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Clean Your Culvert or Pay a Fee
Town Board Meeting November 2021
November 10, 2021

ovember’s Oriental Town Board Meeting was again at 8a, as the Board of Commissioners continues a trial run (begun in September) with the early meeting time. The Board took up a Special Use Permit request, discussed potential assessments for clearing culverts, and approved premium payments to staff members who worked onsite throughout the first 12 months of the pandemic. Nine members of the public were in attendance.

There was a full quorum with Mayor Sally Belangia and all five Commissioners in attendance: Commissioners David White, Charlie Overcash, Allen Price, Dianne Simmons, and Sandy Winfrey.

Culvert Clearing and Potential Assessments
In dealing with the ongoing drainage issue in Oriental, Town Manager Diane Miller has engaged a contractor for the town. He along with Public Works Director Andrew Cox, surveyed all the streets and culverts in town. Together, they identified 101 properties in need of priority attention. (These properties are marked by streets in several maps in the link at the end of the article.)

Two examples of a culvert. Some are simple, some are fancy.

Miller explained to the Board that the Town does not own the culverts under driveways – these are the property owners’ responsibility. However, blocked culverts have caused drainage problems throughout the village. It will cost to have the drainage issue dealt with.

The contractor, Miller said, usually charges a fee of $250 per driveway if engaged by a resident. The Town pays a reduced rate as the Public Works Department accompanies the contractor, cleaning behind him as he goes.

Miller proposed three solutions to the Board for dealing with the expense of clearing of the blocked culverts.

1. The Town covers the cost of having all culverts cleared out. This could lead to the institution of a stormwater utility fee to help the Town pay for maintenance of open drainage.
2. The Town covers the cost, and assesses individual owners the clearing fee. If not paid, a lien can be placed on the property until the fee is paid. Miller said this is a costly maneuver for the town and she would rather not place liens on property owners.
3. The Town covers the cost and sends property owners an invoice with a one-time fee.

Miller has estimated the cost of the clearing, assisted by the Town’s Public Works Department, to come in between $75-$100 per driveway. There is also the possibility of opening up culvert clearing to other properties, Miller said, on a second pass.

Usually, Powell funds would pay for this. However, all those state funds have been allocated to the road repaving projects.

Commissioners Allen Price and David White both suggested that the public be made aware of the issue and to get feedback from residents. Town Hall will send out letters to the affected properties and will again take up the issue at the December 7 meeting.

Southern Sky Ventures SUP granted with condition
The building that once housed a medical office at 901 Broad Street has been granted a Special Use Permit (SUP), and will become a hunting/fishing lodge under the name Southern Sky Lodge.

The SUP was requested to operate Southern Sky Lodge as a “hotel/Air B&B/hunting/fishing lodge.” The Planning Board recommendation asked that the permit come with one condition requiring “any visiting vehicles with trailers to be parked behind the structure in order to not require those vehicles to back out onto Broad Street in order to exit the front parking lot.”

The Board of Commissioners unanimously agreed to grant the permit with the condition.

The former medical office is being renovated to hold 7 bedrooms, 4 1/2 baths, a kitchen, laundry room, office, and 2 lounging areas. Rooms will be keyless entry and there is no full time staff on site. Owners Mark and Lynelle Brewington plan to keep and renovate the tobacco barn on the property in the coming year.

Premium Payment Bonuses for Town Staff
The Town of Oriental was slated to receive $250,000 from ARPA, the American Rescue Plan Act (these are federal funds). Much of that money has been slated for public works projects including upgrades to the Water Plant.

The Town will now receive an additional $24,398.50. One of the uses of these funds allowable under ARPA rules is to provide a one-time bonus for employees “who served the Town between March 2020 and March 2021 and are sill actively serving.” Each eligible employee will receive a $1,200 lump sum ($100/month) for their service during that time.

Eight employees are eligible. ARPA rules state that the premium pay “targets low-and-moderate income employees” as based on the State’s average annual wage for county workers. Town Manager Diane Miller will not receive a bonus; she does not meet the criteria.

The total disbursement to employees from ARPA funds is $12,944.17.

Budget Amendments
There were two Budget Amendments for the Board to approve.

ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) Premium Pay Budget Amendment The Board was asked to approve the addition of $24,398.50 to the ARPA Infrastructure Funds, and the disbursement of those funds to the ARPA Premium Pay Wages for Employees, tax and retirement accounts, and to funding infrastructure through the Water Plant system.

Reimbursement of Matching Funds for ADA Compliance The Town applied for a received funds through the Eastern Carolina Council of Government from the EDA CARES Act funding grant. The town was charged a matching grant of $12,425. That money has been returned, as it was determined the match should never have been charged in the first place.

The Town still has full funding from the grant. The Board was asked to approve the return of the funds back to the Professional Fees line item it was taken from.

The Board of Commissioners approved both budget amendments unanimously.

Dianne Simmons Day
Mayor Sally Belangia presented outgoing Commissioner Dianne Simmons with a Resolution of Thanks, proclaiming November 9 as Dianne Simmons’ Day. The Mayor and the Board thanked her for her work, including promoting “tourism, housing issues, recovery from numerous hurricanes; and as … a liason to the Harbor Waterfronts Board, the Tourism Board, as well as our State Elected officials.”

Mayor Sally Belangia presents Commissioner Dianne Simmons with a Resolution of Thanks.
Police Report
Last month, a new speed detection device was deployed on Broad Street between Church Neuse Streets. Officer Bill Wichrowski presented the data. “The goal is compliance, not punishment,” he said. That is the reason the detector is on the speed limit sign instead of in the middle of the speed zone.

Citing the downloaded data, Wichrowski said that most vehicles were approaching the speed limit sign (it is a 25 mph limit on Broad Street at Church Street) within 5 miles an hour of the limit, so between 20 – 30 mph. The sign is being deployed in different areas for a month at a time, he said, to gather consistent data in reported problem areas over time.

Wichrowski also said he’s gotten good feedback on moving the blue police charger around town as an additional speed deterrent. “People tell me they see it and it reminds them to slow down.”

Manager’s Report
• Town Manager Miller reminded everyone that the newly elected Commissioners are required to sit for the Eastern Carolina Council of Government’s Ethics course, even if they’ve had it before.
• All newly elected members will also be sworn in at the December 7 meeting.
• There is a Flood Resiliency Survey that Manager Miller is asking everyone to take, either online or on paper (link below). Miller said the responses will help Oriental access grants and determine how much they can apply for.

Closed Session
The Board and Mayor went into a closed session with Town Manager Diane Miller to discuss her annual evaluation. The meeting was brief.

After returning, Commissioner White announced that Town Manager Miller would not be getting a raise this year, but rather would – as all town employees are – be eligible for a performance bonus for up to 3%. White said Miller qualified at 2.7%, making her eligible for about $2,500.

Usually, the Town Manager’s evaluation is in March with the rest of Town Staff receiving their evaluations in November. It was decided this past March that the Town Manager’s evaluation would be at the same time as other town staff.

Dates to Know
The next Town Board Meeting will be Tuesday, December 7 at 8a. Town hall will be closed Thursday, November 11 for Veteran’s Day and Friday, November 12.

Related Links
November Meeting Agenda
October Meeting Minutes
Public Hearing for SUP
Documents for SUP Public Hearing
American Rescue Plan Act Premium Payments
• Budget Amendments
• Drainage Project
• Flood Study
Police Report
Manager’s Report
Dianne Simmons Day Resolution
Resiliency Study – Print and return to Town Hall

Posted Wednesday November 10, 2021 by Allison DeWeese

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