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County Government 101: The Fundamentals of Chatham County Government

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County LogoPrograms and services: County governments in North Carolina provide a wider array of services or programs than in many states where counties have more limited responsibilities. For example, our counties typically play a larger role in health and social services than in many states.

On the other hand, counties in North Carolina do not have any responsibility for roads or bridges, which many counties across the nation do. Generally, most of the county’s programs and services are mandated or required by state and/or federal government. Only a few programs and services are truly optional. For a list of major Chatham County services or programs, click here.

One of the major changes over the past 25 years is that nearly all counties provide services that once were only offered in towns or cities, such as recreation, water and sewer, and land use planning. Residents of incorporated areas in the county have generally come to expect that such services would be available, which has led to more and more counties initiating these services. 

County governing board: A five-member Board of Commissioners governs Chatham County. The commissioners are elected at large, but must reside within a particular district. Commissioners appoint a county manager who administers the day-to-day business of the county, including personnel and budget oversight. The Board of Commissioners also appoints the county attorney, clerk to the board of commissioners who is responsible for meeting agendas and minutes, and the tax administrator who manages all tax office functions, but they do not appoint other county staff positions.

The Board of Commissioners does have general authority over county policies, but several other boards have authority over specific policy areas, such as the Board of Health, Board of Social Services, Board of Elections and Soil and Water Conservation District Board. The Board of Commissioners appoints all members of the Board of Health and makes some of the appointments to the Board of Social Services, but neither the Board of Elections nor the Soil and Water District Conservation Board have any commissioner appointments.

Click here to get a current Board of Commissioners roster, contact information and election information.

County manager’s authority: Unlike town managers, the county manager only has hiring authority for about one-third of all county department heads. Even though the county manager has limited authority over selecting department heads, he has to work closely with all of the departments and their leaders because the county often is responsible for funding all or some of their budgets.

Education: Chatham County contributes funds to, but does not govern, K-12 public education and the community college system. The Chatham County School System is governed by its own elected board. Click here for more information. Central Carolina Community College, which has two campuses in the county, is governed by its own appointed Board of Trustees. Click here for Information on the trustees.

Generally, county resources provide only part of the total funding for K-12 and community colleges, but the county devotes a considerable amount of its resources to public education. For FY 16-17, funding for K-12 schools ws 39% of the county's budget..

According to the N.C. Association of County Commissioners Annual Tax and Budget Survey for FY 2016-17, the county ranked SIXTH in the state in total spending per student and FOURTH in per student funding for school current expense/general funds. The county also was zSEVENTH in overall education resources per capita during FY 16-17.

County offices & map: Most county offices are in Pittsboro, but a few departments have offices or locations in other parts of the county, such as the Library, Social Services and the Health Department. Click here for a map of the main county offices locations in Pittsboro.

Districts: Chatham County is divided into all kinds of districts…and these rarely look alike. Here are just a few of the districts in the county: fire districts, township districts, voting precincts, county commissioner voting districts, school board voting districts, school attendance districts, etc. They all look quite different because, in most cases, state or federal rules require that districts be formed based on differ factors. For example, any election districts have to consider population as a primary factor, whereas local land use is a major factor for agriculture districts.

Important Maps: