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Equipment Purchases and 300k Gallons of Water
February 2022 Town Board Meeting
February 9, 2022

he bulk of February’s Town Board Meeting was focused on whether to purchase or rent some public works equipment. Also on the agenda – a petition from the residents of Gilgo Road and a large water leak may lead to a fee change for wasted water.

town hall sign Mayor Sally Belangia and all Commissioners were present: Allen Price, Charlie Overcash, David White, Sandy Winfrey, and Frank Roe. Also present were Town Manager Diane Miller, Deputy Finance Director Tammy Cox, and Public Works Director Andrew Cox. Nine members of the public, including Tourism Board Chairman Marsha Paplham and Parks and Recreation Board Chairman Bonnie Crosser were present.

Potential Public Works Equipment Purchase
The Public Works Department is looking at buying a skid steer with bucket to help grade and dig out ditches.

During public comments, before the discussion of the acquisition, Bonnie Crosser asked Commissioners to “quantify what we’re saving and what we’re using the equipment for – estimate of the usage of the equipment over an annual period, quantify what projects the equipment would be used for, and estimate annual hours of use.”

She asked them to look at the cost of bidding out the projects. “I would ask you to quantify decisions with numbers and estimates.”

Costs to the town so far
Currently, the town rents the equipment as needed at a cost of $3,500 a month. Town Manager Diane Miller said the cost of renting the equipment in 2020 – 2021 was $6,000, in 2021-2022, it was $7,500.

Miller also said that it cost $10,000 to hire a contractor to dig out one ditch behind Jonathan’s Automotive Repair.

The town has the opportunity to buy a used skid steer with bucket from a local contractor, with 500 hours on it, for the cost remaining on the loan – a total of $66,700.

It would be used to help clear, dig, and repair ditches in the town.

The larger tractor the town purchased last year, says Public Works Director Andrew Cox, is not good for digging ditches – it’s too big and was purchased for other needs in the public works department. It also takes several people to manage, says Cox. The skid steer takes one, and most of his workers, he says, are able to operate it.

(Public Works is usually a 6 member team, but they are down one person since last year. Commissioner Overcash said they “are actively trying to hire” for the position.)

There is also an option to rent the skid steer for the monthly loan payment of $1,480 says Manager Miller. “If he [the contractor who owns it] needs to use it, he’ll pay the monthly payment.” This deal comes with the caveat that the town must agree to eventually buy the equipment from the contractor, who needs a smaller piece of machinery, says Miller.

Options and public feedback
Miller said there were three options they were looking at: “To have the piece of equipment there and … [when] we have staff and time, get at least part of this drainage now because we have the equipment sitting there, or rent it for a month and hope we can keep staff on that project, or I can pay three times as much for a contractor to do it.”

David Szerlag addresses the Board while Tourism Board director Marsha Paplham and Public Works Director Andrew Cox look on.

David Szerlag spoke up from the audience saying, “Get those figures so people know what is the cost difference between buying it, maintaining it, insuring it versus getting a contractor to do a specific task.”

Richard Lambert also spoke from the audience. “What is the life expectancy of a ditch after it’s been dug, is my question. If it’s gonna last 20 years, we’re far wiser contracting it out. If it’s gonna last one year…”

Miller replied, “It’s gonna last until the next storm comes in and regrades every ditch in the town.”

Lambert said, “It doesn’t regrade every ditch in the town with a storm.”

Commissioner positions
Mayor Sally Belangia redirected the conversation to the Commissioners. Commissioners Sandy Winfrey, Charlie Overcash, and Frank Roe were in favor of purchasing the equipment. Overcash said, “It sounds like we need to commit to this. It’s something we’ll use and, as we know, our pipes are collapsing and breaking. It will help us out.”

Commissioner David White said, “my two cents is that we move this to the budget meeting. I think that we don’t know – I don’t have an understanding of the other projects that may or may not be more important to town and I think it’s a perfect topic for that.” White was reluctant to dip into the town’s reserves. “That’s the only thing that’s going to save us if we get hit with something.”

Town Manager Miller and Andrew Cox said they would come up with the requested estimates, and Cox would let the contractor know – at Commissioner Overcash’s request – that they would have a decision in March. Commissioners agreed to move the discussion to the budget retreat on March 10.

Petition From the Residents of the Whittaker Creek Area
Town Manager Miller says she received a petition addressed to her from the residents of the Whittaker Creek Area asking for screening of the water plant and green waste dumpster along Gilgo Road.

Water Plant buffer removed
“Our row of wax myrtles that were buffering previously were so tangled up with vines we couldn’t get them under control… so we took all that out with every intention of erecting something else. And we’re looking at a privacy fence that would cover close to driveway to driveway where the bushes were. It’s still not going to cover all of the green waste dumpsters. The only way to change that is to get rid of the green waste dumpsters.”

Miller cautioned against getting rid of the dumpsters as they’ve kept “a lot of things out of the ditches and kept a lot of things from being burned.”

She also told Commissioners that the “funds may or may not be there this year depending on what other projects we get done, but it would certainly be on an agenda in the near future.” (The fiscal year for the town ends June 30.)

Requesting Petitioner involvement
Commissioner Alan Price asked if the Manager could get examples of the fencing, “just so people could look at it?”

Commissioner Frank Roe asked, “Is there some way we could rope the complainants into having a voice, you know, let them know? We don’t have anybody here for the petition. We seem to be answering their concerns…I thought Allen [Price] made a good point and we could ask somebody to give us some input.”

Commissioner Overcash asked, “Do you think we could invite some of the petitioners to the next meeting and see if they want to come to speak? If this is their interest, they should tell us about it.”

The town staff will reach out the petitioners and invite them to the March 1 meeting.

Commissioner Overcash (center) asks if the town can reach out to the petitioners. On either side of him are Commissioners Price (left) and White.
Ethics Meetings and Potential Policies
Commissioners have to attend Ethics Training Courses when elected (or re-elected) to office. Their training will be in New Bern, Feb 9, from 6-9p.

Conflict of Interest Policy
In order to be in compliance with the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and receive disbursements, the Board has to adopt a Conflict of Interest Policy. Manager Miller said she is using the template from the School of Government. Miller said, “it just says if you have a financial interest in land acquisition or giving out a contract you have to recuse yourself.”

All Commissioners were in favor.

Potential Board Policies
This discussion was carried over from the January workshop on 1-27-22. The question was asked if board policy should be put into writing. The Board were presented with a policy from the City of Denton, NC.

“Some of those procedures in the Denton policy are not up for debate. Things like notice before a meeting, different kinds of meetings, requirements for public hearings, taking public comment. It’s all in there from state statute that says here are the minimums,” Miller said. “There are some things you get to choose on. You are required to take public comment once a month. You can choose to take public comment other than that.”

Miller asked Commissioners to go through the policy and pick and choose what they’d like to include.

Commissioner Frank Roe also distributed a hard copy of “Suggested Rules of Procedure for a City Council” as recommended by the NC School of Government.

Commissioners will read the information and reconvene on the topic at a later meeting.

Police Report
Officer Wichrowski reported that a suspect that had burglarized Brantley’s had been arrested by the County. He also noted that the tip about the person had come directly from Oriental Police Department, though it hadn’t been noted in the County press release.

The officer also gave an update on the department’s new speed detector. Wichrowski said it is having it’s intended effect. “The next step,” he said, “is is putting the sign in stealth mode – where the speed is not reflected back to the driver.”

Update on Suspected Break-ins
Commissioner White asked for an update on the break-ins reported in January. “There hasn’t been another one. The initial one on Ragan – I firmly believe that this individual, it was 3 o’clock in the morning, he’s three sheets to the wind, enters this individual’s house thinking it’s his own. His actions were to enter the house, close the door, take his shoes off, set his shoes beside the door, go in the kitchen and get a bag of chips and start eating them. When confronted by the home owner, he leaves fast.”

Officer Wichrowski noted that the police weren’t called. He said, “the first thing you need to do is call 911.”

“The second break-in,” he said, “I think was influenced by social media. I don’t think anything happened there.”

Water Leak may instigate fee change for large leaks
There were two significant water leaks in the last month adding up to 300,000 gallons of water lost. For context, the Town’s largest tank – the only one in use during winter months when there is a lower population – holds 200,000 gallons.

The larger leak was the result of a busted dock meter, said Miller. A dock meter is a separate water line for either irrigation or a dock. This can be residential or commercial.

Miller said the resident where the leak occurred was informed by Public Works. “The boys knocked on the door and told the guy,” she said, “and then he left.” He didn’t take care of the leak before leaving.

“[There] was just cleaned, treated water running into the Neuse River,” said Miller. When he returned, he told the Manager that he didn’t know there was a problem and asked for an adjustment.

Miller explained to the Board and public how the adjustment policy worked – taking the average of the monthly usage for the fee. However, this person had already received an adjustment and due to policy could not be granted another. His bill amounted to around $3,000, she said, and his water has been turned off.

The price recouped by the town would “never, ever come close to the 300,000 gallons that we treated and released,” said manager Miller. “That’s an entire salt tank. That salt tank costs us $5,000. We lost $5,000 and no one got the benefit of that clean, treated water.” Approximately 263,000 gallons of water was lost in the leak.

“I think we need to consider adjusting the leak policy where we get to these kinds of numbers. You’re paying through the nose to treat this water,” Miller told the Board.

The second incident was at a marina, said Miller, and “they’d found it and were working on it when we called.”

Leaks do happen, though rarely to this degree. When they do “it’s mostly people who come for a weekend, leave something on or bust something,” Miller said. “Then they leave and don’t come back for another week or two weeks.” That’s when they find out there’s a problem.

The Town Manager urged residents to call Town Hall and have their water turned off when going out of town. It is free to have the water turned off and turned back on again. And if a pipe did bust while a resident is away, then Public Works will find it when they turn the water back on. “The guys stand there and watch the meter until it stabilizes. If it’s spinning, they turn it back off and wait for you to arrive.”

TownDock.net asked for the name of the person and the area where it happened. Manager Miller declined to provide the information.

Residents and staff at the monthly Town Board Meeting.
Manager’s Report
Manager Miller reported that she, Commissioner Roe, Commissioner Price, and Officer Blayney and Wichrowski met with residents who had “concerns with police issues and speeding.” One idea that was brought up was a speed bump on Hodges Street.

Speeding on Hodges
Miller said that is a last resort as “speed bumps cause awful damage to emergency vehicles.” Miller said that adding stop signs is a next to last resort and that worked when installed on Midyette St.

“People need to understand that before you get a speed bump, you get a stop sign. That will take a change to the ordinance,” Miller said.

The Commissioners, Officers, and Town Manager came up with a plan to move the speed sign around town, pull data more frequently, and let the public know what was going on with it all. If they are unable to slow the speeds down on Hodges, there may be additional stop signs installed.

The idea of crosswalk installed on Hodges near The Bean was brought up. Commissioner Overcash also mentioned the addition of rumble strips instead of speed bumps.

Before getting fully into the manager’s report, Town Manager Miller said, “You asked for a more robust report of everything that’s going on, so here you go.” Where the report is normally 7 – 10 points long, the new report was broken into four section and had 46 points total. The full report is included in the links.

Highlights from the report
• The county’s disaster debris services is looking at using the old baseball field on White Farm Rd as a temporary site to hold large debris after hurricanes. The site has to meet certain parameters in order to be certified.
GOVOS.com, which tracks different rental sites like Air BnB to see if the properties are registered and the appropriate taxes are being paid, would cost $9,000 a year. The town was looking at using their services. “There is no return on investment,” said Miller.
• Mardi Gras parade has been called off for this year
• The town is ready to move forward on the town’s website update through GovSite
• Miller submitted a letter of request to the USDA for funding for the Hodges Street repair
• Town is waiting for a bid on the Net House reconstruction

Dates to Know
The next Town Board Meeting will be Tuesday, March 1 at 8a. The Town Board Retreat is March 10, 8a. The entire staff will take a vacation day on February 14. All Town Board Meetings will be at 8a for the rest of the year.

Related Information
February Meeting Agenda
January Meeting Minutes
Meeting Schedule
Ethics Training Resolution
Conflict of Interest Policy
Whittaker Creek Area petition
Board Procedural Rules Documents
Police Report
Manager’s Report
Auxiliary Board Reports

Posted Wednesday February 9, 2022 by Allison DeWeese

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