said. “The challenge is when you have a limited staff with limited resources, it means to get that right, other things get neglected — not because we want to, but because there’s not enough time, not enough staff, not enough money to address those other issues.”

The split will allow for Public Works and Utilities Director Chris McCorquodale to address more issues regarding Siler City’s water and sewer infrastructure, including a recent moratorium the state placed on the town’s sewer plant. The moratorium should not impact current customers, according to McCorquodale, but new sewer customers will be unable to connect to the town’s system.

“Violations cited by the state include, exceeding limits on nitrogen, ammonia, BOD (Biological Oxygen Demand), and toxicity,” McCorquodale said. “We have been working to address these issues at the sewer plant by updating aging equipment, like the blower motors, backwash pumps, changing our feed system around to help with settling of sludge. We are also in the process of starting a plant upgrade that will address the majority of these issues. We currently do not know how long this will take to be lifted. We have had a conversation with the state and are having another meeting with them very soon.”

Siler City’s Utilities Department will be headed by McCorquodale and will address issues strictly involving water and sewage, such as the moratorium. The Public Works department will be led by a new hire and will address issues including building maintenance and road repairs.

Raper said dividing Public Works and Utilities better prepares the town for an influx of new residents that could come with job expansion from the $4 billion VinFast manufacturing facility and potential new tenants for Siler City’s Chatham Advanced Manufacturing (CAM) site.

“As we have grown, it is becoming more of a challenge to make sure that we’re providing the level of service that the customers expect,” he said. “So breaking the department out will allow us to have another director to focus on the Public Works component.”

Additionally, the split will allow for current employees to find “specializations” and move up the ranks. Raper said a change in the department’s working model will help not only encourage employees to work towards higher positions, but it will also help to retain employees who may seek work elsewhere.

“Departments are getting smaller as far as the levels, but more specialized,” he said, “It’s not just about getting that job and staying with an agency and working your way up over a 30-year career — it’s much more transient than that. So it’s just something we have to recognize and adapt to.”

Siler City is bound to see a significant increase in population due to economic development, according to Raper. With VinFast coming to Moncure, Toyota bringing jobs to neighboring Randolph County and the possibility of the CAM site becoming a hub for another big manufacturer, Raper said Siler City could soon see unprecedented growth, which will bring more money into the town.

“The new money that may come in to address new residents is going to need to go towards adding services for those new residents — it doesn’t give you extra money to fix the preexisting challenges,” he said. “I want to make sure that we’re identifying all the existing challenges that we have, and are working towards dedicating revenue to solving those problems so that we don’t fall into that trap, so I think this will be a tool in helping us do that.”

Raper said he has already received applications to fill the position for the Public Works Director and hopes to fill that position by the end of the month. Once someone is hired to be the head of the Public Works, the split will officially begin.

“It’s moving us in the direction of providing higher quality service,” Raper said. “Not just what we can get to with limited staff, but also saying we have people whose job is to make sure these specific services are provided.”

Reporter Taylor Heeden can be reached at theeden@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @HeedenTaylor.

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