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June 2023 Town Board Meeting
Budget passes without funding roads
June 9, 2023

B
udgets, special use permits, road and drainage work. June’s Town Board Meeting took more than two hours. Twenty-eight residents attended.

town hall sign All Commissioners and the Mayor were in attendance: Commissioners David White, Charlie Overcash, Allen Price, Sandy Winfrey, Frank Roe, and Sally Belangia.

Also present were Town Manager Diane Miller, Deputy Finance Officer Tammy Cox, and Officer Bill Wichrowski.

A Special Use Permit for Sailcraft Service
Sailcraft Service owners Jennifer and Mike Pawlikowski applied for a rezoning request for a residential property adjacent to the boatyard, used for parking. Commissioners granted the request at the May 2023 Town Board Meeting.

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Town Manager Diane Miller explains the timeline of events for the Sailcraft lot.

Boatyard Special Use Permit and Stipulations
At the June meeting they asked for a special use permit (SUP) to use the property as a boatyard. The Pawlikowskis attached several restrictions to their SUP request:

Only the following boatyard activities are permitted on the lot:
storage of boats
movement of boats by travel lift or trailers
• placement of boats on stands
vehicle parking as an appurtenance to the operations on 1218 Lupton St.
maintenance and repair services
boat painting and refinishing
refitting and rigging
canvas and sail work, and
docking facilities for marine craft

Additionally, all work will be in compliance with environmental laws and regulations, no commercially used buildings or docks are allowed other than the ones that are already there, all work will conform to the Town’s set sound level regulations, and hedges will be maintained along the perimeter that will grow to at least 5 feet within 3 years (or an opaque fence of at least 5 feet).

The Planning Board added stipulations that any security lighting be contained to the property. It was also suggested, though not made part of the SUP, that signage be posted to get in contact with Sailcraft Services if there were issues.

Public Hearing
The public hearing requires a swearing in as speakers are giving testimony in a quasi-judicial hearing. Four speakers were sworn in at the same time by Town Manager Diane Miller: EJ Mitchell, Neil Whitford, Billy Creech, and Jennifer Pawlikowski.

Lupton Rd resident EJ Mitchell owns five lots at the corner of Lupton Rd and Tosto Circle across from the boatyard and marina (two separate businesses). Mitchell explained that she had commissioned an acoustical survey of her property. She had spoken against the rezoning request at the May meeting.

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Diane Miller swears in the witnesses for the Sailcraft Services SUP public hearing: Jennifer Pawlikowski, EJ Mitchell, Billy Creech, and Neil Whitford.

During her time, Mitchell was interrupted by the attorney for the Pawlikowskis, Neil Whitford. “If there is testimony that is of an expert nature, and I would submit to you that noise and acoustical type of testimony is of an expert nature, it needs to be presented by the expert, and I am therefore going to object to the introduction of this type of evidence, without the expert present.”

Mitchell said she wanted them to know what she had done and the report was a baseline for any future noise complaints.

Neil Whitford called two witnesses: Billy Creech and Jennifer Pawlikowski.

Whitford called Billy Creech to give testimony. Creech said that he had sanded and painted the bottom of his boat on the newly rezoned lot over twenty years – well before the Pawlikowskis owned the business and property. Creech also added that on a recent visit to Sailcraft Services, he heard the beeping of the travel lift – used to move boats out of the water and onto land.

The beeping of travel lift was an OSHA requirement, there for safety reasons, said Creech. “What was amazing,” he said, “all of a sudden when a lawn mower cranked – back over on a lot, I think around that log house – and it was noisier than… you could hear it. It was overriding the beeping of the travel lift.”

EJ Mitchell left the meeting during Creech’s testimony.

Whitford next called Jennifer Pawlikowski to speak. She relayed the history of their purchase of the property and not knowing that it was a residential lot when they made the offer. Pawlikowski also said she saw work being done on the property. There was a tent on the property where mast work was being done. The Pawlikowskis were granted a grandfathered use of the lot for storage and parking.

Pawlikowski said it was not working out for their business and cost them hours of time to move boats around the yard to be worked on.

Whitford went over the special use permit and asked if the Pawlikowskis could abide by the restrictions laid out there. She agreed they could.

Manager Miller provided a summary of the events of the property going back several decades, reminding the Board that “the point is moot what has happened on the property in the past. What has happened on the property, according to the GMO (General Management Ordinance), is not what is permitted to be on the property. So just because nobody caught it doesn’t mean that was allowable use.”

Commissioners voted unanimously to grant the permit to use the newly rezoned lot as a boatyard.

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EJ Mitchell tells Commissioners about the acoustical survey she requested for her property.
Fee Schedule Increases
The Budget hearing was comprised of several different parts: the fee schedule, the budget itself, and a new holiday schedule for Town staff.

The fee schedule lists all fees collected by the town, from water fees to trash and recycling. The monthly base rate for all types of water fees – residential, irrigation, business – increased by $1 for residential and irrigation, and $2 for 3/4 inch business meters. The base rate for two inch meters for businesses increased by $5.

Late fees for water payments increased to $15 dollars from $5, and the fee to pay online increased to $4 from $3.50. Disconnect fees increased to $50.

The water rates per gallon increased by 25 cents per tier for residential rates, and by 50 cents to $1 for two inch business water meters.

Recycling bin rates increased to $6.75 from $4.50.

Not enough
Commissioner Frank Roe said the fees needed to be increased even further to support the water plant – up to Pamlico County’s fees. “This fee schedule does not adequately fund our water plant,” he said. “We are charging less than the [Pamlico] County. Our water plan is already on a watch list. And although it does increase it, and it has been eminently clear what the fee schedule does – it does not fund this water plant.”

Oriental is on a government watch list, called the Unit Assistance List, for not being able to fund the town’s water plant. Manager Miller has said that the water plant is solvent until depreciation is calculated in. Money received from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) during the pandemic allowed Public Works to refit and upgrade many of the water plant’s components, including the water tanks. As they now depreciate, those calculations are added into the water budget where they didn’t exist in prior years. The town will be on the list for the next three years.

Commissioners voted 4-1 to pass the fee schedule. Commissioner Roe dissented.

2023-24 Budget Hearing
Town Manager Diane Miller presented a summary of the budget, noting Commissioners changed the distribution of the Occupancy Tax to include the Parks and Recreation Department. Miller said the Board had also “tried endlessly to find ways to fund paving and drainage and things that we have designated as priorities.” Commissioners, she said, “got way down into the weeds talking about what we could cut and what we couldn’t cut, and what were the priorities.”

Public Comments
Bonnie Crosser spoke first, noting her participation in the budget and monthly town board meetings. She cited three issues she had: spending in non-essential services, the proposed holiday schedule, and hours the Town Hall office is closed.

Crosser noted the revised Holiday Schedule added two more paid days: President’s Day and Columbus Day. With the addition of two additional holidays when the office is closed, Crosser estimates the Town Hall office would be closed for 45 days (that number includes time when the office is closed, but staff are working). “I don’t understand why we need to increase federal holiday, paid holidays at this time and be higher than anyone around in this area.”

At previous town and budget meetings, Crosser had proposed doing away with non-essential services paid for through the Parks and Recreation budget, the board she chairs. Specifically, some of the dog bag stations (to save money on purchasing dog bags) as well as the port-a-potties at Lupton Park.

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Bonnie Crosser lists her concerns with the budget during the public hearing.

Jennifer Roe also spoke about the increased Holiday schedule, asking Commissioners to not approve the extra two days due to increased costs.

Roe discussed the pay of the town manager as well as that of other positions in the government. “Our manager position today is, I don’t wanna get this wrong, $93,000 plus. And if you add in merit pay, which is a one time thing, you can get up to a hundred thousand. I think the budget says 98.” Roe said there are statutes saying the town should look at “like counties or like cities when doing salaries and payroll similar to ours across the board.”

She continued, “I think we have staff that’s probably underpaid here in town… I also think we have some that’s overpaid.”

To save money, Roe said the town staff should be on federal healthcare instead of individual, like County employees are. The electric chargers in town should charge for the electricity instead of the Town absorbing the cost, and the donation to the library would set a precedent for giving to other organizations.

Discussion on Public Comments
Manager Miller provided information on the reasoning behind two of the issues brought up:

Switching Healthcare: “We had a discussion in one of our budget meetings about our cost versus the county’s cost where it comes to healthcare. One of the things that’s scary about the state health plan is once you get on it, you can’t get off unless you dissolve the municipality.” Miller detailed where the county spends their money and where the town spends their money. “The county’s average …. was $568 per employee. They pay $25 a month, eye and dental, 401k, additional contributions, and life insurance.”

The town pays $630 per employee for healthcare and does not pay for vision, 401k or life insurance. “The restrictions of the state plan are what concern me more than anything. Once you get on it, you can’t get off of it. And there have been some interesting developments in the rules concerning the state health plan.”

Donation to the Library: “The library contribution is to a government,” not to a 503©(3); it is funded by the county, said Miller. Commissioners agreed to a donation request from the library at $1 per person. Commissioner Charlie Overcash said he had spoken with the head of the Library, explaining that this was a one-time only donation.

Commissioner Discussion
“I can’t support this budget because it does not adequately fund our infrastructure,” said Commissioner Roe. “Not because the things in the budget are inherently bad or inherently wrong.” Roe said he had spoken with other government entities and had gone to state Representative and Senator (with Commissioner Allen Price and Manager Miller) to try and find money for roads and drainage. Roe also said he’d thought he had identified places in the current budget where they could move money around to fund roads, but that also didn’t pan out.

Commissioner David White said the Board had discussed raising taxes and did not want to do that. “Every time you raise [taxes] one cent, you get $24,000. There was a proposal put forward that we raise it ten cents, bringing in $250,000. And that would afford us to do some roads. The Board was adamantly against that.” White proposed a public meeting – after the budget – “about what the public thinks we ought to do.”

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The Board of Commissioners and the Mayor. Allen Price, Charlie Overcash, David White, Sally Belangia, Sandy Winfrey, and Frank Roe.

Other ideas that were brought up during the budget hearings and mentioned during the discussion:

Securing a bond: Miller said Oriental would have to spend $50 – $60k to hire a firm to create a bond application, then be approved by the local government commission – despite the fact the town is already on the Unit Assistance List, then find another revenue stream to pay back the bond with interest
Raising taxes: Manager Miller explained if the Board were to raise taxes, 10 cents on the $100, they could feasibly have about $250,000 to pave roads. However, they could not make future Commissioner Boards keep that 10 cents going to roads – future Boards could allocate that tax in other ways if they chose to.
Powell Funds from the State: The state issues municipalities funds for maintenance, repair, or improvement of their transportation systems. Municipalities are only allowed to save 10 years’ worth of Powell funds – unless they obtain a waiver – which Oriental did, saving 20 years’ worth. At some point, says Miller, that fund was used to pay salaries for people working on the right of way – perfectly legal, says Miller.

The problem with Powell, says Miller, is the algorithm that decides who gets how much money. “It decides we get $40,000 a year while Raleigh gets in the millions. And I get it, they have more roads. But it’s an easier lift for them to do a more substantial section. They’re paying the same $25,000 to do a 4 million project as we are paying $25,000 to do a $250,000 project. That’s not scalable.”

The $25,000 Miller refers to is the amount it costs to mobilize the pavers before any work is done – about $25,000, no matter how much road is or is not constructed.
Grant opportunities: There is grant money for roads, but many are for the most distressed counties, labeled as Tier 1, she said. Pamlico is a Tier 2 county. Miller said many grants are also matching grants. “We don’t really have the money sitting there to match a grant and deal with hurricanes.” There are also requirements in other grants where Oriental does not meet the qualifications. “Either our median household income is too high or our property tax is too low.”

Miller said the staff continue to look for other avenues of infrastructure funding.

There was no further discussion from Commissioners. The Budget passed 3-2, Commissioners White, Overcash, and Winfrey for the budget and Roe and Price against.

Commissioner Roe and Commissioner Charlie Overcash both supported a meeting to get public input. “I think Commissioner White’s proposing for a meeting to find out how the public would like to do this, and what they can handle is excellent,” said Overcash, “but we have to do something about our roads.”

No extra days on the Holiday Schedule
Oriental and Pamlico County currently observe twelve paid holidays, and all staff use a vacation day to take off the day after the SuperBowl.

Staff are scheduled to work Monday – Friday, 8a – 5p. The office is open 8a-4p Monday – Thursday, and 8a-3p on Fridays, closing early for ‘quiet hours’ – time meant to be uninterrupted by walk-ins and phone calls where staff can work on larger projects.

The new holiday schedule adds two more paid days: President’s Day and Columbus Day. Miller said there are staff who take off those days because their kids are out of school. Commissioner White said he had no problem taking those days off the holiday schedule, and staff “could use their optional holiday for that.”

The amended schedule, without the two extra holidays, passed unanimously.

Commissioner Roe took the opportunity to say the town’s vacation policy is not what he was used to in business and it might need to be corrected to be based on seniority. Commissioner David White said he’s also looked into it, as his experience of vacation accrual was also based on seniority. “What I’ve found is, is that most small towns do not” base vacation on seniority. He asked to table that discussion for another time.

Capital Reserve accounts
In previous years, the Board of Commissioners created Capital Reserve Funds specifically for the replacement of Public Works equipment and one of the police vehicles.

This 2023-24 budget does not fund those Capital Reserve line items. Commissioners passed a resolution to defer the payment of those funds until the following year.

The resolution passed. Commissioner Roe said that though he was in favor of deferment, he did not like capital reserve accounts or raising taxes to fund roads and that a bond was his choice for funding.

“This is a savings account for me, that causes us to save for a future disaster, like a broken truck,” said Commissioner White. “I do think that we’re gonna have some overage in this year’s budget compared to what our expenses were, and my suggestion would be that we move that into paving and / or … drainage.”

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Lew Smith talks about drainage work on Whittaker Point Rd.
Ditch Clearing Argument on Whittaker Point Rd
In the beginning of May, Public Works were on Whittaker Point Road grading and clearing ditches. An undeeded ditch between Whittaker Creek Marina, owned by Knute Bysheim, and Walter and Peggy Vick was overgrown, and according to Miller, blocking the drain line.

The Town received permission from Bysheim to enter his property and clear out the ditch. Walter Vick exited his home and began an encounter with the Public Works crew to stop them from removing the vegetation.

Whittaker Point Road resident Lew Smith spoke during public comments. “I am very positive towards the drainage project. There are drainage problems in this town, but you’re wasting our money.” Smith went on to say the project was not handled correctly, no one checked for right of way before digging, and there appeared to be no plan for the project. He said engineering needed to be done, any resulting liability from the ditch would fall on him, and that culverts were not put in correctly.

Smith ran out of time, but asked that the project be stopped. He also handed the Mayor several documents including a checklist and design manual for ditches.

Public Hearing Scheduled for Short Term Rental
The Planning board has asked for a public hearing for a special use permit for a short term rental on high street. The hearing will be during the July 11 meeting.

Commissioner Roe asked if he was correct in understanding that short term rental companies, like AirnBnB and Vrbo, do not send itemized reports to town showing which homes were rented, for how long, and how much income was earned – all necessary information to collect the correct occupancy tax. Manager Miller agreed this was correct, the town only received a check with no identifying information. Roe asked if there was a way to strengthen the SUP process so that information is reported.

Miller said she has been in talks with the town attorney about it. He suggested revising the special use permit process to put the burden of proof on the requestor, not the nearby residents to disprove the request.

Elections, Letter of Intent, Dredging Administrator
• There will be no absentee voting (which includes early voting and mail-in voting) for this year’s municipal elections. One mayor and five commissioner seats are up for election every two years.

The cost for absentee voting is around $4,500. Without, the cost is under $1,000.

• Commissioners agreed to sign a letter of intent for Southern Disaster Recovery for debris cleanup in case of a hurricane. A letter of intent secures the town a quick response for debris removal. Any costs associated with it are recouped through FEMA when there is a named storm.

Without the letter, Oriental could wait weeks for help. During disaster cleanup, governments are only allowed to contract FEMA approved providers – otherwise the costs to the town will not be reimbursed.

Souther Disaster Recovery is the same company used by Pamlico County.

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Mayor Sally Belangia listens as Manager Miller details other funding solutions discussed during the budget meetings.

• In the past, the town has acted as the municipal administrator of grant funds for the dredging of Whittaker and Pierce Creeks. The town does not contribute any funds to the dredgings. Rather, they hold the funds for the private entities who are legally unable to receive government money.

Commissioner Roe asked if the town could charge an administrative fee for doing that work. Miller said it does not now, but it could in the future.

Commissioners agreed the town could once again act as fund administrator for the dredging grants.

Police Report
Officer Bill Wichrowski gave the report. During the Town Wide Yard Sale, vehicle hit two others parked on Broad Street and kept going. The suspect was found and taken into custody a few hours later.

Commissioner Allen Price asked about the five arrests reported. Wichrowski said none were for violent crimes or for anything for residents to worry about.

Manager’s Report
Hodges Street repair: Manager Miller applied for a grant through the USDA to repair the failing sea walls on Hodges Street. That project is still moving forward in the grant process. There are several potential solutions to the road repair: “raising the road, enlarging the culvert, putting in a duck bill valve, doing something to the foundation under / around The Bean to preserve it in addition to raising the road,” said Miller. There will be an opportunity for public input on the end solution, she said.
Mosquito spraying: begins the first week of June. Tuesday and Thursday from 4-6a. If residents do not want their property sprayed, contact Town Hall to get on the no-spray list.
Bay River Metropolitan Sewer District is raising their rates, including development rates (cost to hook into sewer for new builds) on July 1st.
Dog park tag renewal begins on July 1.
Watercraft rack users will be contacted about the new fee – $15 instead of $25 – and they have to provide their own locks instead of the town providing the locks.

Committee Reports
Planning Board: Chair Julie Rahm reported the board had written letters regarding short term rentals and infrastructure issues to legislators. “We’re watching the state and even the federal government influence land use now…under the guise of reducing housing costs, letting developers decide how much parking is needed when they put up buildings instead of the town [deciding].”
Tourism Board: Carla Fisher presented for Marsha Paplham. Carla said she was not at the last meeting, held up her injured arm in a sling, and said she could not make a report.
Parks and Recreation: Bonnie Crosser said there will be a Blackbeard the Pirate event for the Croaker Festival, as well as a kid’s play place during the festival.

Commissioner Comments
Commissioner Allen Price said he’d been approached by a resident who was concerned about loose dogs in town. Price told the man he could put it on the workshop agenda for discussion. Commissioners will discuss loose dogs in the September workshop.

Dates to Know
The next workshop will be Thursday, June 29 at 8a. The next Town Board Meeting will be Tuesday, July 11 at 8a. Town Hall will be closed Monday and Tuesday, July 3 and July 4.

Related Links
June Meeting Agenda
Meeting Minutes
Sailcraft Service SUP Request
Budget Fee Schedule
Capital Reserve Ordinance
Short Term Renetal Request on High Street
Municipal Elections
Letter of Intent
Town Administration Dredging Resolution
Police Report
Manager’s Report
Auxiliary Board Reports

Posted Friday June 9, 2023 by Allison DeWeese


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