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June 2024 Town Board Meeting
New Business Application, New Deputy Finance Director
June 6, 2024

round 50 residents were present for June’s Town Board Meeting. Initially, it was standing room only. Residents trickled out as the meeting wore on.

Though the main topic of discussion was the annual budget, Commissioners also discussed adding monthly public agenda meetings, heard from residents about a new business proposal, and learned the town was off the Unit Assistance List a year earlier than anticipated.

There was a quorum; Commissioners Charlie Overcash, Allen Price, Frank Roe, Breena Litzenberger, and Bonnie Crosser were present, as was Mayor Sally Belangia.

Also attending were Town Manager Diane Miller, Deputy Finance Officer Tammy Cox, Officer Bill Wichrowski, and newly hired Deputy Finance Officer Lisa Millington.

Off the Unit Assistance List a Year Early
In 2023, Oriental was put into a State program called the Unit Assistance List. Towns can end up on the list when the State has concerns about their utilities finances.

Towns don’t get a say in the matter, and they’re required to undergo State monitoring for three years.

Several criteria can land a town on the list, and in early 2023, Oriental hit a trifecta of reasons: late audits (thorough no fault of the Town), low water fees, and high depreciation (from a newly rejuvenated water plant) in the water fund.

The previous Board of Commissioners raised water fees in 2022 and 2023 to deal with depreciation. A reliable and responsive auditor was secured mid 2021. Town Manager Miller and Deputy Finance Officer Tammy Cox worked with the UAL representative to outline the financial procedures followed by town staff, including a system of checks and balances demonstrating no one person handles all financial activity.

Town received notice in May they would be released from the UAL a year and some months early.

As a result, the Town is now free to pursue a municipal bond as a means of funding road repairs.

Commissioner Frank Roe holds a poster listing the salaries for positions in town. Roe and Commissioner Litzenberger were proponents of bringing staff salaries in line with the state average for towns of similar size.
Budgeting: County and Town
Prior to open the Budget hearing, Commissioners Roe and Litzenberger made a brief presentation about the County’s budget meeting, held the previous evening. Both governments have been going through their annual budget cycle.

Litzenberger said the Board had compromised, and “as Commissioner Roe pointed out at the end of our last budget meeting – each one of us got a little bit of something we wanted, not everything.”

She said they had arrived at a balanced budget that took into consideration the current economic climate and “employment challenges,” noting the County was looking to raise salaries by $330,000, and still not be able to fill their vacancies.

Roe reiterated Litzenberger’s words, adding that the County was also dipping into their general fund for nearly $2 million to balance their budget. “They are facing what we are,” he said,“costs are going out the roof and revenues are flattish, and they put of raising taxes for the county again.”

Roe stood and presented a poster listing the salaries the Board had agreed upon. During budget meetings, Commissioners consulted the salaries of Belhaven, Manteo, West Jefferson, Atlantic Beach, Cedar Point, Biltmore Forest, Pine Knolls Shore, Cape Carteret, Duck, Holden Beach, Baldhead Island, and Ocean Island Beach. They also consulted hiring data from the NC League of Municipalities and the Census Bureau income analysis for Eastern North Carolina.

Former Commissioner David White spoke during the hearing, asking Commissioners not to take a proposed $250,000 out of the general fund until after hurricane season was over.

Former Commissioner David White cautions against taking $250k out of the General Fund until after hurricane season is over.

Commissioners had discussed using that $250,000 to fix roads. White implored them to wait, reminding them that Hurricane Florence cost the town over $700,000. With inflation, he said, the cost for repairs could be far greater. “NOAA says we’re going to get a lot of storms this year, and we have to think about that.”

Ann Rost also spoke, saying there were many who didn’t want to raise taxes, however it would have to happen at some point. “Don’t be scared of it.”

This year, the Town did not allocate any funds to Capital Reserves – those funds set aside to hold money for specific items like equipment or vehicles.

Water fees for the upper levels of usage – residential at the 5,001 gallon + level is going up 0.35 cents. Commercial rates at the 25,001 + level is going up $1.

Bay River Sewer is also raising their fees: $26 for the first 1,500 gallons of water used. This is up from $24 for the first 2,000 gallons.

Tampering fees – the fees associated with replacing water meters broken by residents – have also gone up, with final cost depending on how may parts of the system are damaged. Only town staff or certified plumbers are allowed to work on the meters.

Zoning permitting fees went up, from $300 to $350.

The 2024-25 fiscal year budget passed 5-0. New fees go into effect July 1, 2024.

Meetings and Workshops
Agenda Meetings Commissioners set their meetings schedule for the upcoming year, and chose to add a new feature – a public meeting where Commissioners discuss what will be on the upcoming agenda.

Commissioners Charlie Overcash and Allen Price said this had been done years ago, and it might be time to bring it back so Commissioners can meet face to face. Those meetings have been set for the last Tuesday of the month at 6p. Those meetings are open to the public.

Rules Workshop Commissioner Frank Roe asked to add a workshop on Town Rules. Commissioners have gone back and forth over the rules and procedures for conducting meetings. Commissioners Roe and Crosser are pushing to institute Trey Allen’s Suggested Rules of Procedure for a City Council – also called ‘The Purple Book’ in previous meetings.

The book is 90 pages and includes rules that limit both residents and Commissioners in their speech and replies.

The topic was raised with the previous Board in 2022. Commissioner Roe presented the same book then, however that Board chose to adopt a policy similar to the smaller and less restrictive 16-page policy from the Town of Denton. It was presented as a guide for the town, and an alternative to Suggested Rules of Procedure for a City Council.

Commissioners Overcash and Litzenberger oppose adopting The Purple Book. Commissioner Allen Price, a proponent of the simpler Town of Denton model in 2022, has not indicated his preference this year.

The workshop will take place at the Commissioner’s regularly scheduled September workshop.

Tuesday night’s Town Hall audience. Approximately 50 residents attended.
Public Hearing for GMO conversion
A public hearing has been set for July 2 for Commissioners to adopt changes to the Growth Management Ordinance (GMO). Over the lasts few months, the Planning Board has worked with a representative from the Eastern Carolina Council of Government to integrate state mandated changes into Oriental’s Growth Management Ordinance. He will be present at the hearing to answer questions about the conversion.

The following changes are included in the Public Hearing:

  • The 160D conversion: This is a state mandated change that brings two chapters of the NC State General Statute in line and agreement with each other. The Eastern Carolina Council of Government representative has been involved with the changes, helping the Planning Board with the conversion. The adoption of the language is not up for debate – it is mandated.
  • Definitions: definitions have been added where 160D has swapped out or substituted other phrases or words. Definitions have also been added to clarify other differences in the GMO, including the definition of a stick-built home, a modular home, and a mobile home.

Changes to the Special Use Permitting process will get it’s own public hearing at a later date. That process has been up for debate – largely where it concerns the use of Short Term Rentals. There is an ongoing discussion about where STRs should be allowed by permit, and who has to provide the burden of proof for an SUP.

New Business Application at 800 Broad Street
During Public Comments, Angie Propst – president of the Pamlico County Arts Council (PCAC) – and several others rose to speak about a new business at the painted brick building at 800 Broad Street: an art gallery supported by Pamlico County Arts Council.

Emails show a new business application was submitted to the Town on June 3 (the day before this meeting), asking it be processed “as soon as possible.” Town Manager Miller responded with a list of items that needed to be addressed, including the permits needed, the parking required, and a request to revisit and recalculate the square footage “of space available to customers” because the application could not be permitted with the spaces they had listed.

Miller also advised PCAC to submit a request to change the parking ordinance to allow on-street parking in front of the building. Doing so would help with the lack of available parking.

During her comments, Propst said she had not seen the paperwork (it had been submitted by PCAC Executive Director Sherri Rettew), but “it basically said we’re non-compliant. We have to have all these parking spaces to be able to use it.” She said Commissioners should wave any time requirements and permit processes because Pamlico Arts Council would lose out on fundraising opportunities, and because “this art gallery is a benefit to every business in the town.”

Propst also said they were hoping to be open by June first (two days before the New Business Application was submitted).

Commissioners were not yet aware of the day-old application when Propst and others spoke. The Town Manager was not asked to respond or offer clarification on the issue.

After returning from their closed session meeting, Commissioners made a motion to issue an ordinance allowing street-parking on Broad Street in front of the gallery building.

Miller said she would follow up with PCAC about the ordinance change and next steps.

Getting more from the Government
Oriental and 200 other municipalities were awarded millions in funds for infrastructure in the 2023 Appropriations Act.

Oriental is slated to receive $5.5 million. It was then announced that the state would take 3% in administrative fees for each award granted. Many of the 201 municipalities banded together to voice their disappointment and the percentage was changed.

The state will now take only 1.5% for administration fees. Meaning Oriental now has $82,000 extra to spend for water infrastructure.

Commissioners on the dais at Tuesday night’s meeting.
Manager’s Report
  • Ann Rost, member of the Board of Adjustment, volunteered to be on the Flood Plain Ordinance Board in place of Commissioner Allen Price.
  • A volunteer is needed for the Board of Adjustment – member Janice Cox has resigned.
    Lisa Millington
    Lisa Millington
  • Town Manager Miller introduced the new Deputy Finance Director, Lisa Millington. Millington will work alongside Deputy Finance Director Tammy Cox until she leaves at the end of the month. Afterwards, Cox will work on a contract basis for six months. Either party can terminate the contract with 30 days’ notice.
  • Public Works interviews are underway.
  • The going away party for Deputy Finance Director Tammy Cox is June 27 at 6p at Town Hall (directly after a brief one-item meeting). Tammy has been with the Town of Oriental for over 11 years.
PFAS Class Action Lawsuit
At the end of May’s meeting, Commissioners went into a closed session to discuss joining a class-action lawsuit about PFAS chemicals in the water.

PFAS are perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances – also called forever chemicals. There are more than 30 man-made chemicals in this classification. They’re used in several different industries including aeronautic and automobile, and can leak into groundwater.

Town Manager Miller said Oriental’s wells were tested last month and “came back clean.” However, with the backing of Town Attorney Scott Davis, the town is signing onto the suit in case of any future issues with PFAS.

“The Federal government is cracking down,” said Miller in a post-meeting interview, “we can’t distribute if there are PFAS in the water.”

Oriental’s two wells are 350 ft deep each and tap into the Castle-Hayne Aquifer.

Closed Session
Commissioners and Mayor Belangia went into closed session to discuss the Town Manager’s performance review.

The audience also exited the room.

Dates to Know
The next Town Board Meeting will be Thursday, June 27 at 6p instead of July 2 – to avoid the Independence Day holiday.

Town Hall will be closed Friday, June 28 to close out the books for the 2023-24 fiscal year and begin a new fiscal year.

Commissioners will meet Tuesday, July 23 at 6p to discuss and set the agenda for August’s meeting. That meeting is open to the public.

Related Information
June Board Meeting Agenda
Consent Agenda
Manager’s Report
2024-25 Budget
Police Report
Auxiliary Board Minutes
Resolution for the Municipal Insurance Trust of NC
Town of Denton Procedural Rules

Posted Thursday June 6, 2024 by Allison DeWeese

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