4/30/20: N.C. FLUNKS SOCIAL DISTANCING, STUDY SHOWS, BUT DARE COUNTY SCORES A ‘C.’ STATE HITS ANOTHER ONE-DAY HIGH FOR COVID-19 CASE REPORTS. (Plus, What’s Really Going On With Beach Nourishment?)

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Chicahauk homeowners send a message of gratitude to all front-line workers during the COVID-19 crisis.

North Carolina has flunked social distancing, according to a nationwide human-mobility data study, but Dare County passed with a “C,” while Currituck County earned a “D+.”

The Tar Heel State is one of 11 states nationwide that received a failing grade in a social-distancing study by Unacast, a New York-based company that specializes in location data products. The country as a whole earned a “D.”

Unacast released its results yesterday, according to The Raleigh News and Observer.

In state news today, the N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services reported a new high for single-day reporting of new COVID-19 cases, with 561 cases being confirmed since yesterday. The NCDHHS said this increase may be due primarily to an increase in the number of tests being performed statewide.

Unacast used Smartphone data to give each state and its counties letter grades of “A” through “F” for their compliance with social distancing.

According to its website, Unacast updates states and counties daily on three different metrics of social distancing that it measures with Smartphone location data. They are:

*Percent change in average distance traveled (also called average mobility)

*Percent change in non-essential visits

*Decrease in human encounters (as measured by density)

The Beacon does not know Unacast’s precise methodology and, therefore, cannot begin to evaluate the value, if any, of its results. We pass them along to you simply as a matter of interest.

So far, in North Carolina, according to Unacast’s analysis, there has been less than a 25 percent reduction in average mobility; less than a 55 percent reduction in non-essential visits; and less than a 40 percent decline in the density of encounters compared to the national baseline.

The study did not take into account that the baseline in rural areas is much lower than in heavily populated area.

“What matters is how many people were in the same place at the same time, regardless of how much it changed from the past,” the study reported, according to The News and Observer.

Only one of 100 North Carolina’s counties received an “A” in Unacast’s study, and that was nearby Tyrrell County, which scored an “A-“. Five counties received a “B-” grade, including Camden, Perquimans, Bertie, Hyde, and Washington counties.

Not surprisingly, they are all rural counties in northeastern North Carolina.

Thirty-nine counties received an “F,” including Pasquotank County, where Elizabeth City is located. The state’s two most populated counties, Mecklenburg and Wake, each earned a “D.”

As for the other 10 states that flunked social distancing, according to Unacast, they were South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. For more on the Unacast study, see:

https://www.unacast.com/covid19/social-distancing-scoreboard?view=state&fips=37

https://www.unacast.com/covid19/social-distancing-scoreboard?view=state&fips=37

As of today, North Carolina has a total of 10,509 confirmed COVID-19 cases, based on 128,036 tests, which is roughly an 8 percent positive rate.

During the 24 hours before the NCDHHS updated its dashboard today, the results of 9,596 tests arrived, thousands more than the state agency has been accustomed to receiving. Testing statewide has ramped up.

Both Hyde County and Tyrrell County have now reported a single confirmed case of COVID-19. Only two N.C. counties have not reported cases, and they are Avery and Yancy counties in the western part of the state. Unacast gave Avery a “D+” and Yancy a “C-” for their social-distancing efforts.

WHAT’S GOING ON WITH BEACH NOURISHMENT? PREP FOR TOWN COUNCIL MEETING MAY 5, 5:30 p.m., IN PITTS CENTER

 The Town Council will consider at next Tuesday’s meeting entering into a new services agreement with Coastal Protection Engineering of North Carolina (CPE-NC) and approving a $47,599 budget amendment to pay for some of these services during the current fiscal year 2019-20.

CPE-NC was formerly known as APTIM Coastal Planning and Engineering of N.C.

According to correspondence sent to Interim Town Manager Wes Haskett and included in the Council’s meeting packet, Ken Willson, who was formerly vice president of APTIM, is now president of CPE-NC.

In an April 29, 2020 letter, he wrote to Mr. Haskett that CPE-NC will sub-contract some of the proposed services to a new corporate entity known as Aptim Environmental & Infrastructure, LLC.

See pages 35-49 of the Council’s meeting packet for all relevant documents at https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/minutes-agendas-newsletters/Meeting-Packet_2020-05-05.pdf.

It appears to The Beacon that CPE-NC is seeking an additional $35,396.00 for annual beach profiling, for which the Town has already paid $45,000, and $12,202.50 for “initial permitting coordination” for a 2022 beach-nourishment project that the Town Council has yet to approve.

For background, see The Beacon’s 4/27/20 report about the Town Council’s beach-nourishment discussion at its April 21 budget workshop. We called attention in that report to this budget amendment and another upcoming budget amendment in June, neither of which was fully explained by Mr. Haskett.

At the budget meeting, Mr. Haskett responded to a question from Councilman Matt Neal about beach profiling this spring by saying that the profiling had been done, and that the $45,000 appropriated for it in this year’s budget had been spent. So why is CPE-NC asking for $35,000 more now, and why is it seeking a new contract?

Also at the budget meeting, we learned from Finance Officer Bonnie Swain that, in a “worst-case scenario,” the Town’s FY 2019-20 revenues may fall $595,048 short of what was budgeted. Mr. Neal referred to this estimate as a “middle-case scenario,” not as a worst-case scenario, and Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Morey also said there could be a “worse” worst-case scenario.

Any budget amendment that authorizes another withdrawal from the Town’s unassigned fund balance during this uncertain financial time is not well-advised.

Included in next Tuesday’s meeting packet is an April 29, 2020 memorandum that Mr. Haskett sent to the Town Council about the $47,599 budget amendment that suggests the interim manager skipped his English classes. Certainly, he did not write the memo with easy comprehension in mind.

We quote:

“The proposed budget amendment includes the cost for annual beach profile monitoring and data collection. It also includes the cost for initial regulatory/resource agency coordination and coordination with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) to obtain Geophysical and Geological (G&G) permits for offshore investigations. This part of the proposal was brought to our attention on April 28, 2020 and includes 25% of the cost for Coastal Protection Engineering of North Carolina, Inc. to begin agency coordination for a 2022 beach nourishment project for Southern Shores and beach nourishment projects for Duck, Kitty Hawk, and Kill Devil Hills.”

“Coordination, coordination, coordination.”

Why is Mr. Haskett not straightforwardly explaining what these monies are for?

The sentence we italicize is the verbatim language that Ken Willson used in his April 29 letter to Mr. Haskett. No town manager, interim or otherwise, should ever just parrot the techno-ese of a consultant in a public document.

The Beacon will probe the proposed contract included in the meeting packet and try to understand better what it concerns.

We are very disappointed by the Town’s lack of plain-English full disclosure to the public. We hope the new town manager will give more consideration to transparency in governmental contracts and unanticipated late-fiscal-year budget expenses.

We also trust the Town Council will dispel the confusion that the lack of full disclosure about this proposed contract and budget amendment has created.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 4/30/20

4/29/20: WHAT HAPPENED WITH CURBSIDE RECYCLING? NEWS FROM NC DEQ AND MORE SORTING OF TOWN COUNCIL BUDGET WORKSHOP.

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When Southern Shores started curbside recycling in the 1980s, it passed out bins like this one to non-resident and resident property owners to use.

News Flash: Wheelabrator, the Portsmouth facility to which Bay Disposal and Recycling has been hauling Southern Shores’ curbside recycling to be incinerated, not recycled, for nearly five months now, actually does recycle all metals in this waste, according to a spokesperson with the N.C. Dept. of Environmental Quality (N.C. DEQ).

This information, as well as more that The Beacon learned yesterday in a telephone call with Sandy Skolochenko, a recycling specialist with N.C. DEQ, would have been useful for the Town Council to know last week at its budget workshop when it took up a new proposed recycling contract. But no one had done any groundwork.

BACKGROUND AND PRESENT DAY

N.C. law prohibits anyone from “knowingly” incinerating aluminum cans.

Because of this prohibition, N.C. DEQ, which regulates solid-waste disposal, allowed Bay Disposal to temporarily haul Southern Shores’ recyclables to Wheelabrator after Bay lost access to a material recovery facility (MRF).

MRFs—pronounced murfs—actually process recycling for marketing. Wheelabrator is a waste-to-energy facility that is not part of the nation’s recycling infrastructure.

Until last December Bay Disposal had been transporting single-stream recycling loads from Southern Shores and other Dare County towns to a MRF owned by TFC (Tidewater Fibre Corp.) in Chesapeake. But TFC stopped accepting Bay Disposal’s Outer Banks loads because of a high level of contamination.

The presence of plastic bags, string, Styrofoam, uncorrugated cardboard, and other non-recyclable materials contaminates single-stream loads, as does food or other substances on materials that otherwise would be recyclable. Contaminated recycling is not marketable; it ends up in a landfill.

It is also illegal in North Carolina to knowingly dispose of aluminum cans and recyclable plastic containers in a landfill.

N.C. DEQ allowed Bay Disposal to haul recyclables to Wheelabrator for several months, despite the illegal burning of aluminum cans. By the time it reexamined the exemption it had given Bay, the state agency had learned that Wheelabrator “pulls metal materials out” of the solid waste to be incinerated, according to Ms. Skolochenko, a community development specialist with N.C. DEQ’s Division of Environmental Assistance and Customer Service. These materials are then recycled.

Thereafter, N.C. DEQ regulators informed Southern Shores and other Dare County towns—Nags Head has been the most active in pursuing recycling options—that they could continue to use Wheelabrator indefinitely, Ms. Skolochenko said.

Although N.C. DEQ would prefer that municipalities dispose of solid waste in a “more environmentally and economically responsible manner as opposed to incineration,” Ms. Skolochenko said, those that arrange transport of recyclables to Wheelabrator are not violating N.C. law.

Since TFC rejected Bay Disposal’s loads, N.C. DEQ has been working with Recycling and Disposal Solutions (RDS) of Virginia, Ms. Skolochenko said, to help it to establish a MRF in northeastern North Carolina, preferably in Elizabeth City.

“It is still interested in doing that,” she told The Beacon, but so far, RDS has not found a large enough building for its MRF, and it does not want to build a new one.

While it “actively” continues to look for a building, Ms. Skolochenko said, RDS has agreed to open its Portsmouth MRF to Outer Banks towns. It has offered Southern Shores a five-year, “fixed-rate” contract to process its curbside recycling, but the Town Council found some of its terms troubling.

TOWN COUNCIL’S COMMITMENT

Before turning to the contract, we assess the Town Council’s commitment to publicly funded curbside recycling, based on members’ comments at meetings.

Southern Shores was the first town on the Outer Banks to offer curbside recycling. Since the 1980s, it has continuously offered curbside recycling as a public service.

Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Morey and Town Councilman Matt Neal appear to support publicly funded curbside recycling. Ms. Morey said at the April 21 Town Council budget workshop session that she is a “huge fan” of curbside single-stream recycling. She cited as one reason for her enthusiasm its convenience.

But Ms. Morey also has shown an interest at past meetings in learning more about private-subscription curbside recycling, especially in knowing the monthly cost to residents.

Mr. Neal has been open-minded and thorough about considering recycling options, but clearly directed toward retaining the public service. He pointed out last week that he is not keen on paying $189,500–which is the appropriation in the Town’s FY 2020-21 budget for the Bay Disposal/Wheelabrator arrangement–just to incinerate recycling.

The Beacon is certain both of these Council members would have been interested to know about Wheelabrator’s removal of metal materials. Ms. Morey said that she does not consider what Wheelabrator is doing, recycling. It turns out it is, at least with metal cans.

Town Councilman Leo Holland leans toward supporting publicly funded curbside recycling because, as he said at the budget workshop, “Our residents are accustomed to single stream,” and people have told him that if the Town shifts to a private-subscription curbside service, they would stop recycling.

Neither Mayor Tom Bennett nor Town Councilman Jim Conners is committed to publicly funded curbside recycling.

Mr. Conners expressed an interest at the workshop in exploring subscription curbside recycling so that “the town gets out of the recycling business.” A monthly subscription fee of $13 has been suggested as standard.

Of course, if the Town were to abandon curbside recycling, recyclables would end up in trash cans, and the Town would pay a larger landfill fee. The Council discussed this possibility. It not bring up the N.C. statute that prohibits landfill operators from accepting aluminum cans and plastic containers.

Mayor Tom Bennett also showed support for subscription recycling last week, saying it “takes it off our backs completely.”

The Mayor has never viewed recycling as a Town priority or a responsibility.

Although N.C. law does not require local governments to recycle, it does “encourage” them to “separate marketable plastics, glass, metal and all grades of paper for recycling prior to final disposal,” according to the statute.

The “waste-management hierarchy” that the State promotes, said Ms. Skolochenko, is first, to reduce the waste stream, and second, to recycle the waste that can be recycled.

Recent N.C. Division of Waste Management fiscal-year reports show Dare County performing well in public recycling per capita recovery. Dare County is among the municipal leaders statewide in recycling.

The Beacon would be extremely disappointed if the Town Council did not continue to make curbside recycling a public commitment. We would see the abandonment of this public service as a regression in the Town’s environmental protection efforts and responsibilities.

THE PROPOSED RDS CONTRACT, COSTS

Before TFC rejected Bay Disposal’s recyclables, the Powells Point-based company had sought an increase from the Town in the per-ton rate it charges for pickup and disposal under a three-year contract that started July 1, 2018.

The Town Council ended up renegotiating Bay Disposal’s contract this winter to pay the collector more for the Wheelabrator transport than it had been paying for transport to TFC’s recycling facility, with the expectation that it would renegotiate the fees again.

Bay Disposal’s recycling contract with the Town expires June 30, 2021, as does the five-year garbage-collection contract that it has with Southern Shores. The Town is currently paying Bay Disposal $65 per ton of recycling that it collects and transports to Wheelabrator, as well as a per-home rate.

RDS’s proposed contract offers the Town a choice of one of two fixed prices for processing its single-stream recyclables:

*$57.50 per ton of single-stream recyclables, including glass

*$49.00 per ton of single-stream recyclables, without glass

These percentages are subject to annual changes, however, starting July 1, 2021, to reflect any percentage changes in a consumer price index that RDS cites.

Although RDS assumes the market risk should the price of the commodities drop significantly, the Town is on the hook for percentage price increases for five years.

This concerned all Council members, as did the possibility of additional fees being imposed upon the Town for the delivery of “unacceptable material”—which is defined as hazardous waste and other materials that cannot be legally processed—and contaminated truckloads of recyclables.

If more than 12 percent of a truckload is contaminated, the Town runs into material-removal issues and possible increased costs.

Under the contract, the Town is given 24 hours to remove rejected and/or contaminated materials itself, before being charged by RDS for its removal and disposal.

Not surprisingly, no one on the Town Council could realistically envision the Town engaging in remediation of contaminated materials to save chargebacks.

According to Ms. Skolochenko of the N.C. DEQ, 12 percent of a truckload is a “low contamination threshold.” An average “threshold,” she said, would be 14 to 15 percent. She suggested that Dare County towns work together to negotiate with RDS for better terms.

RDS’s proposed contract is on pages 18 through 48 of the budget workshop meeting packet: https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/minutes-agendas-newsletters/Meeting-Packet_2020-04-21.pdf

The removal provisions are on pages 8-9.

Councilman Conners was particularly adamant about the lack of a severability provision in the contract and the length of the contract. He described the contract as having many “red flags.”

According to Interim Town Manager Wes Haskett, Bay Disposal has said that it would charge the Town $23.80 per ton of curbside recycling for its pickup and transport, if it goes to RDS’s MRF, and $5.21 per home.

Finance Officer Bonnie Swain said the combined cost for recycling in FY 2020-21, if the Town contracts with RDS for a $57.50 per ton rate and does not incur additional charges, would be $195,201, or about $5,000 more than what it would pay next year for the Bay Disposal/Wheelabrator arrangement.

COMPROMISE MOTION, OTHER OPTIONS

Ms. Morey suggested that the Town “keep doing what we’re doing until we find a better option.”

After further discussion, she reflected that the Town could “stick with Wheelabrator and Bay Disposal” and strive to clarify the “contractual picture with RDS.”

The Mayor proposed taking her reflection as a motion, and that is what the Town Council approved doing, unanimously.

The Council never discussed contracting with RDS for processing of single-stream recycling disposal without glass included.

As The Beacon has reported, Dare County has its own glass crusher and is recycling glass.

We appreciate that the Town of Southern Shores cannot launch overnight into a program that would take advantage of the crusher in our back yard, but we believe an investigation into how we could do so in the future would be worthwhile.

For the Town to stay in the recycling game, it has to embark on a public-education campaign any way to reduce the amount of contamination that is occurring. A hard-to-find page of recycling do’s and don’ts on the Town website is hardly enough.

When we visited the county’s Department of Public Works in Manteo in early March, PW Director Shanna Fullmer told us that Dare County would sell Southern Shores a bin for glass collection for $20,000, and the county would collect all of the glass deposited in it, without charge.

Mr. Haskett and Southern Shores Public Works Director David Bradley also attended this meeting, as did SSCA President Rod McCaughey.

Perhaps Ms. Fullmer would entertain a lower price for a bin, or business donations could be obtained for a bin’s purchase. Just removing some of the glass from curbside recycling would lower the Town’s costs. Glass is heavy.

While we appreciate that having seasonal visitors complicates any recycling program that Southern Shores has, we also think that creative options are available that are not being considered now.

Although RDS “would like to build a MRF in North Carolina,” Ms. Skolochenko said, it has “limited options” because any existing building it purchases must be of a “substantial height.” Finding a suitable building, she said, “is a challenge.”

RDS’s proposed contract includes a provision about the company establishing a MRF in North Carolina and obligates the Town to have its recyclables delivered there, instead of to Portsmouth, “under the same terms and conditions.”

We do not believe that MRF proximity alone would increase the attractiveness of RDS’s contract. Much would have to be changed about the cost provisions in RDS’s contract for the Town Council to approve it.

RECYCLING UPDATE ON MAY 5 MEETING AGENDA

A recycling update is on the agenda for the Town Council’s May 5 meeting, which again will be videoconferenced via Zoom. The Council will meet at the Pitts Center at 5:30 p.m.

If all of the people scheduled on the agenda appear in person, no citizens will be able to attend. That is something that Town Clerk Sheila Kane should advise citizens on the Town website in advance.

See the agenda at https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/minutes-agendas-newsletters/Agendas_2020-05-05.pdf

We will post the meeting packet link when it is available.

We will be eager to hear of the progress the Town has made in negotiating with RDS, if, in fact, it has made an effort.

In the meanwhile, at least we know that Wheelabrator is recycling all metal cans. I have been bagging up my Diet Coke cans and dog and cat food cans for transport to Northern Virginia, when I am able to leave my home. Now I do not have to make that trip.

Also on the agenda are Mr. Haskett’s presentation of a proposed balanced budget for FY 2020-21 and a possible FY 2019-20 budget amendment to cover beach-nourishment surveys and profiling to be done by the multi-town coastal-engineering consultant/coordinator that we discussed in a blog 4/27/20.

The Town Council still has not formally approved beach nourishment, nor has it formally selected a project option, from among the four recommended by APTIM. This approval is not on next Tuesday’s meeting agenda.

We vow not to write a report about any of the Town Council’s meeting business until after we have watched the videotape. We have learned that the Zoom audio just doesn’t cut it.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 4/29/20

4/28/20: DARE AND CURRITUCK TO WORK TOGETHER ON DATE FOR VISITOR ENTRY (A Novel Idea)

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Dare and Currituck counties will work together to coordinate a date for reentry of visitors, according to a news announcement released yesterday afternoon by Dare County.

Currituck County will remove its tentative May 15 visitor entry date from its emergency order and move forward with Dare County on a coordinated plan, the release said.

OBX Today reported yesterday that unidentified Dare County officials said they were “caught off guard” when the Currituck County Board of Commissioners announced it was considering allowing visitors to enter Corolla and Carova as early as May 15.

Currituck lifted the access restriction on its non-resident property owners last week.

Dare County has extended its Stay Home-Stay Healthy order until May 22, a date that it could modify, rescind, or extend. Dare plans to permit non-resident property owners access to the county starting May 4 and has made no announcements about visitor entry.

Dare County has set up a staggered entry over a five-day period of non-resident property owners according to the first letter of their last names.

Each county’s board of commissioners chairperson and manager have met to “begin discussions” about visitor entry, according to the news release.

Officials from both counties will meet again after Governor Roy Cooper takes action on the statewide Stay-at-Home order, which expires at 5 p.m. on May 8, “to establish a timeline for visitor entry to the Currituck and Dare Outer Banks,” the release said.

When the date is determined, a decision will be announced jointly by the two counties.

See release at https://www.darenc.com/Home/Components/News/News/6202/17

IN OTHER LOCAL COVID-19-RELATED NEWS . . . Hyde County has retracted its report of a confirmed COVID-19 case, saying that it was a hospital data error. This is the second time that Hyde has retracted a case report. It remains one of a handful of counties in North Carolina that has not received a positive COVID-19 test result.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 4/28/20

4/27/20: WHAT HAPPENED WITH BEACH NOURISHMENT, NO LEFT TURNS? SORTING THROUGH CONFUSION OF TOWN COUNCIL BUDGET WORKSHOP, PART 2.

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About three hours into the videotape of last week’s Town Council budget workshop, Interim Town Manager Wes Haskett again asked for ideas on how to balance the budget.

By the time Mr. Haskett reopened this discussion, Mayor Tom Bennett had already suggested covering the shortfall with money from the undesignated fund balance; and Town Councilman Matt Neal had laid out in detail his analysis, which took into account all relevant factors, including what Finance Officer Bonnie Swain called “a worst-case scenario” of a nearly $600,000 shortfall in tax revenues for the current fiscal year.

Mr. Neal proposed deducting the budget shortfall of $348,853 from the $662,340 allocated for FY 2020-21 infrastructure projects.

He also proposed additional expenses that would need to be deducted, such as money to cover six months of salary for a new full-time building inspector/code enforcement officer, who would be hired in December. (Benefits for this employee were not considered.)

What we believe Mr. Haskett should have done was to summarize what had been suggested by the Mayor and Mr. Neal and ask if anyone would like to make a motion. There had been ample time for budget-balancing ideas. His open-ended question only led to more confusion

Since yesterday’s Part One post on delving into the budget workshop, we have had time to hear, absorb, and ponder exactly what Mr. Haskett said about proposed beach nourishment costs after he reopened this discussion, and we have to wonder: What is the point in balancing the budget NOW?

We will get to the beach-nourishment cost zingers later. First, we would like to continue with the Council’s budget-shortfall discussions.

(We say “into the videotape” because the tape does not reflect real time. The meeting actually had run longer than three hours. You may view the videotape here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nIsG7Y-9bvk&feature=youtu.be.)

In response to Mr. Haskett, Mayor Bennett said, “As I said earlier, I’m comfortable taking [the budget deficit] out of our line-item for capital improvements and off-setting that with monies as they come in back into the fund balance.”

This confusing and untrue statement—the Mayor had said nothing earlier about deducting monies from the infrastructure project budget—drew a quick response from Ms. Swain, who restated it with considerably more detail.

After she did, Councilman Jim Conners said: “I’d like to make that motion.”

At this point, we think Mr. Neal was probably wondering how he had wandered into a “Twilight Zone” episode. He said something to Mr. Conners that is inaudible on the tape, but it concluded with a request that Mr. Conners “go ahead” with the motion.

“Oh,” said Mr. Conners, “I got to repeat all that?”

Yes, Councilman, you have to state motions. That is part of the job.

Mr. Conners then made a simple motion to balance the budget by deducting the shortfall from next year’s capital-improvement project appropriation, and Councilman Leo Holland seconded it. When the Mayor asked if there was any further discussion, Mr. Neal gamely stepped up again, saying he still saw $150,000 “unaccounted for.”

WHAT A FINE MESS

We feel Mr. Neal’s pain. We experienced our own in trying to make sense of last Tuesday’s muddled budget discussions, which we are trying gamely now to represent to you, dear readers. Even after listening to the videotape, we feel shock and bewilderment.

Returning to the chronology, Councilman Neal mentioned again the $35,000 expense for the new building inspector, $35,000 for a one-time staff bonus, and a $45,000 police grant that, if it did not come through—and a half-hour later, Ms. Swain announced that it had not—would leave the police department budget with a $45,000 deficit.

Eventually, after a lengthy discussion, Mr. Conners’s motion was amended to include a further $70,000 expense to be deducted from the infrastructure appropriation, to cover the building inspector’s salary and the staff bonus. The motion passed unanimously.

Before this occurred, however, the Mayor indicated within less than five minutes after Mr. Conners made his motion that “I’m not sure what [the motion] was now,” and when he called for a vote, he did not restate the motion. He made a habit of doing this during the workshop because he clearly could not remember the motions.

Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Morey had asked for clarification of Mr. Conners’s motion and the amendments, and Town Clerk Sheila Kane restated them. When Mayor Bennett called for a vote, he described the motion simply as being what “Sheila read to us.”

The Beacon wonders how much longer the Town Council will overlook and cover for the Mayor’s obvious memory and processing difficulties.

We are not unsympathetic, but the problem is there, and it is not going to improve.

Going back to the police grant . . . Thirty minutes later, in the middle of a discussion about applying for beach nourishment grants, Ms. Swain announced that she had heard from Police Chief David Kole that the police grant had fallen through, and the Finance Officer wanted to know what the Council would like her to do about that.

There was a motion on the floor that had been seconded about applying for beach nourishment grants when Ms. Swain interrupted to ask how the Council would like her to “cover” the $45,000 shortfall. (Remember, Mr. Neal was going to account for it by deducting from the FY 2020-21 infrastructure appropriation.)

Before calling a vote on the previous motion, which Ms. Morey had made, the Mayor made a motion to take the $45,000 out of the undesignated fund balance, which he corrected to the line-item infrastructure appropriation, when prompted by Mr. Neal.

This motion never came to a vote. When Ms. Kane asked the Mayor to repeat it, he could not. When he finally called Ms. Morey’s motion to a vote, he described it simply as “to do what Elizabeth suggested.”

I will not belabor this point—I could give many examples of the Mayor’s lapses—but I feel compelled to say that there is a problem here that needs addressing, with care and thoughtfulness

I have many years of experience as an elder caregiver, and I can say with confidence that truly kind people do not look the other way. They do not make excuses. There is also a responsibility to the public to consider.

MUDDLED THINKING, DECISION-MAKING

After watching the videotape, The Beacon can say with certainty that every discussion the Town Council had about an important substantive issue was confused and jumbled.

BEACH NOURISHMENT: Take the beach nourishment grants that are available through the N.C. Dept. of Environmental Quality’s Division of Water Resources (DWR).

Mr. Haskett should have opened this discussion by informing the Council that the N.C. General Assembly has allocated a total of $11.5 million to DWR’s Coastal Storm Damage Mitigation Fund to be used for beach-mitigation project grants not to exceed $2.5 million for a local government during the 2019-21 fiscal biennium.

Knowing the total amount of money available would have been useful information for the Council.

Mr. Haskett also should have informed the Council about what is required in an application.

The Council dealt with this grant as if it could, as the Mayor said, “pick a number” for a beach nourishment project—he suggested a round $15 million—without having a specific beach nourishment plan in mind.

We believe Mr. Haskett was deliberately vague and misled the Council, intentionally or otherwise.

The grant guidelines clearly state that an applicant must submit maps, a project site plan, engineering studies, and further “technical” details of a REAL project, including:

“all permit applications and issued permits that relate to the project.”

That is what the guidelines specify. They also state that “The applicant has an ongoing obligation to provide to DWR copies of permit applications and issued permits as promptly as possible.”

Inasmuch as the Town Council has not approved of, or funded, a beach-nourishment project, it cannot possibly submit permits for one.

It also would be relevant to know that after DWR issues an “award notice,” the applicant must enter into a grant contract with N.C. DEQ. The scope of the project, as well as all of the necessary site plans, engineering studies, permits, etc., etc., would be part of that contract.

See grant guidelines: https://files.nc.gov/ncdeq/Water%20Resources/documents/2019-2020-CSDM-Fund-Guidelines.pdf

Big Costs Now: But wait! Just before Mr. Haskett brought up the grant applications, he advised the Council that the top two coastal-engineering companies that had responded to the RFQ (request for qualifications) released by Duck for a coastal-engineering coordinator/consultant would soon be submitting their proposals for estimated costs.

The towns of Southern Shores, Kitty Hawk, and Kill Devil Hills all signed on to this RFQ, but our Town Council did so with the understanding that it was not making a commitment. It could always back out. Uh-huh.

Now Mr. Haskett was saying that if the Town continued to participate in this joint-coordinating effort, it would be paying monies to the consultant next month for beach profiles and surveys that would be done in FY 2020-21. These unspecified monies would be covered in a budget amendment next month, he said.

He also said that “they” had submitted a $450,000 proposal for permitting and design for Southern Shores’ 2022 beach nourishment, and that this money, too, would need to be appropriated by a budget amendment—apparently, in this fiscal year. We have no idea whom he meant by they.  The coastal engineering consultant/coordinator?

Mr. Haskett said that Dare County would pay $250,000 of the $450,000, but the Town would pay the rest.

No one mentioned that the Town has not yet approved a project. In fact, we doubt the Council even followed what Mr. Haskett was saying, and we fault him for bringing up such an important matter for the first time in the course of the only budget workshop that the Council will have.

In retrospect, we now see that without these profiles, surveys, permitting and design work, a grant application cannot be done.

The discussion that the Council had about which beach-nourishment plan option to propose for a grant was absurd. There currently is no project; there is just the suggestion of a project. Mayor Bennett twice said about beach nourishment when discussing a grant that “We haven’t made a decision on that yet.”

Ultimately, Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Morey made a motion that APTIM, which may be the coastal engineering coordinator selected by the towns, prepare two grant applications for two beach nourishment projects, for which it would be paid $4970.

She directed that the one project would be renourishment of the Pelican Watch oceanfront area, for which no engineering studies, site plans, permits, etc., are currently in hand. As for the other, she directed Mr. Haskett to “use option four [$14,755,600] as the basis for our grant application,” clearly stating that the Council was not approving that option.

The motion passed unanimously.

The State of North Carolina is not going to give $2.5 million for a theoretical or fantasy project—one that the Town may approve or may not approve.

How will the Council respond when beach-nourishment budget amendments come before it next month and in June? Mr. Haskett said that the permitting and designs “numbers” for the Town’s 2022 project will not be available until late May.

During the Council’s pick-a-number/pick-an-option discussion, Ms. Swain pointed out that if special obligation bonds are used to finance an eventual beach nourishment project, they would be backed by the Town’s occupancy and sales tax revenues, which are anything but certain now.

The Beacon believes beach nourishment has become a fine mess that the Town Council needs to hold a special public meeting with its Interim Town Manager to sort out.

NO-LEFT TURNS: More muddled thinking emerged in the discussion on implementing no-left turn weekends this summer.

Councilman Conners started with an apples-and-oranges analysis, saying, “I think that if we pull Dewberry Lane [a road rebuild costing $85,000], we should pull the no-left-turn monies,” which Mr. Haskett said would cost $6500 per weekend.

What one has to do with the other, we cannot imagine, but we can point out that the monies for three NLT weekends would be less than one-quarter of the monies paid for the road rebuild, and that the NLT weekends would benefit hundreds of homeowners instead of just the few who live on the Dewberry Lane cul de sac.

We call this muddled thinking. Mr. Conners then compounded it by doing a 180, suggesting that the Council allocate the $6500/weekend and then do an assessment, withdrawing the monies, later, if it thought wise to do so.

It was at this point that the Mayor sought to get Mr. Conners to make a motion to take the NLT weekends off of the table, and Mr. Conners decided to “back out of the discussion” altogether, deferring to others.

Mayor Pro Tem Morey, who is one of the Town Council sponsors of the Southern Shores Cut-Through Traffic Committee, suggested leaving the $20,000 appropriation out of the FY 2020-21 budget because of a likely lack of “decent traffic” this summer. Never mind what a godsend it would be to people on the cut-through route if, in fact, vacationers do return in numbers. A $20,000 appropriation would hardly break the bank.

Despite several public hearings during the past year in which many residents appealed for help with summertime traffic, Mr. Neal, who is another Council sponsor of the committee, and Ms. Morey view any turn prohibition this summer as simply a test.

They are focused on determining how much traffic would travel on South Dogwood Trail and other alternate bail-out roads (Juniper Trail, in particular), if the left turn at U.S. Hwy. 158/South Dogwood Trail were blocked.

The Beacon can assure them that the NLT weekends this summer mean much more to residents than just an opportunity for traffic counting. We are very disappointed that, according to Ms. Morey, Tommy Karole, the chairperson of the Cut-Through Traffic Committee, recommended that a budget appropriation not be made this summer. We believe monies should be in the budget.

Fortunately, Mr. Neal stepped up again with another reasonable proposition. He made a motion to put the NLT weekend budget item on the Council’s June 1 meeting agenda and to make a decision then. This motion passed unanimously.

The Council would do well to remember that it can change the FY 2020-21 budget up until June 30.

ENGINEERING CONTRACT TO BE BID OUT

We will hold for another day the Town Council’s decision-making, or lack thereof, on a new recycling contract. We have to contact N.C. DEQ before we can report properly—plus, we have already written too much for one blog.

We will finish today by reporting that the Council decided to bid out the Town’s engineering consultant contract, which expires June 30, after Mayor Bennett first made a motion to extend it for a year. Mr. Conners seconded the Mayor’s motion.

Deel Engineering, PLLC, entered into a contract with the Town for three years, starting in June 2016, and the Town Council, by a 3-2 vote, extended that contract last year for another year.

Although owner David Deel signed the contract, it is Joe Anlauf, who is an associate of Deel’s, not an employee, who actually does the Town’s engineering work. He is often referred to as the “Town Engineer.”

Ms. Morey objected to another year’s contract extension, saying, “I would like to bid it out and see what kind of interest we have from other engineers.”

Mr. Neal agreed with her, and then Mr. Holland showed support, so the Mayor withdrew his motion.

In yet another muddled move, the vote on Ms. Morey’s motion was 4-0, with Mr. Conners abstaining—although not noticeably so because all votes were by voice, not by hand-raising.

Mr. Conners explained that he had abstained because Ms. Morey had asked for an RFQ to be released by the Town, not an RFP (request for proposal). He failed to explain, however, why he did not bring up this distinction during the motion discussion.

All Council members said they wanted the RFQ to include a proposal of fees, and that was the understanding conveyed to Mr. Haskett.

And finally, we would feel remiss if we did not mention that Mayor Bennett brought up widening South Dogwood Trail, in light of encroachment by the new sidewalk, to get it up to “maximum width.”

He brought this matter up during the line-item examination of the public works budget, which was an inappropriate time to address it, and it did not go any further.

Next: the future of recycling in Southern Shores.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 4/27/20

4/26/20: COUNCILMAN NEAL STEPS UP: THE TOWN COUNCIL BUDGET WORKSHOP REPORT CONTINUED.

trashcans
The Beacon will discuss the possible future of Southern Shores’ curbside recycling program in an upcoming post.

The Beacon would like to appoint Town Councilman Matt Neal to be town manager, mayor, planner, and all-around problem-solver and fixer for the Town of Southern Shores.

But first we would like Mr. Neal to take elocution lessons so he can learn to speak up, project out, and not mumble—or at least mumble less.

And we would like the Town staff to ensure that, as long as the public has to participate in Town Council meetings by Zoom videoconferencing, we can hear Mr. Neal! Town Councilman Jim Conners’s voice is also hard to pick up.

After painstakingly reviewing the videotape of last Tuesday’s Town Council budget workshop, we still could not hear Councilman Neal well—and closed captions didn’t help!—but what we could hear, we liked. He was knowledgeable, prepared, and on the ball. We did not always agree with his priorities, but we respected his thinking.

In his speed to wrap up the budget workshop, however—or, just simply, because his mind works quickly—Mr. Neal inadvertently stoked the confusion upon which we commented, with dismay, last week.

After Town staff spent 2 ½ hours last Tuesday morning, painstakingly going over the proposed fiscal year 2020-21 budget—department-by-department, line-by-line, nickel-by dime—the Town Council finally got a chance to analyze the proposal and weigh in on how they would like to eliminate a projected $348,853 shortfall.

(This tedious process has to end. A town manager, who is also the town budget officer, does not need to present to the Town Council at a public meeting every line-item cost of every town department. We hope the new town manager will mercifully create a new process. The Town Council will be electronically interviewing top candidates for the job next Friday in a closed session.)

The proposed FY 2020-21 budget prepared by Interim Town Manager/Budget Officer Wes Haskett and Finance Officer Bonnie Swain projects $5,953,243 in revenues and $6,302,096 in expenses, hence, a deficit of $348,853.

Mayor Tom Bennett suggested using monies from the Town’s undesignated fund balance to cover the deficit and balance the budget, but he received no support from other Town Council members for this proposal. After his idea met with silence, Mr. Neal essentially took over the discussion—politely, of course—framing an analysis and approach that eventually held sway.

There is no question that the young builder likes numbers, and he knows how to work with them. The Beacon endorsed him last fall for this aptitude, as well as others that he possesses. We just wish we could hear him!

TAXES AND SAVINGS

Key to Mr. Neal’s analysis and Council members’ discussions that culminated in unanimous approval of Mr. Neal’s analysis were figures provided by Finance Officer Bonnie Swain in a handout that was not included in the meeting packet posted online.

Ms. Swain presented these figures before the line-by-line examination of the proposed budget. They were of some FY 2019-20 budget revenues and expenses that showed how the current fiscal year has been up-ended by the coronavirus pandemic.

According to Ms. Swain, the Town this year has collected about 70.52 percent of the occupancy taxes that she and former Town Manager Peter Rascoe budgeted for FY 2019-20. Of the sales taxes budgeted for the current fiscal year, 73 percent have been collected, she said; and of the budgeted land-transfer taxes, 78.38 percent.

Dare County pays towns their proportionate share of occupancy taxes on a monthly basis, Ms. Swain explained. Southern Shores’ share of May and June occupancy taxes will not be paid to the Town until July and August.

How much LESS tax money will the Town receive in FY 2019-20 than the staff budgeted to receive?

In a “worst-case scenario,” the Finance Officer said, where “no more money comes in” for FY 2019-20 occupancy, sales, and land-use transfer taxes, the Town’s revenues from these taxes would be $595,048 less than budgeted. That’s the bad news.

The good news, she said, is that the Town has “savings” in the current fiscal-year budget from projects that came in under budget, projects that did not get done, and expenses that were not incurred. We’ll call these savings “surplus.”

This surplus includes $278,000 left over from the $1 million appropriated for the South Dogwood Trail sidewalk; $315,000 in capital-improvement project money that was not spent; $314,000 for a year’s debt service on the new fire station that will not be paid until July 1; and $194,030 in funds budgeted for Town building upgrades that did not occur.

(SSVFD Fire Chief Ed Limbacher is now projecting a completion date of the new fire station in June or July.)

The Town also expects to receive a grant from the Dare County Tourism Bureau of $260,993, to offset some of the costs of the South Dogwood Trail sidewalk.

Considering the more than $1 million surplus, which will roll over into the undesignated fund balance, Ms. Swain said, “I think that we’re in pretty good shape.”

As for the undesignated fund balance itself, the Finance Officer said, “You can only get a true picture of the fund balance on June 30” each year, because it’s a “moving target every day,” what with receivables and payables.

“It’s a hard thing to predict,” she said.

The Beacon would have liked Ms. Swain to guesstimate what is in this reserve fund, which is used for emergencies and for budget amendments throughout a fiscal year. A Southern Shores financial officer certainly should have a general sense of how much the Town has in reserve, especially since the Town is required to maintain a minimum for disaster relief.

As of June 30, 2019, nearly 10 months ago, the Town’s auditor reported the balance was $4,173,321. During FY 2019-20, according to Town budget accounting, $1,406,411 were appropriated from the fund for expenditures, chiefly the construction of the South Dogwood Trail sidewalk.

Ms. Swain also explained that in estimating tax revenues for FY 2020-21, she and Mr. Haskett figured that the Town’s share of the County’s occupancy taxes in July would be reduced by 50 percent; in August, by 30 percent; in September, by 20 percent; and in October, by 10 percent. After October, she projected that the revenues would be flat, with no reduction.

Ms. Swain said that Dare County towns have “worked collectively” on these projections, but acknowledged that no one has a “crystal ball.”

“When we open, are the people going to come?” she asked. No one knows.

Over the full proposed FY 2020-21 budget, occupancy taxes are 20 percent lower than last year’s revenue, “a number we feel comfortable with,” Ms. Swain said.

She also calculated an overall reduction in sales tax revenue of 5 percent over last year, and a 2.5-percent reduction in land-transfer taxes.

Ms. Swain included no expenses in the proposed FY 2020-21 budget for hurricane cleanup and recovery. If the Town does incur hurricane-related expenses—which, eventually, the Federal Emergency Management Agency would reimburse—it will have to do a budget amendment and appropriate monies from the undesignated fund balance.

“We’re being optimistic,” Ms. Swain said, “we’re not going to have any hurricanes.”

COUNCILMAN NEAL’S ANALYSIS

Councilman Neal considered the additional worst-case scenario tax shortfall of $595,048 in the current fiscal year; the surplus this year of over $1 million; the estimated reductions in occupancy, sales, and land-transfer tax revenues; and the possibility of hurricane expenses—in addition to the $348,853 budget deficit and a “short list” of elective expenses that he sought to prioritize—and came up with a plan.

And he did this without being clearly audible to the Zoom audience.

The first step, he said, was not the one suggested by the Mayor. It was to remove from the proposed budget $662,340 in expenses that had been allocated for infrastructure projects. This dollar amount was the same amount set aside during the current fiscal year. It is “revenue derived from 5 cents on the current [ad valorem] tax rate,” as Mr. Rascoe explained in his draft FY 2019-20 budget proposal.

In comparison to the details included by Mr. Rascoe, and presumably, Ms. Swain, in last year’s draft proposal, the memorandum accompanying the draft FY 2020-21 proposal is skimpy.

Mr. Neal subtracted the $348,853 deficit from this amount and then started subtracting other expenses from the roughly $313,000 that remained. Some of these expenses had been proposed by Mr. Haskett and Ms. Swain; some of them were scheduled on the agenda to be decided later; and one of them Mr. Neal initiated on his own. They were:

*$35,000 to pay the salary for six months of a new full-time building inspector/code enforcement officer (staff);

*$20,000 or so (someone said $24,000; the public did not receive the dollar amount) for three no-left-turn weekends (on agenda for discussion later);

*incidental costs for a beach nourishment project (later);

*increased costs for a recycling contract (about $6,000 more; discussion on-going)

*$35,000 for one-time COVID-19 bonus payments to staff members (Mr. Neal suggested rewarding the staff, who were not getting cost-of-living increases under the proposed budget, and Mr. Haskett and Ms. Swain had a bonus system at the ready: $1,000 for full-time employees, $500 for part-timers.)

This is when the meeting went off the rails, but it was not Mr. Neal’s doing, it was Mr. Haskett’s.

The Interim Town Manager opened up the afternoon deliberation session by inviting the Town Council to address balancing the budget before they considered what Mr. Neal referred to as “elective” expenses, chiefly, beach nourishment, the no-left turn weekends, and capital street projects. Mr. Haskett needed to be more directive and not so open-ended—especially now that Mr. Neal is on the Council.

Understandably, given the opening, Mr. Neal was off and running—his mind was clicking, and the morning session had been long and tedious—until Mr. Haskett eventually stopped him. But the young Councilman’s big-picture analysis was out of the box, and it influenced later proceedings.

As The Beacon complained in our first blog about the budget workshop, the Town Council voted to apply for two beach nourishment grants from the N.C. Dept. of Environmental Quality’s Coastal Storm Damage Mitigation Fund without first approving beach nourishment itself and then choosing a project from among the four options it had to consider.

This was highly irregular. Now we understand better what happened because we have heard more of what happened.

FINISHING UP AND COUNCILMAN CONNERS’S ‘MY BAD’

We will tie up this budget workshop report here and pick up tomorrow or Tuesday with amplification, based on the videotape, on the decision-making about the recycling contract, the no-left-turn weekends, the beach-nourishment grants, and the engineering consultant’s contract, which expires June 30.

We believe some of the Town Council members did not appreciate that a fixed-rate recycling contract for five years—which RDS of Virginia has offered—is preferable to a contract with a price that is market-variable.

Under RDS’s contract, the recycling company assumes the risk of the market volatility, not the Town, but the Town has to do something about contamination in recyclables. And we believe it should. Abandoning the program should not be an option on the table.

Councilman Neal propounded a policy of “pushing down the road” decisions that could be delayed, and the Council embraced this approach. It voted unanimously, for example, to delay a decision on spending money on rebuilding Dewberry Lane until the fall, when the Town will know better what financial shape it is in.

“In 90 days,” Mr. Neal suggested, the financial picture will be “less uncertain.”

The Dewberry construction project has been bid, and the low bidder, RPC, came in at $85,250, Mr. Haskett said.

It is a shame that Mr. Haskett and Ms. Swain did not propose this approach themselves, instead of the Town Council. They  should have generated ideas and recommendations for the Council to consider.

‘OUR BAD’

Although we think we were justified in believing that Councilman Conners admitted to an open-meeting violation at the workshop, we now know that Mr. Conners’s precise words were: “We talked about that [the proposed recycling contract] at length earlier, inappropriately, and that’s my bad.”

Mr. Conners was difficult to hear, and we did not believe he had talked inappropriately about anything during the meeting, but he apparently believed he had.

The Councilman discussed the proposed recycling contract during a morning breakdown of proposed costs in the sanitation department budget. It came up because Mr. Haskett and Ms. Swain have budgeted $189,500 for FY 2020-21 recycling collection, an amount to be paid to Bay Disposal and Recycling to haul curbside recycling to the Wheelabrator incinerator in Portsmouth, not to a recycling facility.

This amount would increase to roughly $195,000, Ms. Swain said, if the Town were to contract with RDS of Virginia and Bay Disposal separately. Bay Disposal would haul the Town’s curbside recyclables to RDS’s processing facility where they would be recycled, not burned.

The morning discussion on recycling seemed quite appropriate and informative and certainly nothing for which Mr. Conners had to apologize. The recycling contract was not on the afternoon meeting agenda.

We regret the error in our interpretation. In normal times, we would have contacted Mr. Conners and confirmed the meaning of his statement. But, with all of the COVID-19 reporting we have been doing, we were pressed for time. No excuses. We should have reached out to Mr. Conners.

Our bad.

We would like to end this blog by giving more credit where credit is due. Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Morey was the Council member who spoke of a worse worst-case scenario, not Mr. Neal, as we thought.

“This thing could come back,” she said in reference to the coronavirus.

The thoughtfulness in Ms. Morey’s decision-making came out in the afternoon session after Mr. Neal unveiled his analysis.

Town Councilman Leo Holland also sought austerity in these uncertain and hard times, as did Mr. Conners, both of whom tried to reduce or stagger some big-ticket expenses in the police and fire department budgets, respectively.

“I don’t think it’s [the economy] going to come back as quick as we all think it is,” Mr. Holland said, after relating a Wall Street Journal item he had read that predicted it would take 27 months for the national economy to rebound.

To which, Mr. Neal replied: “I don’t disagree with you, Leo.”

Time—even just 90 days—will tell more.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 4/26/20

4/25/20: HYDE COUNTY REPORTS FIRST COVID-19 CASE ON DAY IT ANNOUNCES REENTRY OF OCRACOKE NON-RESIDENT PROPERTY OWNERS. STATE CASE REPORTS HIT SINGLE-DAY HIGH.

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Hyde County yesterday reported its first confirmed case of COVID-19 and announced plans to lift on May 11 entry restrictions imposed upon Ocracoke non-resident property owners. The county’s Board of Commissioners also yesterday extended Hyde’s stay-at-home order until May 22.

The Hyde Board of Commissioners had previously adopted the guidelines set forth in Governor Roy Cooper’s statewide stay-at-home order, which, set to expire April 29, was extended last week to May 8. Hyde County’s extension to May 22 tracks with the extension announced by Dare County of its Stay Home-Stay Healthy order.

Hyde County lifted restrictions on the entry of non-resident property owners to the county’s mainland on April 9. The county seat is Swan Quarter.

Ocracoke entry information: http://www/hydecountync.gov/ocracoke-covid/index.php

Mainland entry: http://www.hydecountync.gov/mainland_covid-19_entry/index.php

Yesterday’s announcement: http://hydecountync.gov/Press%20Release%20-%20SOE%20Admendment%204.pdf

Hyde County’s report of its first COVID-19 case means that among counties in Eastern North Carolina, only Camden County, which is between Currituck and Pasquotank counties, has not reported a case. Only four other counties in North Carolina have not reported a confirmed COVID-19 case, and they are all in the western mountains.

The N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services today reported 571 more confirmed cases of COVID-19 over yesterday’s total, marking the state’s largest single-day increase. The previous high for a single-day increase was Friday’s total of 444 new cases.

NCDHHS also reported an increase in the number of COVID-19-related deaths of 20, for a total of 289 deaths.

The Beacon does not usually report case or death totals, but we considered the record single-day increase significant in light of the metrics outlined by NCDHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen at the Governor’s press conference last Wednesday. Governor Cooper said he was extending his stay-at-home order until May 8 because the case data do not yet justify reopening the state by initiating Phase One of a three-phase plan he outlined.

Among the telltale metrics that must decline before reopening will begin, the Governor said, are the number of lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases over a 14-day period and the number of positive COVID-19 test results over 14 days.

 Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 4/25/20

 

4/24/20: GOVERNOR CLOSES K-12 SCHOOLS THROUGH SCHOOL YEAR, ANNOUNCES HOW HE WOULD LIKE $1.4 BILLION IN FEDERAL COVID-19 AID TO BE DISTRIBUTED IN STATE. Plus, He Has Georgia On His Mind.

remotelearning 

As expected, Governor Roy Cooper today extended through the academic year that ends in June his executive order that closed all K-12 public schools until May 15. Students will “continue remote learning for the rest of the school year,” he said.

In announcing his decision to keep public schools closed indefinitely for “in-person instruction,” the Governor, as well as two top state education officials who spoke at today’s press conference, made clear that they are preparing for a “new normal” model of education and learning in the fall.

“The next school year will not be business as usual,” the Governor said, a message echoed by N.C. School Superintendent Mark Johnson and N.C. Board of Education Chairman Eric Davis, each of whom spoke about being ready and proactive during a continued COVID-19 crisis.

The Governor also announced today his proposal for how $1.4 billion in federal aid to North Carolina should be spent. The federal monies are available through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Security (CARES) Act.

State Budget Director Charles Perusse outlined how the Governor’s proposed allocations address the “immediate needs” in three areas: 1) public health and safety; 2) continuity of operations for education and state government services; and 3) assistance to small businesses and local governments.

According to Mr. Perusse, the Governor has proposed $300 million be allocated to public health and safety; $740 million to education and state government; and $175 million to small businesses and municipal governments in need.

Breaking down these figures further, Mr. Perusse said that the Governor has recommended $243 million be allocated to K-12 public education; $77.4 million to higher education; $300 million to on-going major transportation operations; $75 million to small businesses through the Golden LEAF Foundation; and $300 million to local governments, who would benefit based on their populations.

Mr. Perusse said that leadership in both the N.C. House of Representatives and the N.C. Senate is supportive of the Governor’s proposal. The N.C. General Assembly will be back in session on Tuesday.

According to Superintendent Johnson, “Plans for next [school] year are already under way” and take into account the safety of students, educators, and all school workers.

Some of the ideas suggested by the Governor and the school officials for instruction in the fall include 6-foot physical distancing among students and teachers, increased spacing between classrooms, the elimination of common areas, the staggering of instruction days, and revised hygiene protocols.

The Governor also mentioned the possibility of eliminating sports programs.

As he did in his earlier press conferences this week, Governor Cooper spoke about making decisions based on “science, data, and trends” and warned: “This pandemic will be with us for some time.”

WHAT ABOUT GEORGIA?

 During the media question period, Governor was asked about his concerns related to the loosening of COVID-19 restrictions by the nearby states of South Carolina and Georgia. He expressed concerns about both states, but focused on Georgia.

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, who was slow to issue a stay-at-home order, has permitted hair and nail salons, gyms, tattoo parlors, massage therapists, and other close-contact businesses to reopen today even though COVID-19 cases and deaths in that state are still on the rise.

Despite the close proximity of people in such businesses, the Governor also has urged people to continue to observe social distancing, as well as to wear face masks and gloves and to practice rigorous hygiene protocols

On Monday, Georgia’s theaters, social clubs, and dine-in restaurants will be able to open, as well, on a limited basis.

Governor Cooper said he is very concerned about Georgia’s actions “potentially hurting North Carolinians,” either by North Carolinians traveling to Georgia and being infected by the coronavirus or by Georgians traveling to North Carolina and bringing the coronavirus with them. He said he would be speaking with Governor Kemp today and would be asking him to “take a second look at” his rollback of restrictions.

A portion of Western North Carolina shares a state border with Georgia.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has publicly disagreed with Governor Kemp’s decision, favoring taking less drastic steps to make the stay-at-home order more palatable to citizens.

Governor Kemp received unwelcome notoriety earlier when he belatedly issued the state’s stay-at-home order only after he admitted to learning that asymptomatic people could transmit COVID-19—months after this mode of transmissibility had become well-known.

TODAY’S DARE COUNTY EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT BULLETIN

 In today’s emergency bulletin, Dare County announces that starting next week the Joint Information Center, which the Dare County Control Group set up to coordinate important COVID-19 communications, will provide video updates twice weekly on Tuesday and Thursday, and issue COVID-19 bulletins three times a week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, unless information warrants additional updates.

Dare County and N.C. COVID-19 cases will continue to be updated daily and will be available at darenc.com/covid19.

See Bulletin no. 51 at https://www.darenc.com/Home/Components/News/News/6190/1483.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 4/24/20