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Oysters Are Coming, Dilapidated Houses Are Going
COVID Testing Proposed at August 2020 Town Board Meeting
August 6, 2020

useday night’s Town Board meeting had Town Commissioners discussing the costs of a COVID testing site, reviewing a potential new housing ordinance, and presenting the town manager with a recognition award (and a pelican).

There was a full quorum; all commissioners and the mayor were present. Unable to maintain social distancing on the dais, Commissioner Dianne Simmons chose to sit at the back of the room. She and all eight members of the audience wore masks. All remaining Commissioners, the Town Manager, staff, and officer did not wear masks.

Oriental COVID Testing Site
Mayor Sally Belangia was contacted by former County Commissioner Kenny Heath. Heath wants to create a COVID-19 testing site in Oriental, to be paid for by the Federal CARES Act.

town hall sign The Board of Commissioners has several questions about the site, including financing it. The town would have to pay for services up front, says Town Manager Diane Miller, and then later be reimbursed by funds from the CARES Act.

Funds from the CARES Act are distributed by the county. Though Oriental has not yet received their funds – Miller says the plan on how to use the funds isn’t due to the county until August 24 – County Manager Tim Buck did give her an idea of how much will be allotted. “It is a set amount of money by percentage by people,” Miller explained. “We’ve almost spent all of it already.” Miller said that law enforcement salaries, extra cleaning to keep restrooms open to the public, cleaning supplies and caution tape around the playgrounds, were all already included in the expenses resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since the pandemic, the publicly available restrooms at town dock #2 and town hall are being cleaned 3 times a day, every day. “We need to also have a conversation about how long you [the Board] want to continue with the cleaning schedule. We probably have an extra $5-6 thousand dollars before we run up to our limit of the allocation from the county.” Miller said the town could get another 3 months of cleaning supplies and services from that allotment if they stick with the current schedule.

“Of course if we get a new testing site on town property, it’s going to require that much more cleaning,” she said.

Commissioner Charlie Overcash said he did not see any reason to have the site set up at town hall. Manager Miller suggested having it set up at the firehouse or at one of the church halls instead.

Commissioner Martin Barrow asked if there could be a drive-up solution instead, to help mitigate costs.

Commissioner Overcash said, “I think the cleaning is the most important with so many different people coming through town, using the facilities and so forth – town dock two’s bathrooms, the public bathrooms [at town hall]… If we’re running out of money and we have about 3 months’ left, I think that needs to be considered.”

Commissioner Dianne Simmons said she spoke to Dr. Diana Silimperi of the Pamlico County COVID-19 Task Force. “She said she hadn’t heard anything about it,” said Simmons. Silimperi cautioned Simmons that “there are all kinds of different tests out there. You need to make sure of which kind you would be giving or getting.”

The Board asked Manager Miller to speak with Heath and find out more about the proposal, including the items they discussed: drive throughs, test types, and costs. It is unclear if Heath is associated with any medical facility or group. Miller said she would follow up and bring the Board more information.

Unmasked Town Commissioners sit on the dais in front of masked residents during the August Town Board Meeting.
Tuesday night’s meeting.
Draft Housing Ordinance for Abandoned Houses
Oriental’s town lawyer sent a draft ordinance for an abandoned/dilapidated/deteriorated housing ordinance to the Board. Manager Miller said it was cut down from New Bern’s ordinance and tailored to Oriental.

The Board was asked to read the ordinance and forward any questions to the Planning Board who will meet to discuss the ordinance on Wednesday, August 19. Miller reminded the Commissioners of their directive to the Planning Board: “we don’t want appearance, we want to take down things that are not safe,” she said. “That is the direction they are going with.”

The housing ordinance was drafted with the new state statute in mind, Miller said. The statute is very detailed and anything that is taken out of the draft ordinance will have to go back to the lawyer first to ensure compliance with the state.

Whittaker Point Restoration Update
Oriental has spent $912,457.25 on the Whittaker Point Restoration project with $740,225.40 reimbursed from grants so far. Town Manager Miller reviewed the project’s progress, and reported that crews were able to lay granite around the end of the point before Hurricane Isaias hit on Aug 3.

The Town Manager and Commissioners asked citizens to stay off the point – “It’s not public open space, it’s public conservation space. It’s not stable right this minute and we can’t get out to help you if you get in trouble.”

Miller said the next phase is bagging up and laying out oyster shells. Students will help, but the town may put out a call for volunteers when the bags are ready.

A proposed 108 ft jetty extension off the point has been delayed. It was intended to be added to the current permit, but will instead have to go through a CAMA Major Modification permitting process. That could take months as all major environmental agencies have to review it. Miller said the cost of the extension could be covered by the town’s USDA grant as it was more recently awarded and does not expire until 2022.

The jetty extension would further protect Whittaker Creek and the point.

Budget Amendment for Water Assessment
At the July Town Board Meeting, the Board approved a proposition from JM Teague Engineering to do a street assessment of Oriental for $13,642, despite it not being included in the 2020-2021 budget. In that meeting, Town Manager Diane Miller said she had been attempting to solicit services from another engineering firm, but JM Teague’s services were offered at a lower rate and the other firm was not communicating with her.

JM Teague did the design and engineering for South Avenue after Hurricane Florence destroyed the road.

Manager Miller said the street assessment may take a couple of months though they were getting ready to begin just before Hurricane Isaias hit.

The Board unanimously approved the budget amendment.

Water Utilities
Water Bill Fees to be reinstated At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, executive order 124 was issued to temporarily prohibit shut-offs, late fees, and reconnection fees on utilities. EO 142 extended the prohibition until July 29.

Chapter K of Oriental’s General Ordinance, regulating Water Services, was temporarily amended to accommodate the Executive Orders.

The time frame for the executive orders has ended and fees can once again be collected. In addition to reinstating the fees, all delinquent customers are given 6 months to repay any owed amounts with a repayment plan.

Manager Miller said delinquent account holders have all been notified via certified mail.

Water Bills get a new look.
New water bills were supposed to come out last month, however there was a glitch in the system, says Town Manager Miller. The previous bills were postcard sized, but the new bills will be the size of a regular letter. Customers will also have the option of receiving an e-bill instead of a paper copy. Deputy Finance Director Tammy Cox said the new bills should be out this coming week.

Board Reappointment Approved
Mrs. Debra Khouri has been reappointed to the Bay River Metropolitan Sewer District Board of Directors at the request of the Bay River Metropolitan Sewer Authority. Mrs. Khouri is the town’s liaison to Bay River.

The reappointment was unanimously approved.

Police Report
Officer Wichrowski gave this month’s police report. He said it was “uneventful as months go” citing one notable arrest he described by saying ‘Lady Godiva paid the Toucan a visit.’ He commended Officer Blayney for making the arrest and handling the situation with care.

Only 1 citation was issued as the state issued a moratorium until August on “anything with an expiration, because of COVID.”

Manager’s Report
• Wild animal ordinance passed in July to keep tigers out of town may have an upcoming amendment from the town lawyer.
• Fees for raising houses/doing repairs was suspended in the wake of Hurricane Florence. Manager Miller says now is a good time to consider reinstating the fees as it has been two years since Florence.
• Oriental’s Clean Marina certification was renewed.
• NC Coastal Federation awarded Town Manager Diane Miller the Pelican Award. The award “recognizes the effective work of people, businesses, nonprofit groups, local and state governments and educators to improve environmental quality on the North Carolina coast” according to the NC Coastal Federation’s website. Manager Miller said she would only accept if the entire crew – town staff, engineers, and others who have worked on the project were also included. NC Coastal Federation accepted.

Town Manager Diane Miller stands next to a concrete pelican with a gold bow, while holding a commemorative plaque.
Town Manager Diane Miller with her new concrete pelican and plaque.

In light of the Pelican Award, Town Commissioners awarded Town Manager Diane Miller with a pelican and a plaque acknowledging her work obtaining grants and coordinating the restoration of Whittaker Point while simultaneously handling the Whittaker Point Dredging Project and the cleanup and repairs from Hurricanes Florence and, to a lesser extent, Dorian.

Dates to Know
The next Town Board Meeting will be Tuesday, September 1 at 7p. The Planning Board meets Wednesday, August 19 at 3p int he large board room at town hall to discuss the housing ordinance. The Parks and Recreation committee will meet Tuesday, August 11 at 3p in the small board room at town hall.

Related Information
August Agenda
Draft July Meeting Minutes
Budget Amendment for JM Teague Engineering
• Chapter K Amendment Reinstating Water Bill Fees
New Water Bill Sample
• CARES Act information for COVID testing
Draft Housing Ordinance
Police Report
Manager Report
Auxiliary Board Reports

Posted Thursday August 6, 2020 by Allison DeWeese

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