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SMITHFIELD — Chandra Coats Farmer said years of growing up on a farm barning tobacco and tending turkeys convinced her she wanted a different career path.
A native of Johnston County’s Bentonville community outside Four Oaks, Farmer is a 1997 South Johnston High graduate. Farmer graduated from North Carolina State University with a bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering.
While she was in high school, Farmer interned with Johnston County Geographic Information Systems. The county GIS deploys technology that can analyze vast quantities of data and serve information.
When she started at N.C. State, Farmer considered pursuing agricultural engineering but became more drawn to environmental engineering.
“I could see more career possibilities there,” said Farmer. “I interned with the Johnston County Public Utilities Department during my junior and senior year.”
At that time, Farmer said Johnston was creating water districts throughout he county.
“I worked with Tim Broome and Kim Rineer. They were great mentors. I enjoyed seeing what the utilities department was doing to provide water throughout the county.”
With graduation ahead, Farmer said she was looking for a job, had several offers and the late Broome, who was then the county’s utilities director, called her.
“He said the county might have an opportunity for me,” said Farmer. “We talked about it. The summer before my senior year and during school breaks, I worked as a contract employee with the county as an engineering intern.”
Farmer worked on contract until she was hired as the stormwater manager in 2003 and then became assistant utilities director. When Broome retired in 2013, she succeeded him as utilities director.
“I felt like I was prepared, based on the mentoring and knowledge gained working under Tim,” said Farmer. “He was an excellent mentor, he mentored me in all aspects of my career, engineering and design, public relations, policy and personnel. So, I felt prepared.”
Johnston County and the nation were still recovering from the 2008 recession when growth in the county skyrocketed, Farmer said. That growth has continued.
“ We need to make sure we’re looking at growth, it’s somewhat overwhelming with the growth we’re seeing now,” said Farmer. “We need to make sure we can provide water for customers and have adequate water transmission and treatment capacity.”
In the utilities department, Farmer oversees 80 employees in several sections, including engineering, water and wastewater treatment plants, new infrastructure, water distribution and business and finance operations.
“The board has asked me to evaluate customer service sewer policies,” said Farmer. “If policies are changed, how will that impact future development? There will be more discussion on this.”
The county currently has more than 2 million gallons of day of committed wastewater capacity, including projects that have been approved but not yet constructed.
“I think it’s important to realize we have major commitments that will require infrastructure improvement,” said Farmer. “We need to make sure any changes won’t affect proposed projects.”
The wrong policy changes could have a negative effect on the county’s future and lead to a loss of revenue, Farmer said.
“Because we have commitments to meet, it will require additional debt to meet these commitments,” she explained. “We must have a revenue stream to pay off current debt and any other debt we may incur.”
One of the largest projects that will require water and wastewater service is Eastfield Crossing off Interstate 95 in Selma, large, regional, master-planned, mixed-use development composed of retail, medical and professional office space, hospitality, entertainment, senior living and residential.
“That’s a large project; we receive Selma’s wastewater,” said Farmer. “Improvements are needed to make sure we have the appropriate infrastructure in place. Large projects require infrastructure and lines and pumps so they can receive additional flow.”
Farmer and her husband David live outside Four Oaks. They have an 11-year-old daughter, Caroline, who will be starting sixth grade at Four Oaks Middle School. David Farmer is assistant fire chief for the Blackmon’s Crossroads Fire Department.
“I enjoy spending time with my family,” said Farmer. “Caroline always has fun events planned, whether its the pool or the beach. My husband and I enjoy live music concerts. While my favorite is country, I like a variety of music.”
Farmer leads the Bentonville 4-H Club where her daughter is a member. She said having been a 4-H’er herself when she was a child was like coming full-circle.
One couldn’t grow up in the Bentonville community without being familiar with the battlefield and Civil War reenactments.
“ I used to work at the visitors center when I was in high school,” said Farmer. “I’d give tours of the Harbor House. My grandfather Cornice Cox found lots of Civil War artifacts and had quite a collection. My husband and I found some mini-balls. We enjoyed that.”