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Budget Hearing Brings out the Public
Town Board Meeting Report June 2020
June 5, 2020

T
uesday’s budget meeting was the first in many months where the public appeared in person. State Executive Order #?? lifts gathering restrictions for government functions. The mayor, all commissioners, town staff members plus 11 members of the public were present.

Budget Presentation and Public Comments
Since May, Commissioners have been working on a town budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year. Oriental’s revenues come from property taxes and tourism dollars. town hall sign This year, properties were reassessed, showing there has been $6M of added property value (not revenue) to Oriental since the last assessment in 2012.

Tourism revenues are down due to COVID-19. Most town events were cancelled, including the Croaker Festival – an annual July 4 event that draws thousands of people to town for a weekend – and CycleNC, a cycling event occurring every three years that brings nearly 1500 cyclists and their families to Oriental for a long weekend.

No tax increase, for now
Commissioners worked to reallocate funds without raising taxes, though a couple of temporary tax increases were considered. Commissioners had the option of adding a $5-$30 licensing tax per vehicle to help fund a road recovery line. Also a $1-$2 per month addition to water bills to help fund capital reserve projects, items like long-term projects or equipment replacement.

“In the end, the board decided this was not the year to add anything new,” Town Manager Diane Miller said in her budget presentation. She added, “but we may have to go down this road at some point in the future.”

Position summary adds transparency
A significant addition to this year’s budget was not a new expense or more revenue, but a position summary clarifying the cost of employee salaries by position. The addition came from Commissioner Martin Barrow, who asked for the summary as a means of providing transparency in the budget.


Currently, employees are split between the General Fund and the Water Fund. In a May budget meeting, Commissioner David White said this was done to get a “true cost” of water. In that same meeting, Manager Miller said every employee that “spends time in the water fund” marks their hours. That time is spent either working on the plant, reading or installing meters, working on billing, or doing administrative work related to Oriental’s water.

Public comments on the budget and formation of a financial committee
Barrow advocated the position summary as a clearer way of seeing how the salary was spent instead of having the public hunt up the values, particularly if they were unaware of the salary split between the two funds.

Bonnie Crosser, member of the Parks and Recreation Committee, thanked Commissioner Barrow for the summary. She also recommended the creation of a financial board, saying Oriental had such a committee in years past. “I would like to have us rethink a financial board with representatives from the community that have accounting and business management and budget experience to help in that process. Because our budgets are getting pretty large and the line items are getting pretty numerous and I think it would provide some extra guidance assistance to the board.”

Jennifer Roe also spoke on the position summary and the budget. Before she spoke, she thanked the town staff and the commissioners for their work. Roe said her biggest issue was with salaries.

Referring to several line items, Roe referenced her time on the board in 2008 and how they had fewer staff – one manager and 1 and half people in the office, three in public works and an outside contractor to certify water. The town was also in charge of it’s own sewer at that time. Now, Roe said, “the town is double staffed and health insurance has gone up substantially.”

Roe also had concerns about a salary increase approved for the town manager position in April, before the 2020-21 budget was discussed. The Board of Commissioners approved a 7% raise for the manager position in April 2020, and a 10% annual increase in both April 2019 and April 2018.

The financial statements from June 2017 show that the Town Manager position was paid $55,000 with a $3,600 reimbursement, $44,000 from the General Fund and $11,000 from the Water Fund.

Roe went on to say her issue was not with the manager herself, but the position. “Even though budgets are put forward and we have decided in the last couple of years on a 20 some percent increase in the management position – and it’s not anything to do with individuals, it’s the position- you can do reductions, you can do decreases in salaries, you can do freezes to help with the economic [situation].”

She appealed to the board as the body that sets the salary increase, to make amendments before passing this year’s budget.

“In this current economic environment, what is the Board doing to reduce costs and ease the burdens on the citizens of Oriental? What suggestion of reduction in staff, wage reductions, are we doing any of that with a 12 month freeze, no overtime, 15% cut in spending? Why aren’t we seeing some tax rate decreases – what about our water and sewer?”

The Board declined to discuss the budget or the public comments made during the budget hearing. Commissioner White moved to approve the budget as stated. It passed unanimously.

Town Manager Diane Miller responded to the public comments after the meeting, detailing staff responsibilities, budget line item increases, and why the number of staff has increased over the years. You can read Manager Miller’s response here.

Waste Management contract renewed
Oriental has extended their trash and recycling contract until 2023. The tipping fees for trash remain the same, but there is an increase in cost per bin for recycling of $1.95. The contract has the option of cancelling the recycling portion if the cost becomes too much. Town Manager Miller said there are no other recycling contracts available with other companies and if the town cancels the contract, recycling is gone.

Commissioner White said that Oriental is one of the few towns that does have recycling.

Cost of recycling increasing
The cost of recycling has been increasing as fewer places will accept it. The Town has been subsidizing the cost of trash and recycling at an amount of $22 – $40 thousand dollars a year. Miller says “there are no good numbers” because there has not been “a normal year” in three years. She cites the construction trash and green waste caused by two hurricanes – things that would not have normally gone into residential trash bins.

Commissioner Charlie Overcash said there may come a point in the future where the Town will not be able to have the recycling program in the future.

Bonnie Crosser’s husband asked how much the town was subsidizing recycling per bin. Miller said the town is not raising the cost of trash/recycling for residents, and the town will pay the $1.95 per bin. “So if my neighbor has two [recycling bins] and I have one, you’re subsidizing twice as much?,” Crosse asked. Town Manager Miller agreed.

“So how about we move to have one bin per household?” Crosser asked.

Commissioner Overcash said “Maybe it’s a good time to go back and look at how that’s structured.”

Commissioner White added that the large recycling bins near Firestation 19 on White Farm Road had become a place for county residents to dump their household trash.

“There is an exchange [for doing away with recycling],” Miller said, addressing the board. “You are not paying any tipping fees on anything that is collected in recycling. When you take that out of the blue can … and add it to a green can you are now paying not only for the service of the can, but you’re also paying the tipping charges at the landfill for all that weight.”

Commissioners motioned to allow Manager Miller to execute the contract.

Fireworks in July
Pamlico County Commissioner Candy Bohmert stopped in to announce that there will be fireworks from the Oriental Bridge on July 3. Bohmert and a friend discussed making the fireworks happen when nothing else could. “Everything began to fall into place,” she said. “Right now we are $3,000 dollars from having a $10,000 show,” said Bohmert. “If someone wants to make a donation, there is a ‘Spirit of Independence’ account over at First Citizens’ bank and we would appreciate it very much.”

There will be more information on this event on TownDock this weekend.

Flood Damage Ordinance passes, again
The ordinance was approved at the May 5 public hearing, however a new law went into effect allowing an additional 24 hours for public comments when there is a remotely attended meeting. The May 5 meeting was conducted via Zoom as well as in person to comply with the COVID-19 gathering requirements.

There were no additional comments. The board approved the Ordinance.

Flood Insurance rates may decrease for residents
The Pamlico Regional Hazard Mitigation Plan is used to determine insurance rates in Oriental. In 2017, a firm was hired to determine Oriental’s community rank – then an 8 (where 10 is the worst). Using the wrong guidelines – ones from 2007 instead of 2017, they increased the community rank to a 9, resulting in higher insurance rates.

Manager Miller, Commissioner Barrow, and others have been attending meetings throughout the year to help return the rating to an eight. The Town received the paperwork on Tuesday and the Board agreed to accept the mitigation plan. An 8 community ranking could mean better discount on flood insurance for residents.

Oriental Okays Title for Vessel Transferred Years Ago
During the tenure of Chief Casassa, a Boston Whaler was transferred from Oriental to the town of Bridgeton through the Law Enforcement Support Office (LESO). Bridgeton is looking to dispose of the vessel, but cannot without a title to the boat, which they do not have. Oriental’s copy of the title was lost along with several town records during a past hurricane. Town Manager Miller asks the Commissioners to allow the title of transfer to go through.

After Commissioner White confirmed there was no liability to the town, he motioned to let it pass. The Board agreed.

Planning Board Appointments
Stan Aeschelman, current chair of the Planning Board is retiring after two terms.

Commissioner Barrow served on the Planning Board with Aeschelman and commended him for his work, saying “he was eloquent when it was needed.”

Oriental Resident Tom Stone has applied to serve on the board. Stone is a 10-year resident of Oriental. Commissioners approved the appointment.

Commissioners also moved to reappoint Dick Flaherty to the Planning Board.

Suspension of late Water Fees extended
The suspension of late and cutoff fees has been extended again to coincide with Governor Cooper’s statewide orders. The suspension is now in effect until August 5.

Police Report
Officer Nic Blayney said thee were several reports of suspicious people and vehicles. He attributes this to people coming out of quarantine after a long time and visiting/walking around Oriental.

There were two people hit in traffic accidents last week. In the first, a vehicle was turning onto a side road and hit a pedestrian. The second, said Officer Blayney, occurred in a parking lot. Neither incident was speed related.

Manager’s Report
Water burnout is complete. For one month a year, chlorine is used to treat the water and clean out buildup in the pipes. It is now over and the plant is once again using chloramine to treat the water.
Census report deadlines have been extended.
Dog tags are expiring on June 30. New tags are at Town Hall for pickup. Animal Control and Oriental Police Department will be checking tags at the Dog park.
Town Hall has an intern: Army Captain Mackenzie Deal is here to gain experience working in public administration with local government. She will be assisting all departments during her tenure, and is presenting two projects to the board at their June 25 meeting.

Commissioner Comments
Commissioner Dianne Simmons wants the Planning Board to research ordnances related to abandoned houses. Commissioner White agreed, but said that it will be a touchy subject: what is derelict versus what isn’t, what is the safety aspect, and what can the town legally do in the case of abandonment.

Commissioner Barrow asked that the Board outline their expectations for the Planning Board in an order to effectively direct their efforts.

Dates to Know
The next Town Board Meeting will be Thursday, Jun 25 at 7p at Town Hall. It has been moved from Tuesday, July 7 in order to establish a quorum and avoid the Independence Day holiday.

Related Information
Town Manager Miller’s Budget Message, 2020-21 Fiscal Year Budget
Position Summary
Flood Damage Prevention Ordinance
• Waste Management Contract Extension
Pamlico Sound Regional Hazard Mitigation Plan
Transfer of Vessel to Town of Bridgeton
2020 Town Meeting Schedule
Planning Board Appointments
Water Fee Suspension Extension
Police ReportManager’s Report
Town Manager Miller’s Response

Posted Friday June 5, 2020 by Allison DeWeese


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