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$5.5 Million for Water Infrastructure
October 2023 Town Board Meeting
October 9, 2023

ctober’s town meeting was a long one. The public spoke out about roads and paving, an emergency incident involving cyclists from the MS Bike Ride, and the granting of $5.5 million from the State budget for “Environmental Quality Water and Sewer Infrastructure Funds.”

Mayor Sally Belangia was absent. town hall sign Commissioner David White acted as Mayor Pro-Tempore. Also present were Commissioners Charlie Overcash, Allen Price, Sandy Winfrey, and Frank Roe. Staff present included Town Manager Diane Miller, Deputy Finance Director Tammy Cox, and Officer Bill Wichrowski. Around twenty members of the public were present.

$5.5 Million From the State
Infrastructure funding – paying for road repairs, updating old water pipes, buying chemicals and salt for the water plant, paying for unfunded mandates from the State, etc. – has been a recurring topic of conversation for years.

In January of 2023, Commissioners Frank Roe and Allen Price, and Town Manager Diane Miller, attended a legislative breakfast and met with State Senator Norman Sanderson to discuss the lack of funding. They brought him a packet detailing the town’s difficulties with the water system and road repairs. (That packet is included for download in the documents at the end of the article.)

The same information was also given to State Representative Keith Kidwell and State Senator Bobby Hanig. Commissioners Roe and Price continued to follow-up with the legislators about the town’s needs. At the end of Tuesday’s meeting, Commissioner Roe made the announcement that Oriental had been allocated $5.5 million in the State’s Budget.

It reads as follows:

Page 368 Session Law 2023-134 House Bill 259:


SECTION 12.2.(e) Projects. – Of the funds allocated by subsection (a) of this section for project grants, the following sums shall be granted to the indicated local governments and public entities for water and wastewater infrastructure projects:

(135) Five million five hundred thousand dollars ($5,500,000) to the Town of Oriental.

Director of Public Works Andrew Cox was called into the meeting last minute for this announcement. He and his crew have worked to refurbish the Water Plant and its systems, including climbing into two large water softener tanks to completely clean and restore them instead of purchasing new ones.

His response? A stunned, “Holy Cow!” He thanked the Commissioners and Town Manager for their work. Roe’s announcement was met with applause from the audience. He thanked the Town Staff, the Board of Commissioners, and his wife Jennifer Roe for all their contributions, connections, and support in securing the funds.

“I think just being there, people from the town being present and contacting them and being in front of them makes a difference,” said Commissioner Roe.

While there is no funding for roads this year, the wording on how the $5.5 million may be used is vague. This is a direct allocation of funds to the town. Paperwork to begin the allocation process is expected to come in November.

Pamlico County also received monies in the State Budget:
  • PCC Allied Health Center – $20 million
  • Pamlico County Water & Sewer – $5 million
  • Sheriff Capital Improvements – $3 million
  • Opioid Settlement Funds – $1 million
  • Disaster Recovery – $755,000
  • Prison Education – $650,000
  • Craven Pamlico Library – $301,700
Road Paving Q & A Session – at the meeting and on October 24
At the June 2023 town Board Meeting, Commissioner David White suggested a public forum where residents could give input on how to tackle the road repair cost issue. During the course of town meetings and the budget workshops, Commissioners and members of the public have floated several different ideas for raising the funds:
  • A tax increase of .01 – .10 cents (but not without resident input first)
  • Getting a municipal bond that would need to be repaid with interest
  • Cutting services to the town, such as the Water Plant, some staff roles, and / or supplies like dog waste bags
  • Applying for infrastructure grants
  • Increasing town service fees (some of which – like water fees – have already been raised)

Dan Forman spoke up about the issue during Public Comments, and throughout the meeting. He asked Commissioners not to raise taxes or get a bond, stating they had not paved roads in 25 years. Forman stated the work should have been planned for as an ongoing expense.

Forman asked a series of questions on why the town operates and spends money as it does instead of applying it to roads. Town Manager Diane Miller answered his questions.

Q. “Why do we have over 105 gallon buckets of patch material sitting at the water plant? Why did we order some in first place if we’re not using them?”
A. It was time to buy new patch, said Manager Miller. It is cheaper when bought by the pallet. It probably takes about two years to go through all of that.

Q. “Why did we spend over $70,000 are engineers to tell us which roads need paving?”
A. Miller said Oriental paid $15,000 to JM Teague Engineering for the Street assessment – which covered all the town’s roads. Forman challenged her and said there was more engineering done at Dolphin Point at the same time, and the number he recalled was $70k.

At the August 2020 Town Board Meeting, Commissioners agreed to a proposed cost of $13,642 for the project.

Though not addressed by Miller at the meeting, there were repairs made at Dolphin Point after the Whittaker Point Restoration began. Trucks carrying loads of rock and granite to the restoration site damaged roads in the ares. Those resulting road repairs were paid for by the restoration project grants.

Q. “Why did we pay an engineer for the beach culvert? Where are we shoveling sand every day to keep the culvert clear?”
A. “It was the recommended fix by the engineer that studied the problem with the outfall pipe cantered in the wrong direction. It reset the cantered pipe into a headwall so that it can’t move again.”

While not acknowledging that the fix had caused more issues in the area, she did say that the town would not work with that engineer again. The town is now consulting with the NC Coastal Carolina Federation – the non-profit that helped with the Whittaker Point Restoration – about installing a sill to mitigate the sand pile up.

The need for an engineer for that project was discussed later in the meeting, when talking about securing grants for large projects. “We are required to have engineering [done] before we can even submit for this – the government likes to call it ‘shovel-ready’ … those are the projects they’re looking to fund.” But having an engineering study does not mean automatic access to a grant.

Q. “Why did we spend so much money on the Net House when we knew we needed to do paving?”
A. The J.D. Sargent Boat House (formerly called the Net House) was paid for out of the occupancy, tax, not the property taxes. Occupancy tax cannot be used to pay for road paving.

Q. “Why does the town have so many vehicles and golf carts? Why do we do our own fluid changes on our trucks? Hardison can do it for cheaper than I can. Are we driving these vehicles through saltwater?”
A. Manager Miller said the only vehicle that has been added to the fleet during her tenure was a new gator; Miller has been the Town Manager since 2014. The town’s fleet consists of two pick up trucks, two dump trucks and two gators – one equipped for mosquito spraying.

Miller has said before it is more cost-effective to do vehicle maintenance in house, then to outsource it.

Q. “Why has the town started picking up leaves?”
A. “That is at the discretion of the board,” Manager Miller said. “Limb pick up was instituted to reduce burning [in town] and reduce the amount of green waste that is put into the ditches.” She added, “we always pick up limbs after a storm.” The Town of Oriental has made keeping the ditches clear and water running after a storm a priority – leaf litter and green waste in the grates and ditches creates standing water problems.

Most recently, Public Works mitigated drainage issues at Midyette and Broad Streets, at Skipper Circle, along Midyette Street next to Clancy’s Marina, and at the base of Oriental Bridge at Hodges and Broad Streets.

The audience listens to Commissioner David White at October’s meeting.

No paving for 25 years
Miller addressed the comment that the town had not paved roads in 25 years.

“We spent $200k this year paving from that [JM Teague] street assessment, the next five roads. We spent $200 paving Maritime Drive and White Farm Road after the construction at Whittaker Point was done, all on a grant. A we’ve repaved South Avenue following Florence. The Florence stuff was FEMA grant money, the Maritime Road was Golden Leaf grant money, and then the $200k that we spent this year was 20 years worth of Powell Funds that had been saved, other than buying patch [material], and those kinds of things.”

Before Manager Miller’s term, she said, the town had paid part of Public Work salaries out of Powell Funds. They ended that practice and started building the road repair account. The Town of Oriental had to get a State waiver to be able to hold more than 10 years worth of Powell Funds in the budget. Because the town is a small place, they can now hold 20 years worth of Powell funds, with the annual disbursement now at $40k a year.

“And then we spent $216k this year paving four roads,” Miller added, saying there is still overage that can be spent because the bid came in lower than expected.

“I think we have been saving Powell Bill funds,” said Forman, “but taking Powell Bill funds and buying our first gator for $20k?”

Miller replied that type of purchase was not allowed, but Forman argued “Bob Maxbauer took it from Powell Bill Funds and paid for that gator. So we have been raiding that fund.”

Bob Maxbauer stepped down as Town Manager in 2013, and there are no currently serving board members who were also Commissioners at the time of Maxbauer’s tenure.

Both White and Miller said there had been no raiding of the fund by this Board or Manager, and White suggested Forman take it up with Manager Miller during her office hours.

As a result of the questions and concerns over funding road repairs, Commissioners have been working to set up a public forum to gather information and ideas from residents. The Town Manager will explain the problems (water inundation, cracking, substrate washed away, etc.), why cheaper solutions don’t work long term (2 inch asphalt overlays, no engineering studies, heavy traffic), and where current funds for road repairs are coming from (Powell Bill, taxes, grants).

The goal, said Commissioner White, is to gather information from residents on how best to address the funding problem.

Commissioners set the forum date for Tuesday, October 24, 6:30p at Town Hall.

Cyclists Hold up Emergency Services
Bike MS is an annual cycling fundraiser that utilizes Oriental as one of their rest stops. They typically stop off at Lou Mac Park and continue over Oriental Bridge into the county. This year, emergency services received a call for a structure fire off Oriental Rd and fire trucks from Station 19 on White Farm Road were dispatched.

Some cyclists would not clear the road so responding trucks could pass by. Officer Bill Wichrowski, who is also the Assistant Fire Chief at Station 19, was the incident commander – the person on scene who was in charge of handling that event. He and other firefighters were on scene, waiting on the trucks, and unable to help.

“It was a hot day and a little awkward standing there with Officer Wichrowski watching people’s things burn as it’s about to spread to another structure and hearing the fire truck coming,” said Fire Chief Eric Kindle. “It’s a little embarrassing standing in the driveway, people asking us to do something.” One firefighter passed out due to the heat, Kindle said, and a nearby structure was starting to melt as well.

In response to the event, Wichrowski sent a letter to the Town Manager and Bike MS outlining the issue, and the delayed response of two firetrucks and Emergency Medical Services. He said it may be better for the citizens if Bike MS bypassed Oriental completely.

Of his letter, Officer Wichrowski said it was not the opinion of the Fire Department, but his own (it was written on Fire Department letterhead).

“I felt that as assistant fire chief and as a police officer for the town, my responsibility is to the safety of the lives and property of everybody in the town. And had I not written that letter and something happened down the line, I think it would be fair to say that someone might have said, ‘well, what’d you do about it the last time it happened? Did you do anything?’” said Wichrowski.

MS Bike responded, condemning the actions of the cyclists who would not yield to emergency vehicles, and listed the actions they take at the ride to keep people informed and aware of their responsibilities on the road – including moving out of the way for emergency vehicles. They are also adding additional safety items to future rides, including “Instructions to our Ride Marshals (designated safety participants riding in the event) to note the Bib number of any rider violating these rules so they can be removed from the event and/or have charges filed.”

“I think [the letter] has gotten a positive response,” said Wchrowski, “we’ve gotten a response back from the MS Bike-a-thon people and it’s brought it to their attention and hopefully in the future it’s addressed and it’s not going to be an issue.”

Manager Miller added that NC Department of Transportation (DOT) has scheduled is ‘road modernization’ from the bottom of the county side of Oriental Bridge on out into the county. What this means is the widening of the road to include shoulders on either side.

While the work is on the schedule of NCDOT, Miller said it would not begin any time soon.

Town Receives Land Donation
Several months ago, the Town closed a street end that was never used, but was on the map: the extension of Town Road from Highway 55 to the back of the town’s water plant on Gilgo Road.

Ownership of the parcel was in question, but was finally traced to a nearly defunct entity called The Dolphin Company. The town’s attorney reached out to the owners, and after several months of no return calls, was able to get them to donate the land to the Town for a tax credit.

The highlighted section is the parcel of land being acquired by the Town. The plan is to make it a secondary access point to the water plant.

Town pursued the land acquisition after an incident during Hurricane Florence where trucks from Duke Power and Tideland Power staged at the water plant, effectively blocking Public Works from accessing their equipment and vital parts of the Oriental’s infrastructure.

Plans for the lot are to clear it out, put down gravel, and eventually fence it in, using it as an alternative access point to the water plant and storage for Public Works.

There is already a town easement through the property and no back taxes are owed on it. The only cost to the town was for work done by the attorney. That was minimal, said Miller, mostly just phone calls tracking the previous owners. All Commissioners accepted the donation.

Commissioner Roe asked that the site facing Highway 55 be made more appealing as, “the water plant is not the most beautiful site in the village.”

Commissioner White asked that the meeting minutes from the closed session discussions of the acquisition be made public. Miller said they would be on November’s agenda.

Budget Amendments
Public Works New Vehicle Commissioners at the September meeting directed the Town Manager to purchase a new truck for public works after one catastrophically failed. The vehicles they were looking at on the State’s contract site had already been purchased, and there are no other used vehicles available.

Town is purchasing a new pickup truck at $37,157.50. The money is coming from the Public Works Reserve Fund. “We’ve been putting money away from our budget with the understanding that we have to replace equipment,” Commissioner David White said. That fund is up to $54,000 and can only be used to purchase equipment for Public Works.

The truck was 12-13 years old.

Creek Dredging Accounts Accounts for the Whittaker Creek and Pierce Creek dredging are being added to the budget. Town will receive the grant funds and act as administrator for the projects. No town funds are used for either project and the town does receive fees for acting as administrator.

The Pierce Creek Dredge is ready to go out for bidding, and will likely have to go through two rounds of bidding.

The Whittaker Creek Dredging project is working on getting the spoils from the dredging site to the spoil field and will go to bid at a later date.

Storm Damage Assessment
Manager Miller reported very little damage from the storm. Two trees came down, she said, and one of those was expected. Public Works came in on Saturday morning at daylight to clear and clean town.

“Drainage ran very well, especially on Midyette Street where we had just finished clearing their drain and where you used to have the log flume effect coming off of Broad Street,” Miller said. “It was completely clear and the road was dry immediately. And it flows down Midyette Street, between two properties, and back into Camp Creek.”

Town never lost pressure or water height at the water plant, which means there were no major water line breaks, she explained.

Some rocks at the Whittaker Point Restoration were moved around – they are still trying to get that listed as critical infrastructure with FEMA so when storms hit, any damage to the point is covered.

Commercial Fishing Support Resolution
Pamlico County has sent a resolution to the governor in support of local commercial fishermen and the shrimping industry. The resolution asks Governor Cooper to submit a request to the Secretary of Commerce for a “resource disaster determination”.

Commissioners agreed with the full wording of the County’s resolution, and asked to have one drafted so they could also send it to the Governor.

Oriental’s Birthday Celebration – 125 Years Old
The committee putting together the celebration has asked the town for a donation to the event, citing precedent: at the 100 year celebration, the Town gave $2k to the committee.

The Tourism Board is donating $600 to the fund. Commissioner Roe asked to table the issue until January, to give the committee time to fundraise on their own. Commissioners agreed and will pick it back up in January when there is a new Board of Commissioners.

Police Vehicle for Sale
Commissioners are putting the third police vehicle up for sale – a Dodge Charger. Kelly Blue Book places the value between $8,000 and $11,3000.

It will be sold as is, where it is.

The police vehicle in its heyday.
New Library Building Update and the Book / Tech Mobile
Pamlico County Library’s Book / Tech mobile has been visiting Oriental for 6 months – at the Piggly Wiggly in the mornings and at Town Hall in the afternoons.

Branch Manager Sydney Phibbons reported that there was far more traffic at the Piggly Wiggly – likely because of so much incoming & outgoing traffic to the grocery store. Starting in November, the Piggly Wiggly will be the only location in Oriental for their monthly visits.

Friends of the Library president Bonnie Cap gave a quick update on the construction of the new library building.

“Friends of the Library currently has about 2.3 million dollars in their pocket – none of it is borrowed, we have no loans out. We need about $125,000 more to get to the point where we need to be.”

Some aspects of the building design have been changed to make the project more affordable:

  • No solar panels
  • A more modest entry way
  • Some materials will be downgraded

The basic structure of the building will remain the same, said Cap. Friends of the Library are hoping to go to bid at the end of October, with a ground breaking by the first quarter of 2024. Construction should take a year, Cap says she was told, depending on material availability.

Police Report
Officer Wichrowski presented the police report and followed up on the vandalism case. The arrest column of the monthly police report shows 7 arrests, he said. “That’s one actual misdemeanor arrest and the rest are the six juveniles.”

The case has been handed over to the juvenile court counselor.

“The fate of this whole thing is up to the court and up to her,” said Wichrowski. What they hope to get out of it is “that they’ll be punished by either having to pay restitution or do community service or both, which is perfect. It’s a diversion program – they won’t end up with a criminal record. It’s a win win for everybody. And we’ll get a little bit of satisfaction knowing that they have to work a little bit of it off and hopefully learn a lesson from the whole process.”

The juveniles won’t carry the incident on their permanent record as they become adults – it will be sealed in their juvenile records.

Manager’s Report
  • Boat US received a grant for $10 Million from NOAA’s Marine Debris Program to remove Abandoned & Derelict Vessels. Boat US is currently putting procedures into place for dealing with such vessels. The program also comes with the development of a national database to track the vessels.
  • Bob Miller, internationally recognized arborist and current Chair of the Tree Board, is looking for a new Tree Board Chairperson. He will begin splitting his time between Oriental and Wisconsin and no longer be a full time resident.

Filing Grant Applications: Town Manger Miller responded to a public comment at the August Meeting about filing grant applications for paving.

Miller went through a recent grant application for Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities, to explain how the process works, and how the stipulations can either give access to or knock out Oriental from the grant.

Application criteria where Oriental does not qualify:

  • disadvantaged community (meaning lower income)
  • repetitive / repeated loss – any homes purchased under this condition would have to be scraped and the lots left bare, unable to build on again
  • Mitigation of flood to public infrastructure – Oriental’s public infrastructure is not at risk for flooding
  • Nature based solutions – means buying recurring flooding land and creating rain gardens in the land
  • Population impact

Application criteria where Oriental does qualify:

  • Enhance Climate Resilience and Adaptation

“The kind of work we want to do is not the kind of work they want to fund,” said Miller. “So that’s what we need to understand. It’s not that we’re not looking for grants, or we’re not … jumping through all the hoops to see if we qualify. We absolutely are. But there are so many things in this that our projects do not qualify for.”

Miller went through the process during the meeting, she said, to “ just wanted to make it a little more clear that it’s not just ‘Yeah, that looks like a great opportunity.’ It absolutely does. I dove into it excited – this is a new opportunity. And then started reading all the caveats. So it’s not just, go write a grant. You have to go through all of these steps.”

Or, we are required to have engineering for before you can even submit for this. Um, the federal government likes to call it shovel ready. If you have a project, you’ve got the engineering done, you have it all on paper, you’re ready to go, you just need money, those are the projects they’re looking to fund.

Commissioner Comments
Commissioner Frank Roe commended Fire Chief Eric Kindle and Officer Bill Wichrowski for showing up to an emergency he witnessed along the water front.

“There was a guy fishing on the street end. I drove down there and he took a dive, literally a dive, head first, off the boardwalk and fell into the rocks and was laying there flailing around.” Roe had Manager Miller contact 911 when the call wouldn’t go through on his phone.

“And then, within… five minutes, seven minutes. Here comes Bill [Wichrowski], I believe on his day off, certainly not in uniform. Followed quickly by Eric [Kindle], certainly not in uniform. And then followed by EMS.”

Roe proceeded to thank them for arriving off-duty and taking charge until EMS arrived. “You know, they get a lot of crap for all kinds of stuff. But I want to say ‘thank you,’ because I was scared.”

Dates to Know
The November Town Board meeting will be moved to Tuesday, November 14 at 8a to avoid Election Day.

Related Information
October Meeting Agenda
• September Meeting Minutes
Comprehensive Plan Draft
Land Acquisition Behind Water Plant
Budget Amendments
Resolution Supporting Commercial Fishermen
• Disposal of Police Charger
• Pamlico Public Library Presentation
• Police Report
Manager’s Report
Committee Reports
Legislative Materials

Posted Monday October 9, 2023 by Allison DeWeese

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