3/8/20: PROPOSED TAX INCREASES, MSDs FOR POTENTIAL BEACH NOURISHMENT PROJECT TO BE PRESENTED AT MARCH 24 BUDGET WORKSHOP; TOWN HALTS TOP-PRIORITY STREET PROJECTS ON HILLCREST, SEA OATS. Library Committee Makes Progress, Seeks Support at Public Forum Tomorrow

glasscrusher
A worker moves bottles through Dare County’s glass crusher at the Manteo public works facility. The Beacon took a tour last Thursday of the County’s recycling operation that included a demonstration of the crusher. We will report on our visit later this week.

A proposal for a beach nourishment financing/tax plan, including suggested municipal service districts that the Town could use if it decides to approve a project and fund it with special obligation bonds, will be presented to the Town Council at its March 24 budget workshop session, according to Interim Town Manager Wes Haskett last Wednesday.

“We have finalized a map showing proposed MSDs,” Mr. Haskett told the Town Council at its March regular meeting, and obtained from the Dare County Tax Dept. “the values of properties within the proposed MSDs.”

These values have been forwarded to the Town’s financial consultant, DEC Associates, Inc., he said, so it can work up “models and funding options for the County to consider” March 24, which is shaping up to be a red-letter day. The workshop will be held at 9 a.m. in the Pitts Center.

(The Beacon has written extensively about beach nourishment and a potential project in Southern Shores. The concept behind municipal service districts is that people who own property within them would benefit more from beach nourishment and, therefore, can justifiably be taxed more to pay for it than people who own property outside of the MSDs. One MSD typically encompasses the oceanfront.)

Mr. Haskett also will be seeking “guidance” at the March workshop from the Council “on projects to include in the proposed budget” for fiscal year 2020-21, he said.

The Interim Town Manager/Planning Director told the Town Council that he and Finance Officer Bonnie Swain have reviewed proposed FY 2020-21 expenditures with Town department heads and are working on revenues, including the revenue-neutral tax rate, which the State requires municipalities to calculate when a property revaluation occurs.

They will present a proposed FY 2020-21 budget at the Council’s April 21 budget workshop meeting, he said.

The public hearing on the Town’s FY 2020-21 budget, as well as the Town Council’s vote on its approval, will be held in June.

The beach-nourishment MSD update was one of a number of items in an unusually full monthly report presented by Mr. Haskett. While The Beacon welcomes current information about the many “pies” that the Town has its fingers in, we found Mr. Haskett’s rundown to be sketchy. (See below.)

Outside of his staff report, Mr. Haskett also reported on decisions made Feb. 26 by the Town Council’s Capital Infrastructure Improvements Planning (CIIP) Committee—of which he is not a member—that resulted in a recommended suspension of top-priority improvement projects on Hillcrest Drive and Sea Oats Trail.

Otherwise, in a matter squarely within his official capacity, the Interim Town Manager was able to give few details about a beach nourishment-related proposal from the Town of Duck that came directly to him and he brought to the Council’s “attention.”

CIIP CO-CHAIRS DROP THE BALL ON PUBLIC INFORMATION

That CIIP Committee Co-Chairpersons and Councilmen Matt Neal and Jim Conners allowed Mr. Haskett to report on their committee’s business and did not inform Town residents about the deliberations that led to its recommendation to halt all work on the Hillcrest and Sea Oats projects is unacceptable to The Beacon.

According to Mr. Haskett, the “Town Engineer,” whom he did not name—the Town has a contract with Deel Engineering—told the CIIP Committee that “insufficient” funds remain in the capital budget to cover both projects.

This is old news. It was known last year already that only one of the dune-street projects could be financed with FY 2019-20 monies.

As of the date of the Council’s meeting, according to Ms. Swain, $355,155 unexpended funds remained in the 2019-20 capital budget, an amount more than sufficient to do one of the dune improvement projects. That both projects are on the vacationer cut-through route is undoubtedly significant, but Mr. Haskett did not mention it. Councilmen Neal and Conners should have.

The Beacon learned only after the Council meeting that the committee discussed the fallout of doing one of the improvement projects during the summer. Apparently not all members were against that prospect.

The public deserves to hear from the policy-makers, the Town Council-appointed committee leaders, about how this citizens’ committee arrived at its recommendation to suspend both major projects and to proceed only with the rebuild of little Dewberry Lane (No. 4 on the priority list) and a pet project of Mayor Tom Bennett’s—a recommendation that the Town Council unanimously approved Wednesday.

Town manager-written CIIP Committee meeting minutes—which have not yet been posted for Feb. 26—are a poor substitute for an executive briefing by co-chairs at a videotaped meeting of the Town Council.

Last year, then-committee co-chair, Mayor Bennett, suggested expanding the eastbound lanes on East Dogwood Trail at the Duck Road intersection, so that large vehicles turning right (south)—such as dump trucks, which have no business using the road—have an easier clearance. By suspending the two major projects that the previous Town Council approved, the capital-budget account becomes flush.

In response to a question by Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Morey, Mr. Haskett reported that the lane expansion at East Dogwood Trail into the median would cost $28,150, and construction of a grass buffer there would cost another $5,700, for a total of $33,850.

The lane widening is to be considered a “change order” under the current East Dogwood Trail improvement project, which is on-going between Duck Road and Ocean Boulevard.

The Town Council spent some time discussing how to save money on the grass-buffer landscaping, ultimately deciding unanimously that Mr. Haskett would seek bids on the job, including from the Town Public Works Dept.

Although Ms. Morey said she thought the lane expansion was a “lot of money to pay for a little gain,” she nonetheless voted in favor of it.

The bottom line: The only major top-priority FY 2019-20 project approved by the former Town Council that will be finished this year is the East Dogwood Trail improvement project, which Mr. Haskett said will be done by May 1.

The CIIP Committee further recommended that monies left over from the $1 million that the previous Town Council appropriated from the Town’s undesignated fund balance to pay for the South Dogwood Trail sidewalk be applied to the FY 2020-21 capital budget, which is currently determined by taking .05 of the revenue generated from the Town’s real-property tax base. That amount is currently estimated to be about $282,511.

Here again, The Beacon would have liked to have heard Co-Chairs Neal and Conners explain this recommendation. The South Dogwood Trail sidewalk construction is not under the auspices of the CIIP Committee. Any information about its funding–including the possibility of a reimbursement of some costs from the Dare County Tourism Bureau–should have been presented in the Interim Town Manager’s Report, when Mr. Haskett advised that the sidewalk is 45 percent complete.

We imagine the Committee to Address Cut-Through Traffic in Town would like a chunk of this “leftover” money, too, as would homeowners who may be excessively taxed for beach nourishment they do not support.

The CIIP Committee overreached in making this call, and neither the Town Council nor the Interim Town Manager batted an eye.

INADEQUATE ASSESSMENT OF DUCK’S RFQ, ‘CART BEFORE HORSE’?

The only real substantive discussion that occurred among Council members at last week’s meeting concerned a request for qualifications (RFQ) document that Duck prepared for a shared coastal engineering consultant among the towns of Duck, Southern Shores, Kitty Hawk, and Kill Devil Hills, all of whom nourished beaches in 2017. Southern Shores added sand to the shoreline at and near Pelican Watch.

Mr. Haskett offered little background on this RFQ, beyond saying that Duck Town Manager Chris Layton “asked me if [Southern Shores] would like to be included in it.” But he did not say when Mr. Layton had approached him, nor did he mention any meetings that he may have had about it and with whom.

Mr. Haskett had only speculative answers to anticipated questions by the Council about how an envisioned multi-town collaboration on the RFQ, a subsequent job-bidding process, or any other aspect of beach management and nourishment would work.

Councilman Neal asked specifically about a timeline for the RFQ—Mr. Haskett said he had not been told of one—and about the negotiation process among the towns if the RFQ is released and applications are received. Who decides which consultants meet the qualifications, and how?

Presumably, staff from the towns would be on the front line, but Mr. Haskett’s answers were fuzzy.

Nonetheless, the Council voted 4-1 to join the RFQ, with Councilman Conners protesting that the Town was “putting the cart before the horse” because it has not yet approved a beach nourishment project.

The other four Town Council members adjudged that by voting to include Southern Shores in Duck’s RFQ—which Councilman Conners said he has read “four times and I’m still unclear” about what it covers—they were not making a commitment that they could not withdraw later. They could see no “downside.”

The Beacon regards their approval as largely symbolic of a desire to cooperate.

Councilman Conners agreed with multi-town cooperation, but said, “I don’t see the rush to approve this right now,” and argued that the “optics” suggest that by joining the RFQ, the Town has committed to beach nourishment beyond maintenance at Pelican Watch. He encouraged a delay of a month or two. He also suggested that any county-wide effort to manage the beaches, and provide for their nourishment, should be led by Dare County, not Duck.

(For a copy of the RFQ, see https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/minutes-agendas-newsletters/Meeting-Packet_2020-03-04.pdf.)

The Beacon agrees with Councilman Conners. The RFQ combines elements of a working agreement among the four towns with a request for qualifications that defines a very broad “scope of work” for the beach-nourishment consultant. It makes more sense to us to have an agreement among the towns that is separate from the RFQ, which means doing work now, upfront, rather than later, when confusion and conflict are bound to arise because the towns have not bothered to have a “meeting of the minds.”

Mr. Haskett mentioned that he had spoken earlier Wednesday with Joe Heard, who is Duck’s Director of Community Development and the author of the RFQ. It would have been helpful to have had Mr. Heard at the Council meeting to explain his intent and purpose and to address the questions that arose. It also would have been helpful if Mr. Haskett had identified who he is.

SKETCHY UPDATES OF OTHER TOWN BUSINESS: REMEMBER THE CODE REWRITE? 

Mr. Haskett glossed over other major Town issues and projects in his report, receiving no questions from Town Council members. Among them:

BUILDING CODE DEFICIENCIES: The Interim Town Manager followed up on the effort to address N.C. Building Code deficiencies of Town buildings–—which dates to the Town Council’s special planning session last September. Mr. Haskett spoke Wednesday of engaging “a local architect that recently inspected the town’s buildings” and of hoping “to have an estimate soon.”

This architect had to be hired, he explained, because the “contractor initially engaged” to provide an estimate of what it would cost to bring the buildings “up to Code” is “moving from the area.”

The Beacon believes the architect Mr. Haskett hired should have been named; the dates of his/her inspections should have been noted; and an expectation of when his/her estimate would be submitted—if not a firm deadline—should have been given.

BAY DISPOSAL CONTRACT AMENDMENT: Similarly, Mr. Haskett reported that “The Town Attorney has drafted an amendment to the current contract” with Bay Disposal & Recycling, and that the amended contract has been submitted to Bay, which has not yet responded.

The Beacon would like to know when the Town sent the amended contract to Bay Disposal, and what deadline it imposed on Bay Disposal for accepting it.

Is the Town currently paying Bay Disposal an increased service rate, in the absence of a revised contract? If so, that is not what the Town Council authorized. Bay Disposal is in breach of the current contract, but if the Town does not take the necessary action to terminate the contract, then the breach does not matter.

TOWN CODE REWRITE: Our favorite among what Ann Sjoerdsma described at a recent public hearing as the Town’s “languishing” projects is consultant CodeWright Planners’ rewrite of the Southern Shores Town Code. Three years in the making, the final draft went through an exhaustive review by the Town Planning Board, before it stopped dead in its tracks 14 months ago.

At a Jan. 31, 2019 public hearing about the draft, principal Chad Meadows, of CodeWright, advised that Town Attorney Ben Gallop would review the draft in February 2019, and the Town Planning Board would consider it in March and April, with an eye toward recommending those chapters that Mr. Meadows said the Board is required by North Carolina law to recommend. (See The Beacon, 2/1/2019.)

According to Mr. Haskett, Mr. Gallop is “still conducting his review of the zoning chapter” of the Town Code rewrite. After he is finished, CodeWright planners will integrate Mr. Gallop’s changes into the draft, he said, and they will be submitted to the Planning Board for review and recommendation. A public hearing will occur thereafter.

How much time should a town give its attorney to complete a requested task? Mr. Gallop’s tedious review job should have been contracted out months ago to a law clerk with more free time than he has.

The Beacon wonders: Does it matter to any elected officials that more than $100,000 has been spent on a Code rewrite/update that has been languishing for more than a year?

This project was not a popular one when it was proposed by former Town Manager Peter Rascoe. We would like an accounting of how much the Town has spent to date on CodeWright’s work, which started in summer 2015. It is far from over.

LIBRARY COMMITTEE MAKES PROGRESS: FORUM TOMORROW

Lilias Morrison of the Town’s branch library exploratory committee reported to the Town Council Wednesday that the project proposal she made to the Dare County Commission Feb. 18 was well- received.

Ms. Morrison sought both approval of the Northern Dare branch library and funding for it in the County’s fiscal year 2020-21 budget. The new library is expected to be located in a building owned by TowneBank at 6 Juniper Trail in Southern Shores.

“We’re in budget discussions,” Ms. Morrison said about the status of negotiations with the County. “We’re not in the budget.”

(See The Beacon, 3/3/20, for more details about the proposed library.)

The library committee is holding a public forum tomorrow at 6 p.m. in the Pitts Center to drum up support. Ms. Morrison told The Beacon that she believes the library could be operational by this time next year.

“We are making progress,” she said, “but without very wide public support from Duck, Southern Shores, and Kitty Hawk, it may not happen.”

ABOUT THE U.S. CENSUS: Councilman Conners, who is Southern Shores’ representative on Dare County’s Complete Count Committee for the 2020 U.S. Census, reported that Southern Shores had an 88 percent return rate for the 2010 Census. Census forms will begin arriving in the mail after March 12. He asks that when you receive yours, you “take it seriously, fill it out, and send it back.”

You also may complete your application online or by telephone. Anyone who calls you, claims to be working for the U.S. Census, and asks for your Social Security number or for money, is running a scam, Mr. Conners warned.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 3/8/20; revised 3/9/20

 

 

2 thoughts on “3/8/20: PROPOSED TAX INCREASES, MSDs FOR POTENTIAL BEACH NOURISHMENT PROJECT TO BE PRESENTED AT MARCH 24 BUDGET WORKSHOP; TOWN HALTS TOP-PRIORITY STREET PROJECTS ON HILLCREST, SEA OATS. Library Committee Makes Progress, Seeks Support at Public Forum Tomorrow

  1. I have a general question. In light of the virus and Trump attempting to hijack social security payments, and a possible pending recession, and that effect on all our home values, and the fact that we don’t need more sand down there, is the town council still paying a consultant and trying to find ways to jack our taxes for a completely useless project being whined about by a few elected officials and a few uninformed locals? Or, could they take the high road and announce they are suspending all that and protect our tax base and be smart about the future?

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    1. I’ll consider these rhetorical questions, Rick. For the immediate future, I think the Town Council would be well-advised to postpone its March 24 workshop, if not cancel all Town meetings, including tonight’s Planning Board meeting, indefinitely. There’s really no reason to take a risk, however slight it may be. Thanks for writing.

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