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Public Responds to Anonymous Flyer at Town Board Meeting
Town Board Meeting June 2022
June 14, 2022

J
une’s Town Board Meeting featured two public hearings, one of which prompted an anonymous flyer to be circulated throughout town two weeks prior to the June Meeting.

The flyer listed several items that Commissioners discussed in the budget and regular meetings. Some of those items, like increasing the water and trash rates, have been discussed during previous years’ budget meetings. The flyer stated 3 of the 5 Commissioners supported the bullet points, and urged recipients to call their Commissioners. There was no name or contact information on the flyer.

More than 50 residents attended the June Meeting. Town Staff, including Public Works, were in attendance. Mayor Sally Belangia, Commissioners David White, Charlie Overcash, Allen Price, Sandy Winfrey, and Frank Roe were also in attendance as were both Oriental Officers. The town’s lawyer was also present.

This flyer was distributed through town and was the subject of the Public Comments Section of June’s Town Board Meeting.
Public Comments
Several residents stood to speak about the flyer, the town manager, and the Board of Commissioners.

Janice Cox and Deborah Danmeyer said they were suspicious about the intent of the flyer because it had no one to contact for further information other than the list of Town Commissioners. With “no signature or indication of the author, I considered it immediately suspect,” said Cox. She cited her 30+ years in public service in Rocky Mount and listed items she thought the town was doing right – like having low employee turnover and proposing a 5% COLA and merit pay.

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Janice Cox addresses the Commissioners.

Danmeyer, wife of former Commissioner Eric Danmeyer, said, “I had to ask myself what was the motivation in handing out the flyer. I think we all need to be an advocate for the town of Oriental….How we do that is by coming to meetings.” She said the flyer also prompted her to attend her first meeting this year.

Jean White, wife of Commissioner David White, said she her husband had heard a group distributing the flyers saying they needed to get rid of Town Manager Diane Miller. White defended Miller, saying she found millions in grants for the town “and has built the town’s once depleted reserves back up.” White categorized the anonymous nature of the flyer as ‘insidious cowardice.’

Breena Litzenberger of Inner Banks Sails & Canvas and Don McGuire both spoke on the professionalism of Town Manager Miller and the willingness of town staff to stop and speak with them whenever they had questions.

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Commissioners Allen Price (front), Charlie Overcash, Mayor Sally Belangia, Sandy Winfrey, and Frank Roe listen to Public Comments. Commissioner David White is behind Overcash..

Don McGuire said he didn’t always agree with Manager Miller, but said she was a professional. “I’ve lived in other small towns. None of them have the services that Oriental has. None of them have the wonderful events that Oriental has. None of them have the friendly, cohesive spirit that Oriental has. None of them tend to look after each other as the people of Oriental do. I believe that Diane Miller is central to that.”

Jim Blackerby, chair of the Harbor Waterfronts Committee, seconded what previous speakers had said and spoke about the upcoming hurricane season. “This is hurricane season. The town is focused on hurricane preparation – these are all things we need to take to heart as a community. We need to be ready. Florence was a tough time for all of us. What stands out to me is the leadership. The people that worked here worked long hours, beyond what I can believe and I thank you for that.”

Vicki Rasmussen said she had been asked to hand out the flyers. “I did so because I thought that there were issues that were not being transparent. But what it opened my eyes to is that I needed to get to these meetings, and I need to see for myself and I need to hear for myself.” She said it was her first meeting and would not be her last.

Public Hearing #1: The Town Budget
Town Manager Diane Miller presented the 2022 – 2023 budget to Commissioners, stating there had been a correction to the numbers released at the last budget meeting, an error caught by Commissioner Frank Roe.

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Town Manager Diane Miller discusses the budget.

Jennifer Roe, wife of Commissioner Frank Roe, spoke during the Public Hearing about the budget. She stated she spoke for herself and not her husband and claimed responsibility for creating and disseminating the flyers. “I did the flyer and the information on the flyers – I didn’t do details because there was bullet points to get people’s attention to get them aware of what was going on and make their own decisions.”

She went on to make a statement about the government versus public sector: “It was about what the budget says – you shouldn’t have someone equal in the private sector make it in government section equal to the private sector being more. And you have to consider the private sector ‘cause these things sound good. They sound great, financially. But you also have to consider the private sector that pays the bills.”

Jennifer Roe was the only person to speak during the Public Hearing about the budget.

During discussions, Commissioner Roe said the budget “is not reflective of the extremely high cost that the town is going to face in the next year. Concerned about the purchase of capital equipment and retaining the police car – the we could use those funds better for the increases that we’re going to face that aren’t included here.” He said the town should wait until next year to purchase the equipment and should get rid of the police car. He did not say what high costs the town would face in the coming year.

The town currently has three police cars – two in use by officers and a third, older vehicle that is used around town as a speeding deterrent and to block roads when only one officer is available for events.

Commissioner Allen Price also questioned whether the town should purchase the excavator this year, and believed it should be contracted for a while.

In previous meetings, Commissioners debated continuing to pay for contracted work when the piece of equipment was needed or to buy it outright. They had a deal with a local contractor to buy the equipment for approximately $66,000 and with low hours on the engine – about 500.

The cost to hire contractors in the last several years was comparable with the cost of buying it outright. A larger piece of equipment currently owned by the town takes a team of employees to operate and to change out the attachments – this piece requires one person to fully operate. The smaller excavator also could do the lighter work required when digging up water lines for replacement or doing drainage work – all things needing to be done in the future according to prior meeting discussions.

Proponents of contracting out the work said the equipment would sit unused and would require maintenance and insurance – a cost burden to the town.

The budget passed as is – including the equipment purchase and retaining the third police car – in a 3 to 2 vote with Roe and Price dissenting.

Public Hearing #2: The Fee Schedule
Revisions were made to the fee schedule – Chapter S of the General Ordinances. This included increases to water and sewer costs.

The town has kept water rates low. Even with the proposed increase, Oriental water rates will still be lower than the County. The town’s Water Fund, which must operate as an expense account and pay for itself, does not make enough money to apply for grants that would help fund projects in the water plant. This fiscal year, Oriental used money from ARPA – the American Rescue Plan Act – to upgrade and maintain the water plant, including redoing the soft water tanks in an effort o reduce the salt needed and the cost to the town.

Water rates are determined by a usage scale – how much water is used up to a certain gallon amount. The new water rates are in red:

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Changes to the water fees are in red.
Fees for tapping into the Oriental water system have also increased as have development and administration fees. Dog park fees are also going up to cover the cost of the doggie bags provided around Oriental.

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Changes to the dog park license fees.

Rates for trash collection are increasing. The town has been subsidizing the cost of trash and recycling for years. In 2021, the cost to the town was $63,000. At one point, the town used to collect its own garbage and haul it away. At that time, there were no tipping fees to pay – a fee for the weight of the garbage deposited into the landfill.

The town charges $2 for recycling bins and planned a several years’ long incremental increase to the trash/recycling bill, but it was put on hold by previous boards.

Oriental also currently has a recycling contract – one that does not pay a tipping fee for the weight of the recycling. If Oriental were to cancel the contract, they would not be able to pick up another one at a later date. Additionally, recycling would go into the trash thereby increasing the weight of the garbage going into the landfills which means increased tipping fees and costs.

A fee of $6.75 was proposed to help balance out the cost to the town.

Another part of the trash / recycling conversation are two green waste dumpsters at the water tower. The dumpsters are for residential use only. “Once [the dumpsters] were instituted, the burning in town went down significantly,” Town Manager Miller said. “A lot of people would gather up their green waste and it would end up in drainage ditches – Public Works spent a lot of time clearing it out of drainage ditches because there was just nothing available” to receive the waste.

The dumpsters cost the town around $30k a year. Miller said there were unintended good consequences out of that. “We all benefit from that one way or another. Whether you use it, or don’t use it – but you would rather breathe, or you want the drainage to run when the rain comes,” she said.

During Public Comments for the hearing, Jennifer Roe spoke, suggested the town could go to one dumpster and defray the cost of the recycling bins.

Danny Foreman said to get rid of the bins altogether and just encourage people not to burn and to haul away their own green waste.

Carol Small asked if the town would be willing to do education on what could and could not be put into the recycling bins so the entire bin was not considered contaminated and thrown out with the regular trash.

The public hearing was then closed.

Commissioner Roe moved to accept the changes to the fee schedule with the amendment that the fee be changed from $6.75 (an increase from $2) to $4.50. Commissioners Charlie Overcash and Allen Price agreed with the split. The Fee schedule passed with the amendment in a 3 – 2 vote with Commissioners White and Winfrey dissenting.

New Library Presentation
Friends of the Pamlico Library president Bonnie Cap showed the board a promotional video about why the new library was needed. She asked for volunteers and donations to the fund.

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Bonnie Cap speaks to Commissioners about the new Library Building.

The meeting was halted for a break, during which about half the audience left.

Upon returning, the town auditor Gregory T. Redman, presented the audit to Commissioners. The town had to hire a new auditor when the previous one left a month and a half before the audit was due. State law now requires the auditor to present to the Board of Commissioners, along with any recommendations.

Redman said there were two issues the Board had to respond to: an underfunded Water fund and why the audit was late.

Both would be easy to address as water rates were being raised and the hiring of a new auditor at the last minute would explain the late audit submission.

The General Fund: The town has $853k in unrestricted funds and $488k in restricted funds. Towns are required to have a 34% unassigned fund balance. The average is 60%. Oriental has 82%. Redman said “the General Fund is operating and you have enough cash to operate.”

Revenues & Expenses: The town took in $1.1 million in revenues and spent $1.254 million in expenditures. Redman said the loss of $92k was fine as it had been addressed through the rate increases to trash and through the fee schedule changes. Despite the loss, “the fund balance is still in good shape.”

Budgeted Figures & Debts: Oriental has no debts and did not exceed their stated budget in any category.

The Water Fund: Revenues for the water fund total $322k with total expenses less depreciation totaling $327k – a loss of $5k. The loss will be addressed with the water rate changes.

Property Tax Collection rate: Oriental’s tax collection rate is 98.2%. Most towns in Eastern North Carolina, said Redman, have a tax collection rate of around 94%.

“The numbers are in better shape than they have been in the past. I don’t see any recommendations to make for the operations of the town,” said Redman.

Water Usage indicates higher population
Town Manger Diane Miller thanked Redman for taking on the project and noted that the town had received a notice from Public Water Supply that testing was going to increase due to an increase in number of people using the system.

Though the 2020 census came back with around 880 people in Oriental and the census of 2010 reported 928 people, Public water is saying there are over 1,000 people in Oriental. They base their figure off how many taps are in use at two people per tap.

More people using the water supply means more increases down the road. “At some point we’re going to have to look at expanded permits, drawing more water out of the ground, more processing.”

Next Public Hearing set for June 23rd – tent camping in Oriental
The Planning Board has asked for a public hearing to add tent camping to the RV ordinance. Commissioners agreed to set the meeting.

Harbor WaterFronts Committee Board Changes & Appointments
Jim Blackerby is the new chair of the Harbor WaterFronts Committee. He asked the board to expand the HWFC to 7 persons and include two non-residents. Jim Kellenberger, Pat Nocera, and David Szerlag have been nominated.

After more than 12 minutes of discussion about how the new ordinance should be worded, Commissioners agreed on the expansion and the admittance of the newest members.

The language change now reads: 7 regular members, either full time town residents or non-resident business owners or employees from Pamlico County associated with public or commercial water related goods and services or Pamlico County resident. At least 5 members must be full time residents of the town.

Meeting Schedule changes
Several monthly town meetings have been changed because they coincide with other holidays or events.

Commissioners agreed to move the July Town Meeting to June 23 to avoid the July 4th weekend.

The November meeting is moved to November 1 to avoid Election Day on November 8. The January 2023 meeting has been moved to Jan 10 to give employees time to get the information together as Christmas Break ends the day everyone is due back into the office on Jan 3.

Changes to Fees for Excessive Water Leaks
In the past few years there have been several large leaks from homeowners. In January, over 300,000 gallons of treated water was drained onto the ground. One was from a home owner that left a hose on a dock running and left town. The other was from a marina that was actively trying to fix the problem.

Given the cost to the town, and the ability to have staff come and turn off the water while residents are out of town, Commissioners agreed to institute a cost for leaks over 40,000 gallons. While a one-time adjustment for leaks is available, anything over 40,000 will be charged at the highest rate.

Commissioners asked how long it takes for 40,000 gallons to run out of a hose. Town Manager Miller replied that it took less than a day.

Police and Manager Reports
• Police will begin issuing speeding tickets throughout town.
• The road from Vandemere to Ragan will be closed for an unknown amount of time while repairs are made to the area. Drivers are asked to go the long way around as there will be a hole in the street. The town’s contract stipulates that the work be completed within 120 days. There will be no work over the July 4th Weekend.
• The Water burnout is still ongoing. It should be completed this week.
• Mosquito spraying begins this week. If you would like to be on the No Spray List, contact Town Hall.
• The Net House will have to come down wall by wall, adding to its cost. Because this is the restoration of an historical building, part of it must be intact during the renovation process. If all comes down, it cannot be put back up with the current setbacks and requirements.

Commissioner Comments
• Commissioner Overcash informed everyone that Eric Kindle is the new Fire Chief at station 19 and Bill Wichrowski is the new Assistant Fire Chief.
• Commissioner Frank Roe asked for a usage report on the new excavator after the first three months of use.
• Roe also asks if the funds for the fence at the water plant are available. Miller replied yes and it will go up in the coming year.

Dates to Know
The next Town Board Meeting is Thursday, June 23 at 8a. This is the date for the July monthly meeting.

Meeting Documents & Related Information
June Meeting Agenda
May Meeting Minutes
Town of Oriental Audit for 20-21
Fee Schedule Changes
Fiscal year 22-23 Budget
• Public Hearing for GMO Adjustment to Include Tent Camping
Harbor Waterfronts Committee Ordinance and Appointments
Town Board Meeting Schedule 2022-23
Chapter K – Water Leak Adjustment Fee
Police Report
Manager’s Report
Auxiliary Board Reports
Corrected General Fund
Corrected Budget Ordinance
Town Board Budget Meeting Minutes

Posted Tuesday June 14, 2022 by Allison DeWeese


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