2/10/20: TOWN COUNCIL: APPROVES CURBSIDE ‘RECYCLING’ RATE INCREASE, REVISED CONTRACT, WITH SCANT EXPLANATION; WILL HAVE NEW PROPERTY ASSESSMENTS OUT THIS MONTH TO FACTOR INTO PROJECTED BEACH NOURISHMENT TAXES; AND THE NEW CIIP COMMITTEE LOOKS A LOT LIKE THE OLD

foodlion
Are separated recyclables placed in receptacles like these in front of Food Lion in the Marketplace ending up in Bay Disposal’s transport to a Portsmouth incinerator? They are if they just end up in bins behind the store. The Beacon aims to find out.

The Town Council’s unanimous approval Feb. 4 of a $16,780 budget amendment that would give Bay Disposal & Recycling a per-home rate increase for its curbside recycling pickup until June 30— even though it is taking the Town’s recyclables to an incinerator, not a recycling center—is what the most recycling-savvy member of the Council, Matt Neal, called a “stopgap” measure.

While Mr. Neal joined in giving Bay Disposal what Interim Town Manager Wes Haskett called a “slightly increased rate” and in authorizing Mr. Haskett, Town Attorney Ben Gallop, and Bay Disposal manager Joshua Smaltz to amend the existing service contract—in particular, specifying that the current arrangement is only temporary—he also made a point of clarifying that he approved these changes only on condition that the Council “reevaluate” the contract “at the end of the [2019-20] fiscal year.”

This reevaluation would occur a year before the expiration of the Town’s recycling contract with Bay Disposal, which runs until June 30, 2021.

With that understanding agreed upon, Mr. Neal voted to approve the “stopgap,” which permits Bay Disposal to continue to take Southern Shores’ recyclables to Wheelabrator, a waste-to-energy facility in Portsmouth, where they are incinerated, not recycled.

Mr. Haskett, who did not state the precise amount of the rate increase, characterized this potentially months-long temporary arrangement as in effect “until another option is available or the market improves,” or, in light of Mr. Neal’s term, until June 30.

The Beacon went to press with a Town Council meeting story last Friday around 2 p.m. without having the advantage of seeing the meeting videotape because it had not been posted online—an extremely unusual delay, especially considering that the meeting lasted only one hour and eight minutes.

The videotape apparently was posted not long after The Beacon’s blog appeared. We were able to view it today and have concerns about some of what we heard.

THE BEACON’S CONCERNS

We are troubled first by Mr. Haskett’s failure to state for the public record—and the Town Council’s failure to state in its motion—the amount of the per-home rate increase that the Council gave Bay Disposal. This rate—assuming it is $1.17, and not another rate that the Council discussed behind the scenes—has only been recorded in written background materials for the Council’s Jan. 7 meeting, not discussed openly at a public forum.

Equally troubling was Mr. Haskett’s reference, without any elaboration, to the possibility that Bay Disposal could take Southern Shores’ recyclables to an actual “recycling plant in Northern Virginia.” At no time, did we ever hear the Town Council seriously take up this possibility in public. (Last week I was in Alexandria, Va., a NOVA city that is a model for viable and efficient recycling, as well as other green programs.)

The Beacon is left to surmise, based upon what we read in the January written background materials, that this transport would cost an additional $2.70 per home.

Is this increased cost any worse than burning recyclables for the foreseeable future? More to the point of problem-solving, is this increased cost one that other towns, such as Nags Head, might be interested in sharing? Could towns negotiate this cost?

In The Beacon’s view, the government on display at the Feb. 4 meeting was perfunctory and lacking in transparency and accountability. No one sought to inform the public by spelling out both the terms of the revised contract and the thinking behind these terms.

The Beacon would like to know why Mr. Haskett told the Town Council—and it readily agreed—that the termination provision of the Town’s contract with Bay Disposal would be rewritten to favor Bay Disposal. Please correct me if I’m wrong, astute readers. Mr. Haskett proposed changing 10 days to 30 days in the following terms:

“If . . . either party shall be in breach of any provision of this Agreement, the other party may suspend or terminate its performance hereunder until such breach has been corrected; provided, however, that no termination shall be effective unless and until the complaining party has given written notice of such breach to the other party and the other party has failed to cure such breach within at least ten (10) days thereafter. In the event any such breach remains uncured for a period of ten (10) days, the complaining party may terminate this Agreement by giving the other party written notice of such termination; which shall become effective upon receipt of such notice.”

As we read the change, the Town would be giving Bay Disposal 30 days to fix a breach. Why should we give it that much time? What’s the rationale for this change? Mr. Haskett did not explain it. Why 30 days? Why not 15?

We were further troubled by the fact that Town Attorney Ben Gallop said nothing when Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Morey asked about the Town’s “statutory obligation” in regard to recycling. Mr. Haskett told her that he would have to research the question, but Mr. Gallop should know the answer or at least be able to discuss it.

Here again, we wonder: What does Ms. Morey know about state recycling law? And when did she learn? Who’s meeting with whom? How much government is happening behind closed doors, and why?

In a council-manager form of government such as Southern Shores has, the town manager is the chief administrator, not the mayor or anyone else on the council.

N.C. law states that the manager “shall direct and supervise the administration of all departments,” including public works, and is subject only to the “general direction and control of the council,” not to specific order of the mayor or anyone else.

During public comment, Rod McCaughey, immediate past president of the Southern Shores Civic Assn., said that the SSCA “would like to advocate for as responsible a recycling program as we can find to do.” He noted that the Council’s actions “do not preclude us looking at other alternatives.”

How are decisions being made?

Rather than “statutory obligation,” it is our civic responsibility that should be foremost in the minds of elected officials. North Carolina has long been committed to recycling and waste reduction, and its municipalities are expected to effectuate that commitment.

RECYCLING OPTIONS

N.C. statute (N.C.G.S. 130A-309.10) makes it unlawful for a “person” to “knowingly dispose” of many types of solid waste in landfills, including aluminum cans and “recyclable rigid plastic containers.” The same statute prohibits a “person” from “knowingly” disposing of aluminum cans by incineration in an incinerator for which a permit is required.

As we noted in an earlier post, the N.C. Dept. of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is temporarily permitting Bay Disposal to transport aluminum cans and other single-stream recyclables to Wheelabrator’s incinerator, a decision that it will revisit in three months. This permission is being referred to as a waiver.

N.C.G.S. 130A-309.09B encourages, but does not require, local governments to separate “marketable plastics, glass, metal, and all grades of paper for recycling.” The same law directs local governments to participate in joint waste reduction and solid waste management programs, “to the maximum extent practicable.”

Mr. Haskett reported that the N.C. DEQ had met with “local jurisdictions” recently because the Department, and some “nonprofits” and other “interest groups,” want to “help out” the Outer Banks.

The DEQ, Mr. Haskett said, “is trying to bring a new recycling plant to Northeastern North Carolina.”

This is wonderful news that The Beacon had already heard, but not publicized because we did not have sufficient facts to do so.

The bad news is that Mr. Haskett was not among the people who met with N.C. DEQ because, as he said, he was not “notified.” The reason he was not notified is that–as The Beacon has learned in its reporting–Southern Shores has not reached out to the N.C. DEQ or to Dare County or to anyone else to explore other options. The Town has not taken any initiative.

The Beacon has been reaching out to people in the know and will be filing a more complete investigatory report as soon as possible.

We were pleased to hear Mr. Neal asking questions of Mr. Smaltz at the meeting about who is picking up the recyclables at various town recycling centers on the beach. If Bay Disposal is picking them up—regardless of whether they are segregated or not—they are ending up at Wheelabrator.

After interviewing responsible public officials, The Beacon previously reported that the glass and cardboard recyclables at the Dare County-Kitty Hawk Recycling Center are picked up by Dare County and that Bay Disposal collects its single-stream recycling. We also reported that the county disposes of all of its recyclables by means other than Bay Disposal’s transport. We did not query the public works directors at Kill Devil Hills or Nags Head.

We have since learned from Dare County Public Works Director Shanna Fullmer that Bay Disposal actually collects the county’s plastics, which means they are being burned. The Beacon has a standing appointment to meet with Ms. Fullmer to discuss the county’s recycling operations. We are especially interested in its glass crushing program.

BEACH NOURISHMENT FOLLOWUP: PREMATURE CALCULATIONS

N.C. law requires counties to conduct county-wide property revaluations at least every eight years; but they can choose to do them more frequently. Dare County’s last revaluation was in 2013; the 2005 revaluation, which sought to catch assessments up with the real-estate market bubble, stimulated a lot of taxpayer appeals.

Dare County decided to move up the eight-year cycle and do a revaluation this year. You will be receiving assessments for the Jan. 1, 2020 market value of your real property later this month. There have been rumors that this year’s revaluation will look a lot like 2005’s.

See https://www.darenc.com/departments/tax-department/2020-revaluation.

The 2020 revaluation came up for the first time in the Town’s discussions about beach nourishment at last week’s Town Council meeting. We trust that Mr. Haskett was not surprised when he contacted the Dare County Assessor’s Office about property values in Southern Shores and learned that the new assessments would be out soon.

The Town Council tasked Mr. Haskett and financial consultant, DEC Associates, Inc., with doing some beach-nourishment funding calculations according to Town property values and potential municipal service districts. (See The Beacon’s reports of the Council’s Jan. 21 workshop.) Because of the revaluation, Mr. Haskett reported last week that he and DEC will not have the tax-rate increases and MSDs requested until the Council’s March 4 regular meeting or its March 24 workshop, which is also a budget work session.

The Beacon will be interested to see how the Interim Town Manager and the Town Council cope with the expected property assessment appeals filed by Town property owners. My own experience has been that appeals are often successful, and they don’t happen quickly.

Mr. Haskett also sought to correct erroneous calculations that DEC Associates presented at the Jan. 21 workshop.

The Charlotte-based financial consultant had assumed in all of its financial models for a beach-nourishment project that Dare County would be contributing 50 percent of Southern Shores’ costs even though Dare County Manager Bobby Outten had informed the Town that the county’s contribution would be limited to $7.5 million–which may or may not constitute 50 percent.

Apparently, Andrew and Doug Carter of DEC did not touch base with Mr. Outten before they came to the Southern Shores workshop.

The explanation that Mr. Haskett offered last week was that “DEC’s models are correct, should negotiations be successful.”

In other words, if Dare County agrees to cover 50 percent of the Town’s debt service—in future negotiations—then DEC’s models would be correct. But inasmuch as it has not yet agreed to do that, DEC’s assumption that it would does not make its premature erroneous calculations correct.

That the Town Council is willing to accept such slipshod work from a consultant is a disappointment to The Beacon.

DEC Associates promotes a one-size-fits-all financing package of special obligation bonds and municipal service districts. As Chicahauk homeowner and former judge Craig Albert pointed out in public comments, the Town Council is not even considering general obligation bonds, which require voters’ approval through a referendum.

Mr. Albert criticized the Council for letting five people decide the funding method for any potential beach nourishment project, rather than 2,500.

AND FINALLY . . . the new Capital Infrastructure Improvement Planning Committee looks a lot like the old CIIP Committee.

Mayor Tom Bennett reappointed Glenn Riggin, the same person he appointed in 2017, and Councilman Leo Holland reappointed Jim Kranda, whom he appointed in 2017, at the end of his last term in office.

Councilman Jim Conners appointed Andy McConaughy, whom former Councilman Chris Nason had appointed in 2017.

Thank goodness for the addition of Ms. Morey and Mr. Neal to the Town Council. They appointed new people–and thus, new voices and new perspectives to the committee– which is what The Beacon believes a town government should do. Cronyism should be discouraged.

Ms. Morey named Lori McGraw, and Mr. Neal named Dan Osman.

Mr. Conners continues as a co-chairperson of the committee. He will be joined by new co-chair, Councilman Neal, who replaces Mayor Bennett.

The CIIP Committee will meet Feb. 26 at 2 p.m. in the Pitts Center. If you live on Hillcrest Drive north of Hickory Trail, you may be interested in attending. Mr. Haskett announced that preliminary plans for the Hillcrest Drive repaving project have been finalized, and that the Town will be meeting with adjacent property owners soon.

Mr. Haskett also announced that the East Dogwood Trail construction project—on the east side of Hwy. 12 (Duck Road)—would be starting soon. RPC Construction Co. was the low bidder at $222,170. This project is expected to be done by May 1.

THE SOUTH DOGWOOD TRAIL SIDEWALK is “about 20 percent complete,” Mr. Haskett said, and has a projected completion date of June 1.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 2/10/20; revised 2/11/20

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