10/19/20: TOWN MANAGER TO START LONG-RANGE BUDGETARY, CAPITAL PROJECT PLANNING AT COUNCIL WORKSHOP TOMORROW. PLEASE TUNE IN: MEETING WILL BE LIVE-STREAMED, NOT ZOOMED.

A Halloween tableau on East Dogwood Trail. We will feature others in town during the next 12 days.

If you have a stake in the future of Southern Shores in terms of how its revenues will be spent, how and which of its capital improvements will be funded, and how its land-use planning will proceed, we strongly urge you to attend or live-stream the Town Council’s budget workshop tomorrow at 9 a.m. in the Pitts Center.

Town Manager Cliff Ogburn has designated tomorrow’s budget discussion as the first step in an FY 2021-22 budget adoption process (see p. 16 of the meeting materials) that will culminate next June.

See the meeting packet at: https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/minutes-agendas-newsletters/Meeting-Packet_2020-10-20.pdf

He also intends to use this forum for other key budgetary decisions, including what to do with the FY 2020-21 revenue surplus that the Town has, thanks to the large influx of vacationers who were undeterred by COVID-19, and how to start long-range planning, which the previous town manager never did.

The meeting will be live-streamed, but not Zoomed. It is open to members of the public who wear masks and practice social distancing. See the Town’s YouTube site at https://www.youtube.com/user/TownofSouthernShores.

This is the second time that a Southern Shores Town Council meeting will be live-streamed, thanks to Mr. Ogburn, who has made this convenience standard procedure. The first was the Oct. 6 meeting.

If you do not attend the meeting in person and wish to comment during the one public comment period scheduled, please email your comment to Town Clerk Sheila Kane by 5 p.m. today, and either the Mayor or the Mayor Pro Tem will read it at the meeting.

Please limit your comment to three minutes’ reading time. Ms. Kane’s email address is skane@southernshores-nc.gov.

You may access the agenda here: https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/minutes-agendas-newsletters/Agendas_2020-10-20.pdf.

BUDGETARY PLANNING

We have had the time only to skim, not peruse, all of Mr. Ogburn’s meeting materials, but we are impressed with his work product: his preparation, his proposals, his direction, and his forward thinking. We summarize it as follows:

*The Town Manager has asked the Town Council to consider amending the FY 2020-21 budget to include items that the Council previously cut in anticipation of lost revenues due to the effects of COVID-19. These include Town building upgrades previously discussed; and street improvement projects that were postponed, such as the reconstruction of Hillcrest Drive from its intersection with Hickory Trail to the SSCA tennis courts.

A total of $1,612,102 was budgeted in FY 2020-21, and then removed by the Town Council to guard against a COVID-19 revenue shortfall, for these expenditures.

*Mr. Ogburn is seeking a discussion on new expenditures for FY 2020-21, such as those for the start of an ongoing beach nourishment fund, Town website improvements, police equipment and an additional police officer, and a gradual increase in the amount that the Town is required to maintain in the Unassigned Fund Balance, which accountant/auditor Teresa Osborne reported two weeks ago had $5,995,546 in it,  as of July 30,2020.

This is an increase of $1,822,225 over the balance in the fund as of July 30, 2019, according to Ms. Osborne.

These additional recommended expenses total $636,500, according to Mr. Ogburn’s proposed budget figures on page 14 of the meeting packet.

Mr. Ogburn already has obtained a proposal from Outer Banks Internet for a redesigned and upgraded Town website, to be operated on WordPress software, which The Beacon uses. (See pp. 17-24 of the meeting packet.)

We enthusiastically support an overhauled website and say: Thank you! It’s about time.

We also strongly support Mr. Ogburn’s idea that the minimum balance of the Town’s Unassigned Fund Balance, which now must be maintained with at least $1.75 million in it for emergency purposes, be increased over a period of five years to $3 million. In the first fiscal year, he proposes allocating $250,000 to the fund.

*Mr. Ogburn also proposes that the Town Council discuss at tomorrow’s workshop a potential framework for a “concerted strategic long-range planning process.” He suggests that the elected officials first take up a Capital Improvement Plan with projected spending over a five-year period. 

A “capital improvement,” according to the meeting materials compiled by Mr. Ogburn, is one with a cost of at least $5,000 and a useful life of five years or more. It is typically related to street improvements, new staff positions, real property acquisition or development, a large dollar expenditure, vehicles, etc., etc. (See p. 9 of the packet.).

Mr. Ogburn presents his draft capital improvement plan for the current fiscal year through fiscal year 2025-26 in the meeting packet on pp. 14-15. It shows the debt service due on the new fire station, as well as projections for beach nourishment funding, in the event the 2022 project costs $16,685,800.

“Development of the Capital Improvement Plan is intended to ensure that decision makers are responsible to residents and businesses of the Town with respect to the expenditure of public funds,” Mr. Ogburn writes. “The CIP also promotes the delivery of continuous efficient services. It is an actual plan that lays out a budget for and a schedule of municipal expenditures. . . . ”

Here, here.

“Without accurately and adequately preparing for future expenditures,” he continues, “communities are left to implement improvements based on emergencies or surprises.”

We will stop here and let Mr. Ogburn himself pick up tomorrow.

We congratulate our new town manager for doing the heavy lifting on long-range Town planning and budgeting that should have been done years ago. He is the proverbial breath of fresh air in an environment that has been stale for too long.

Please give him an audience and share with him your opinions and ideas.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 10/19/20

10/16/20: DARE REPORTS 13 NEW COVID-19 CASES TODAY, HIGHEST NUMBER SINCE JULY 27; NINE OF 13 ARE LOCALS.

Dare County reported 13 new COVID-19 cases today at 4:15 p.m. on its health department dashboard—45 minutes after The Beacon posted its 3:30 p.m. blog about North Carolina breaking its single-day case record high, set yesterday, with 2,684 today.

With the exception of Aug. 25, when the Dare County Dept. of Health and Human Services dashboard recorded 12 new COVID-19 cases, you have to go back to July to find daily case updates in Dare in the double-digits.

On July 27, the last double-digit day in July, the DCDHHS reported 16 new COVID-19 cases—the highest single-day total ever in Dare, also notable because 15 of the 16 cases were nonresidents.

Of today’s 13 new cases, nine are Dare County residents, and four are nonresidents.

The 13 cases are primarily clustered in the older age groups, with five of the people testing positive for COVID-19 being between ages 50-64 and six people being age 65 or older. Four of the over-65 cases are Dare County residents.

The remaining two people who tested positive are a male resident, ages 18-24, who is isolating outside of Dare County; and a female resident age 17 or under. 

All 13 people are in isolation: Four of the nonresidents are isolating in Dare County.  

Today’s injection of 13 cases brings Dare County’s total number of COVID-19 positive cases to 623: 344 residents and 279 nonresidents.

See The Beacon’s previous post for information about the drive-thru COVID-19 testing event to be held next Tuesday in Buxton.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 10/16/20

10/16/20: NC HITS ANOTHER COVID-19 RECORD HIGH WITH 2,684 CASES; DARE SCHEDULES DRIVE-THRU TESTING TUESDAY IN BUXTON.

The Governor would like you to take your pick, although No. 12 offers the least protection to others.

North Carolina health departments reported a total of 2,684 new COVID-19 cases during the past 24 hours, thereby setting a new single-day record that broke yesterday’s new single-day record by 152 cases.

The shock of yesterday’s 2,532 new COVID-19 cases has already worn off, replaced by the sense that we may only be witnessing the beginning of a steeply upward trend.

For the past 11 days, more than 1,000 people have been hospitalized daily across the state for COVID-19. This is with 96 percent of hospitals reporting, according to the N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services.

N.C. daily hospitalization totals of more than 1,000 were common in July and August, but, since Aug. 26, hospitalizations have been consistently under 1,000—until Oct. 5, which was the Monday after the first weekend of Phase 3 in North Carolina.

Governor Roy Cooper initiated Phase 3 of North Carolina’s reopening at 5 p.m. on Oct. 2, lifting restrictions—but imposing capacity limits and other safeguards—on movie theaters, indoor conference and entertainment facilities, and indoor and outdoor event venues in which crowds of spectators gather. 

The initiation of Phase 2.5 on Sept. 4 did not correlate with an uptick statewide in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, even though fitness centers, physical activity facilities, and museums were allowed to reopen at limited capacity, and mass gathering capacity limits were increased.

Both the Governor and Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen have spoken in their recent coronavirus briefings about people “letting down their guard.”

Will a rollback to Phase 2.5 be necessary to convince North Carolinians to raise their guard again? How about a rollback to Phase 2? Is a rollback even an option, considering what the Governor described yesterday as people’s “weariness and frustration”?

As of today, 3,910 North Carolinians have died because of COVID-19, according to the NCDHHS dashboard.

DARE COUNTY TO HOLD DRIVE-THRU TESTING EVENT

Between Oct. 5 and Oct. 15, Dare County averaged a daily total of 2.8 new COVID-19 cases, including both residents and nonresidents. In the past four days, however, the case reports have trended upward, with an average daily total of 5.25 cases.

Since Monday—not including today’s total, which had not been posted as of 3:30 p.m.—15 Dare County residents have tested positive for COVID-19, including three who are age 65 or older. No one has been hospitalized.

Dare County and its partner, Mako Medical Laboratories of Raleigh, have scheduled a drive-thru COVID-19 testing event on Hatteras Island next Tuesday, starting at 10:30 a.m., for permanent Dare residents age 5 or older.

The event will be held at the Cape Hatteras Elementary School at 47500 Middle Ridge Road in Buxton.

To be tested, you must register for an appointment by calling (252) 475-5008, between 8:30a.m. and 5 p.m., M-F. You will be required to email a photocopy of a government-issued ID card and an insurance card before the event.

Insured participants will not incur any out-of-pocket cost. All insurance plans fully cover the COVID-19 diagnostic test, including Medicaid and Medicare, according to the Dare County Dept. of Health and Human Services.

Mako Labs will use the COVID-19 Relief Fund to cover the cost of testing uninsured participants.

The DCDHHS will call you within 72 hours of your test with the results.

This diagnostic testing is only for asymptomatic people. If you have symptoms of COVID-19, the DCDHHS advises you to call your physician.

For more information on testing sites in Dare County, please visit darenc.com/covidtesting.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 10/16/20

10/15/20: ON A RECORD HIGH DAY FOR COVID-19 CASES, GOVERNOR HAS A SINGULAR MESSAGE: WEAR A MASK; ‘ABIDE’ BY THE VIRUS SAFEGUARDS IN PLACE.

North Carolina’s “highest one-day record” today of 2,532 new COVID-19 cases did not induce Governor Roy Cooper to change at his afternoon coronavirus briefing the message he has given at every other such briefing for months or to bolster the safeguards he has already put in place to prevent the virus’s spread.

Next week, he said, he will “look at the science and the data over a 14-day period . . . [and] make a decision about Phase 3 extension.” Phase 3 is set to expire at 5 p.m. on Oct. 23.

Next week, he will consider whether his recent loosening of restrictions on movie theaters, amusement parks, and other venues that had been closed has contributed to the recent upward trends of all of the State’s COVID-19 metrics, including: the number of people presenting to emergency departments with COVID-like symptoms, the number of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, and the percent positive rates.

Today, the Governor just wanted to stress one word during his 40-minute briefing with Secretary Mandy Cohen of the N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services, and that word was mask, as in North Carolinians need to “pull together,” “be responsible,” and “wear a mask.”

If they do, he said, they can “drive [the] numbers down.”

“The science is clear on masks: They work,” Dr. Cohen said emphatically, after detailing State data on COVID-19 that show, “We are moving in the wrong direction.”

The Secretary asked everyone to wear a mask “when you are with people you don’t live with,” including extended family and close friends.

“We cannot let weariness and frustration win out,” the Governor said, also advising people to wear masks when they “are with friends, extended family, or just running into the store for a second.”

The Governor exhorted North Carolinians to be “even more vigilant,” now that “we’ve seen higher numbers,” in exercising precautions such as wearing masks, social distancing, washing hands, and avoiding crowds.

“Complacency will cost lives,” he said, “and hurt our economy.”

Addressing the reason for the upward trends in all of the metrics, Secretary Cohen said she could not pinpoint “one place, one age group, or one type of activity.” 

There is “not one geographic area or industry to blame,” Governor Cooper observed.

Asked by a reporter whether the virus might be changing and intensifying, Secretary Cohen said it was not and had not, but that the virus “likes” the lower temperatures and lower rates of humidity that we have now.

Both are “more conducive for the virus to spread,” she said.

Dr. Cohen also reiterated that there is “more chance for viral spread indoors,” and people are increasingly moving indoors with the cooler weather.

Room ventilation, she said in response to another reporter’s question, “can be an important factor,” but she stressed that “it is only one component that we need to think about.”

The Secretary would rather “avoid virus particles getting into the air to begin with,” and that starts with people wearing masks.

Dr. Cohen also revealed in her update that she has received “numerous reports from [local] health departments of people refusing to share contact information.” She encouraged people to cooperate, pointing out that all information is private.

Pressed about this lack of communication by a reporter later, Dr. Cohen said that “about half of the folks [being contacted] are not responding to calls,” thus significantly hindering contact tracing statewide.

When a reporter from Dunn, N.C., tried to pin Dr. Cohen down on the number of people in North Carolina who had died from COVID-19 and were under the age of 65 or lacking an underlying condition, she demurred on a figure, referring him to the NCDHHS dashboard, which records deaths and breaks them down by age, sex, ethnicity, and other factors.

The reporter said a U.S. Congressman Richard Hudson, a Republican who represents North Carolina’s eighth U.S. congressional district, had told him that only 52 people under the age of 65 had died from COVID-19. The eighth district encompasses a large portion of the southern Piedmont area.

Secretary Cohen disputed this contention and pointed out that “Nearly half of adults in North Carolina have an underlying health condition that puts them at higher risk of severe illness” from COVID-19.

Governor Cooper had an even better rejoinder, which he has used before.

“Having a preexisting condition or being over the age of 65 shouldn’t be a death sentence,” he said.

(Another reporter who posed a subsequent question said that the NCDHHS dashboard shows that “hundreds” of North Carolinians under the age of 65 have died of COVID-19, but we have been unable to confirm this. If anyone can locate on the dashboard the demographic breakdown of the people who have died, please email us at ssbeaconeditor@gmail.com. This information once was readily available, but not so anymore. Posted 10/16/20.)

In other news, the Governor announced that renters in need of assistance with paying their rent and utilities may now apply to the N.C. Housing Opportunities and Prevention of Evictions (HOPE) program for financial support. The eligibility requirements and an application for a grant from HOPE, which has a $117 million fund, are available at nc211.org/hope.

Governor Cooper also reported that the State would submit to federal officials tomorrow its plan for COVID-19 vaccine distribution. At-risk people, such as first responders and residents of nursing homes, will be given priority to receive the “limited supply of vaccine” that will be available at first, the Governor and the Secretary confirmed.

Dr. Cohen noted that a number of vaccines are currently in clinical trials, but no manufacturer has applied to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for vaccine approval yet.

No mention was made of the White House Coronavirus Task Force having put North Carolina in the red zone of COVID-19 risk, as we reported in a post earlier today.

(This article was revised 10/16/20.)

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 10/15/20

10/15/20: GOVERNOR TO SPEAK ABOUT COVID-19 TODAY AT 3 P.M. AFTER STATE RECORDS HIGHEST SINGLE-DAY CASE INCREASE EVER, ENTERS RISK ‘RED ZONE.’

Governor Roy Cooper will hold a coronavirus briefing today at 3 p.m., after today’s N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services dashboard reported the State’s highest single-day new-case total ever at 2,532, and the White House Coronavirus Task Force put North Carolina back in the COVID-19 risk “red zone” for its rising number of cases this month.

North Carolina was last in the red zone in early September, during a brief case spike, but it has been in the orange zone since then.

There are currently 26 states in the red zone, which means that they have experienced 100 new cases daily per 100,000 residents during the past week.

See https://publicintegrity.org/health/coronavirus-and-inequality/states-in-red-zone-for-coronavirus-cases-grow-to-26/

In rapid-fire online research, we learned that the orange zone is defined as 10 to 25 new cases daily per 100,000 residents and that there are two other zones below the orange zone: yellow (one to nine new cases per 100,000) and green (fewer than one case per 100,000). (We will sort this out further after the Governor’s press conference.)

Total daily cases in North Carolina during the past seven days are reportedly 8 percent higher than the previous seven days—reaching peaks that were last seen in July.

The Beacon has calculated case increases daily in North Carolina since early May and can vouch for today’s total being the State’s highest, with the exception of two days when special circumstances bumped up the totals (Aug. 29 and Sept. 25).

You may live-stream the Governor’s briefing at: https://www.unctv.org/watch/live-stream/eoc/?utm_source=leaderboard&utm_medium=website&utm_campaign=EMWCopper; or watch it on UNC-TV, channel 3.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 10/15/20

10/15/20: TOWN HIRING NEW PERMIT OFFICER, FULL-TIME BUILDING INSPECTOR/CODE ENFORCEMENT OFFICER; PLUS NEWS ABOUT BEACH NOURISHMENT, TOWN CODE REWRITE, PLANNING BOARD, AND MORE.

Just a reminder: Tree stumps placed in the public right-of-way for pickup tomorrow during the Town’s bulk-waste collection will be rejected, as will lumber and other building supplies. Television sets are also verboten. You will find the list of acceptable items for roadside disposal on the Town website. Just look at the top of the home page.

The Southern Shores Planning and Code Enforcement Department will change radically soon, with the hiring of two new employees to replace longtime Permit Officer Dabni Shelton, who recently retired, and her husband, James “Buddy” Shelton, who has been serving the Town part-time as its building inspector for the past three years.

Mr. Shelton came to Southern Shores after retiring as Dare County’s building inspector and has said that he is willing to work for the Town until early February, according to Wes Haskett, Planning Director and Deputy Town Manager.

Mr. Shelton’s position will become full-time and be reorganized as Town building inspector and code enforcement officer.

Mr. Shelton is willing to step down earlier if someone else is hired and sufficiently familiarized with his position, Mr. Haskett advised the Town Council at its Oct. 6 meeting.

This week, the Town interviewed five applicants for the full-time permit officer job and plans to interview at least two more people next week, Mr. Haskett told The Beacon.

“We hope to fill the position in early November,” Mr. Haskett said in an email.

The Town intends to hire a new building inspector/code enforcement officer “no later than late November or early December” so he or she can “shadow Buddy” and learn the job, Mr. Haskett said last week.

“We will most likely begin interviews in a couple of weeks” for that job, he told The Beacon.   

We are delighted that the Town is expanding the Planning and Code Enforcement Department with the addition of a half-time code enforcement officer.

Enforcement of the Town zoning code, after permits have been issued, as well as other ordinances is now complaint-driven, and we are hopeful that the hiring of another person will relegate that practice to the past.

In particular, Town employees should be on the lookout for code violations during the construction process, so that they can be addressed and corrected by builders before projects are finished. Homeowners and other residents should not have to report possible violations for the Town to be vigilant.  

Also at last week’s Council meeting, Mr. Haskett announced that:

BEACH NOURISHMENT GRANT: The N.C. Dept. of Environmental Quality has “tentatively approved” the Town for a beach nourishment grant from its Coastal Storm Damage Mitigation Fund, with no indication of how much money it will award. The grant amount still had not been disclosed as of yesterday, Mr. Haskett told The Beacon. 

Although the Town Council has yet to select and approve a 2022 beach nourishment “option” plan from among those recommended by its coastal engineering consultant, the Town’s NCDEQ grant application propounded upon option 4, which had a $14,755,600 price tag.

NCDEQ can award up to $2.5 million to a grant recipient. It has up to $11.5 million available for coastal storm mitigation grants. (See The Beacon, 4/21/20)

TOWN CODE REWRITE PROJECT: Town Attorney Ben Gallop has finally reviewed the zoning code of the Town Code update/revision drafted by Chad Meadows of CodeWright Planners, LLC, of Durham, and submitted his comments to Mr. Meadows.

Mr. Haskett plans to speak with Mr. Meadows today; Town Manager Cliff Ogburn, he said, may participate in the conversation.

The expectation is that Mr. Gallop’s comments will be incorporated into CodeWright’s revision and a “public hearing draft” will be sent to the Town Planning Board for its review, Mr. Haskett told the Town Council.

The Beacon’s understanding was that Mr. Gallop, who has had Mr. Meadows’s Town Code revision since January 2019, was to review the entire draft, not just the zoning code chapters. The Town Code is a compilation of legal regulations, and Mr. Meadows is not an attorney.

At a public forum on Jan. 31, 2019—one of a number that he held in an exhaustive process that began in September 2015—Mr. Meadows advised that Mr. Gallop would review the draft in February (2019) and that 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.

At that time The Beacon described CodeWright’s draft as big, bloated, and user-unfriendly. (See The Beacon, 2/1/19. See also The Beacon, “What Happened to CodeWright’s Revision of the Town Code?” 7/26/20; and The Beacon, “The Making of a Fiasco: CodeWright’s ‘Update’ of the Southern Shores Code of Ordinances,” 7/30/20.)

The news that, after 19 months of sitting on it, Mr. Gallop had finally reviewed the draft zoning code was delivered to the Town Council by Mr. Haskett, not Mr. Gallop. Not a single person on the Council asked the Town Attorney his opinion of what he read. Not one. And Mr. Gallop gave no report of his own.

Council members may already know, but we don’t.

Is there anything more important in Southern Shores than its Town Code of Ordinances? 

***

Speaking of the Planning Board, the position of vice chairperson, formerly held by Don Sowder, who resigned Aug. 1 from the Board after serving only one year of his three-year term, is still open, Mr. Haskett confirmed to The Beacon after we searched the Town website to learn of his replacement.

On Aug. 18, the Town Council appointed Board First Alternate Lynda Burek to serve out Mr. Sowder’s term. Since then, Planning Board Chairperson Andy Ward has not convened a meeting to hold an election.

A vacancy still exists for a volunteer to serve out the remainder of Ms. Burek’s term as first alternate, unless Second Alternate Robert McClendon is elevated to her spot. In that case, the second alternate’s position will be vacant. Both alternates’ terms run through June 30, 2021.

Mr. Haskett informed The Beacon yesterday that the Town has received only one application for the vacancy, so far. It is from Janis Collins.

The Beacon does not know Ms. Collins, but we certainly encourage more women to participate in Town government. The Planning Board plays a vital role in the development of Southern Shores.

If you are interested in applying for the Planning Board vacancy, you may submit an application to info@southernshores-nc.gov or to the Town Hall, 5375 N. Virginia Dare Trail, Southern Shores, NC 27949.

You will find an application form, as well as information about the Planning Board, which also serves as the Town Board of Adjustment, at: https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/7-22-15-Board-Volunteer-Application.pdf.

***

And finally . . . you may be interested to know that . . .

*All Southern Shores police officers are now wearing body-worn cameras “in the field,” as Police Chief David Kole reported at the Council’s meeting last week, saying that they are “happy and proud” to have the new equipment; and

*”Finally, we’re in there,” Fire Chief Ed Limbacher said about the SSVFD’s occupancy of the new fire station on South Dogwood Trail, which took about nine months longer to complete than was initially projected.

Chief Limbacher said an open house will not be held at the new station because of the COVID-19 threat, but he plans to do a virtual walk-through for the public to access online.  

The station “turned out phenomenal,” the Chief said.

“It’s very expensive,” he acknowledged, “but it’s a 100-year building” that has “no maintenance.”

Chief Limbacher described himself as feeling “two feet taller” and said, “Everybody is happy.”

PLEASE NOTE: The Beacon will return to the subject of beach nourishment easements at a later date. The Town Council voted unanimously last week to give Town Manager Cliff Ogburn authority to proceed with trying to procure voluntary and irrevocable perpetual easements from oceanfront property owners.

The Council also unanimously approved, with some modifications, a draft perpetual easement prepared by the Town Attorney, which he said was a compilation of language taken from easements applied in other Dare County towns, as well as in Atlantic Beach, Emerald Isle, and Topsail Beach.

The Beacon has no use for kitchen-sink legal documents. Southern Shores is not Nags Head, Atlantic Beach, Emerald Isle, or any other North Carolina coastal town.

See The Beacon, 10/2/20, for background.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 10/15/20

10/14/20: CUT-THROUGH TRAFFIC STUDY IS UNDER WAY; OGBURN STEERS COUNCIL TOWARD LONG-RANGE BUDGETARY PLANNING; TOWN HAS FY 2019-20 REVENUE EXCESS OF $660,975.

A line of vehicles backs up this summer on Sea Oats Trail from the traffic light at the road’s intersection with the Duck Road thoroughfare. In January, the Town expects to receive from its traffic engineer consultant recommendations for how it may mitigate this congestion.

Representatives from J.M. Teague Engineering and Planning, whom the Town has hired to analyze its traffic problems and propose solutions, were in Southern Shores last Friday for the one site visit that Town Manager Cliff Ogburn announced at the Town Council’s Oct. 6 meeting the Waynesville, N.C. consultant would be conducting.

J.M. Teague, which was one of four companies to submit a study proposal to the Town, has 90 business days in which to “complete the project,” Mr. Ogburn said last week.

That means that the contractor will be filing its report and recommendations, consisting of “various mitigations and best practices,” he said, sometime in January.    

Friday’s site visit, according to the Town’s Oct. 9 newsletter, was spent “gathering geometric data, taking current turning movement percentages, and conducting observations of the current vehicular volumes and movement that can be translated into seasonal numbers.”

In other words, they apparently cannot begin to do what they have been asked to do for $7500—which is to analyze the “[traffic] data collected by the police,” as Mr. Ogburn explained—without feeding their own new data into the “specialized” computer software that actually performs the analysis.

“They are taking measurements and gathering detailed information of all things associated with travel in our town including logging every traffic sign and traffic signal box,” the Town newsletter continues.

“They basically want to bring our town back to their office to help them with their modeling efforts and to determine the best recommendations that will best discourage use of the alternate residential routes and have the least impact on residents along the alternate routes.”

We do not intend to be facetious or skeptical in our tone in this article. We recognize this study as a necessary step toward obtaining any relief from the cut-through traffic that has plagued homeowners on Southern Shores’ residential streets for more than 10 years—traffic that was exacerbated this summer by an unprecedented number of vacationers fleeing COVID-19 for the Outer Banks.

We do have cause to be skeptical, however. Grass-roots efforts in the past—including the results from a Town-financed public mediation in 2014—have been ignored by a majority of the Town Council, including three members who are currently serving.

It has only been with the formation of the Citizens’ Committee to Address Cut-Through Traffic, which is chaired by East Dogwood Trail homeowner Tommy Karole, and the election of Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Morey and Councilman Matt Neal that the Town Council, by a 4-1 vote, got behind no-left-turn weekends this summer.

Mayor Tom Bennett, the sole dissenter, opposed every attempt made since his 2013 election to ameliorate the traffic on the South Dogwood Trail “short-cut” until the fateful weekend this June when desperately gridlocked vacationers resorted to Circle Drive as a cut-through route.

Circle Drive is as advertised. It is a road only Sisyphus would take to get to Corolla.

Ms. Morey and Mr. Neal serve as Council liaisons/advisers to the citizens’ committee, which has not met during the COVID-19 crisis.

Mr. Karole told The Beacon that he has been in touch with Mr. Ogburn about the traffic study and will remain in the loop. He also said that our new town manager “is a pleasure to work with,” which is a compliment that we are not accustomed to hearing about the person permanently occupying that Town office.

We concur with Mr. Karole’s assessment. Our gain is Nags Head’s loss.

(We refer you to Mr. Ogburn’s message in last Friday’s newsletter in which he expresses an interest in meeting Southern Shores residents when it is safe to do so and invites people to call or email him with their “questions, concerns, comments, or suggestions.”

(“Southern Shores is a beautiful place,” he writes, “and we want to make sure you are proud to live here.”)

Mr. Ogburn selected J.M. Teague Engineering for this project because of the “professional services” it offers, he explained at the Council meeting.

Among those services, he said, are “remote sensing,” “traffic impact analysis,” “traffic control plans,” and “event operations and logistics.”

The company will run all of the data through “models” using that specialized software and will propose “multiple mitigation measures,” the Town Manager said.

The engineers’ report, he added, “will include where the measures will be placed,” as well as “conceptual drawings, implementation guidance, and a rough cost estimate.”

We eagerly await the consultant’s conclusions.

Next Council Meeting to Consider Long-Range Budgetary Planning, At Last

Mr. Ogburn also has taken steps toward accomplishing in a mere four months something that former Councilmen Fred Newberry and Gary McDonald tried for four years to get his predecessor, Peter Rascoe, to do: He is engaging in long-range planning of the Town’s budget and capital-improvement projects.

The Town Manager would like to “start the process of capital improvement planning,” he said at last week’s meeting, “maybe a five-year start of a strategic plan that puts all of our assets and resources in one place that you can start to see the needs going out five years and beyond.”

Mr. McDonald and Mr. Newberry—especially Mr. Newberry—tried repeatedly to task Mr. Rascoe with five-year planning and beyond, but each time one or both Councilmen brought it up, the three-person majority shot down the suggestion as one that was not appropriate for a town manager.

We distinctly remember current Councilman Leo Holland, who previously served from 2013-17, saying that such planning was the job of the Town Council, not the Town Manager. Mayor Bennett, Councilman Jim Conners, and former Councilman Chris Nason agreed with this posture. (At the time Mr. Holland said this, Mayor Bennett and Mr. Nason supported him. Mr. Conners was not on the Council.)

Utter nonsense, of course. That a rigid three-person majority repeatedly rejected a smart message about the Town’s welfare because of the messengers who bore it, or, because of ignorance about what a town manager does (just look up the N.C. statute), was and remains a disgrace.

Next Tuesday, Oct. 20, at 9 a.m., Mr. Ogburn will lead the Town Council into the future at a budget-focused workshop meeting.  

See the workshop agenda at https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/minutes-agendas-newsletters/Agendas_2020-10-20.pdf.

Besides long-range planning, the other agenda items include:

  1. “A review of excess revenue from FY 2019-2020”

Accountant/auditor Teresa Osborne reported last week that the Town has a FY 2019-20 revenues-over-expenses excess of $660,975, largely due to a grant received for the South Dogwood Trail sidewalk; departmental expenses coming in lower than anticipated; and an increase in ad valorem taxes collected.

  1. “Consideration of expenditures removed from last FY and Current FY due to COVID-19-related concerns”

The Town “weathered COVID impacts better than anticipated,” Mr. Ogburn said, as did all of the Outer Banks, and the Council may elect to authorize expenses that it previously eliminated from the budget.

Ms. Osborne said the Town ended the 2019-20 fiscal year “in strong financial condition,” with no “traditional debts,” although it will have to start planning for future liabilities, including employee pensions and retirees’ health benefits.

You may access her annual audit report here: https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/audit-reports/southern-shores-2020-financial-statements/.

The Beacon plans to write more about the audit when we can.

As we reported last week, the Town’s unassigned fund balance contained $5,995,546 as of July 30, 2020. This is an increase of $1,822,225 over the balance in the fund as of July 30, 2019, according to Ms. Osborne. A working-capital balance of $1.75 million must be maintained in the fund for emergency purposes.

The Oct. 20 meeting will be live-streamed on the Town of Southern Shores’ YouTube feed, so that you may view it in real time, although you cannot comment remotely unless you view it on Zoom. See https://www.youtube.com/user/TownofSouthernShores.

With the live-streaming of Council meetings, Mr. Ogburn brings Southern Shores into the present to join all of the other Dare County beach towns that have offered this advantage for some time.

UPDATE at 5:10 p.m.: While The Beacon cranked out material today to catch you up with some of the local goings-on, Mr. Ogburn posted a 56-page document consisting of a memorandum to the Mayor and Town Council about “Long Range Capital Budget Planning,” and many supporting documents. We will read Mr. Ogburn’s work product before next Tuesday’s meeting and provide you with a summary.

See the meeting packet at https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/minutes-agendas-newsletters/Meeting-Packet_2020-10-20.pdf.

We finally have a real town manager in Town Hall.

Upcoming Events

Don’t forget: Fri., Oct. 16 is bulk-waste collection day. See The Beacon, 9/26/20 for the dos and don’ts of the roadside disposal. (Rejected material will be branded with an “X.”)

This Saturday, Oct. 17, the 12th annual Throwdown Surf Classic will be held at the Chicahauk Trail beach access at 9 a.m.

Usually held in September, the Throwdown Surf Classic is sponsored by the Throwdown Youth Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation, for the benefit of the Outer Banks Relief Foundation, which assists local families in need.

And Finally . . . A Classy Apology

The Zoom feed of the Oct. 6 Town Council meeting, as you will recall, was attacked by a white supremacist Zoombombing, complete with swastika, menacing threats, and other sudden bizarre visuals. See The Beacon, 10/6/20, for the details.

When we resumed watching the Zoom conference, Ms. Osborne was speaking, and we reported that we “heard no one on the Town Council or on the Town staff address the hacking, but they may have.”

In fact, we missed an apology that Mr. Ogburn made for the Zoombombing to everyone watching on the public platform. He then said of this form of hacking: “I’ve read about it. I’ve never seen it. I don’t ever want to see it again.”

We cannot think of more fitting words.

No one on the Town Council said anything to the watching public.

(Next up: We continue our delayed effort to inform you about last week’s Town Council meeting. Thanks for your patience.)

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 10/14/20

10/14/20: EARLY VOTING BEGINS TOMORROW; COVID-19 TRENDS STATEWIDE WORSEN.

The Duck Road split is a popular place for the display of political signs, as this photo illustrates. There are 34 national, state, and local offices included on the N.C. ballot for the general election.

Early voting in Dare County for the Nov. 3 general election begins tomorrow at 8 a.m. at three locations and runs through Oct. 31, with COVID-19 safeguards in place at each site.

The closest early voting site for Southern Shores voters is the commissioners’ meeting room at Kill Devil Hills Town Hall, 102 Town Hall Drive, in KDH.

The other two Dare early voting sites are the Dare County Administration Building, 954 Marshall C. Collins Drive, in Manteo, and the Cape Hatteras Secondary School auditorium, 48576 N.C. Hwy. 12, in Buxton

The three sites will be open weekdays, from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays, Oct. 17 and 24, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sat., Oct. 31, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

You can anticipate long lines at the voting sites if for no other reason than that the two-sided paper ballot—which lists candidates for national, state, and local offices, including eight N.C. appellate judgeships—will take time for voters to complete.

Each voter will be given a single-use pen to mark the ovals next to his or her choices on the ballot. 

See a sample ballot here: https://www.darenc.com/home/showdocument?id=7999.

By our count, there are 34 offices at stake, only five of which have candidates running unopposed.

COVID-19 safeguards being implemented onsite also will consume time, but are necessary for both voters’ and community safety.

Like the State of North Carolina, Dare County has been experiencing an uptick in COVID-19 cases. (See the next section, below.)

Six-foot social distancing will be enforced at each voting site, and poll workers, attired in personal protective equipment and working behind protective Lucite barriers, will frequently clean surfaces and voting equipment.

Neither the State nor the County, thus far, is requiring voters to wear protective facial coverings, but both are encouraging their use.

Hand sanitizer and free masks for voters who do not bring their own and would like to wear one will be provided at the voting sites.

In a press conference yesterday, Dr. Mandy Cohen, Secretary of the N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services, said that “local officials, looking at their own [COVID-19] data . . . [can] think about what else they can do” at their voting sites “to try to slow the spread of this virus.”

The polls on Election Day, Nov. 3, will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. with the same COVID-19 safeguards in effect.

PLEASE NOTE: Southern Shores voters will be voting at the Kitty Hawk Elementary School for the first time, not at the Kern Pitts Center next to Town Hall. The Beacon will remind you of this polling place change again.

N.C. COVID-19 METRICS WORSEN

North Carolina’s COVID-19 trends have worsened this month, with hospitalizations since Oct. 6 topping 1,000, and daily cases reaching levels not seen since a peak in July.

The new case reports on Oct. 9 and Oct. 10, for example, totaled 2,034 and 2,321, respectively.

The positivity rate, on a daily basis, has ranged in October between 5 and 8 percent.

“This worsening of our trends is concerning,” Dr. Cohen said at yesterday’s briefing, “and we need to do all we can to turn those trends around. We do not want to have to go backwards.”

These increases have occurred since Governor Roy Cooper reduced restrictions Oct. 2 on amusement parks, movie theaters, and other indoor and outdoor venues—including outdoor bars—allowing them to operate at limited capacity and with other precautions, such as social distancing, in effect.

But Dr. Cohen said yesterday that no particular setting, such as a bar or restaurant, is responsible for the increased cases and hospitalizations and for the virus’s spread.

Instead, she referred, as she did two weeks ago, to people “letting down their guard” and not taking the obvious measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

“Where before I could pinpoint maybe a certain thing here or there,” Dr. Cohen said, “what we’re seeing now is this virus is everywhere. There’s no single place, no single age, no single location, which means we have to make sure we’re being vigilant across the board.”

The Secretary did note, however, as she and the Governor have at many other briefings, that indoor activities, including indoor restaurant dining, are considered more high-risk for the virus’s spread than outdoor activities. Outdoors, the airborne particles emitted in the breath of infected people disperse more readily.

(You also may have heard that the ultraviolet radiation of the sun kills the virus, but it is only the UVC type of radiation, which has the shortest wavelength and the highest energy, that can act as a disinfectant, according to scientific reports. Nearly all of the UV radiation that reaches Earth is type UVA; most UVB and all of UVC are absorbed by the ozone lawyer, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

“We want to encourage restaurants to do the right thing so we don’t have to roll backwards,” said Lynn Minges, director of the N.C. Restaurant and Lodging Assn.

“We’d encourage customers who’ve been exposed to COVID-19 not to come into restaurants, for everyone to wear face coverings and practice social distancing. If we don’t, I’m concerned we may see a regression.”

As of yesterday, according to the N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services’ dashboard, 1,103 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, and 3,816 people had died.

Out of 3,437,598 COVID-19 diagnostic tests done, 234,481 (or 6.8 percent) have been positive.

[UPDATE: The NCDHHS dashboard today displays two new figures: 1. newly reported cases, so you no longer have to subtract yesterday’s reported cases from today’s cases to figure out the 24-hour increase; and 2. the daily percent positive, so you no longer have to divide today’s new-case total by the number of tests performed, which you can only derive by subtracting today’s total tests from yesterday’s total tests. But we like math and do not trust other people’s calculations, so we will continue to do our own subtraction and division. Today, for example, we find the daily positive rate to be 8.6 percent, not 6.6 percent, as the NCDHHS reports.]

Locally, the DCDHHS dashboard reported yesterday that a total of 599 people have tested positive for COVID-19, 327 Dare County residents and 272 nonresidents.

Dr. Sheila Davies said in her Tuesday COVID-19 update that there are 19 active cases, including one person who has been hospitalized for weeks with “complications” associated with the virus.

Dr. Davies’s analysis yesterday continued to show that direct contact with infected family members or other close contacts is the predominant means by which COVID-19 is being acquired in Dare County.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 10/14/20    

10/8/20: COVID-19 ‘SPIKE’ CONTINUES: DARE REPORTS SIX MORE CASES; FIVE ARE YOUNG LOCAL RESIDENTS.

Dare County reported six more COVID-19 positive test results today, bringing the two-day case total to 14. (See The Beacon post earlier today.)

Five of the new cases are young Dare County residents: two females age 17 or younger and two women and one man, between the ages of 25 and 49. All are in home isolation.

The sixth reported case is a non-resident man, ages 25-49, who has transferred to his home county for isolation.

The total number of COVID-19 positive cases in Dare County is now 582, 317 locals and 265 nonresidents.

We believe the increase in the daily COVID-19 case count in Dare County is cause for alarm and wish the Dare County Dept. of Health and Human Services would enlighten us as to how testing is done locally and whether those who test positive are practicing the infection-control measures we all know—or not.

Exactly where—in what settings and circumstances—does DCDHHS believe the virus is spreading? Such information would serve the interest of public health far better than a daily case count.  

COVID-19 may not be fatal to more than 0.5 to 1.0 percent of the people infected with SARS-CoV2—according to the World Health Organization—but death is not the only risk of a COVID-19 infection.

COVID-19 symptoms can persist for months, even among people who had mild versions of the disease, according to the Mayo Clinic. The virus can damage the lungs, heart, and brain in anyone infected with it, posing the threat of long-term health problems.

See Mayo Clinic, “COVID-19 (coronavirus): Long-Term Effects,” at https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/coronavirus-long-term-effects/art-20490351

COVID-19 does not yet have a sufficient track record for physicians to know what all of the long-term consequences of an infection may be.

Most people who have COVID-19 “recover quickly,” the Mayo Clinic says, “But the potentially long-lasting problems from COVID-19 make it even more important to reduce the spread of the disease by following precautions such as wearing masks, avoiding crowds and keeping hands clean.”

THE BEACON, 10/8/20

10/8/20: COVID-19: DARE REPORTS ANOTHER SINGLE-DAY EIGHT-CASE SPIKE; FIVE ARE NON-RESIDENT VISITORS.

Dare County reported yesterday a spike of eight new positive test results for COVID-19, after reporting none on Tuesday. Five of the eight new cases are nonresidents, four of whom are in the 50-64 age group and are isolating in Dare County.

These four over-50 nonresidents are three men and one woman. The other COVID-19 positive nonresident is a man, ages 25 to 49, who has transferred to his home county for isolation.

The last time the Dare County Dept. of Health and Human Services reported as many as eight new COVID-19 cases in one day was Sept. 28. Since then, the single-day case count has averaged about four (3.88).

Last Friday DCDHHS Director Dr. Sheila Davies reported that the positivity rate—which is the percentage of new positive cases among the total tests performed in a week—increased locally last week to 5.15 percent, which is the highest rate since the week of July 20.

The Beacon does not regard this COVID-19 “metric” in Dare County as significant because many of the people who test positive locally are infected outside of the area and “bring the virus” with them.

Also, testing in the county is largely dependent on the initiative of the subjects tested. The DCDHHS is not systematically testing the local citizenry.

The three Dare County residents who tested positive recently for COVID-19 are a woman, age 50-64, whose report was relayed to the DCDHHS late by the State of North Carolina; and two women, one ages 18-24 and the other ages 25-49. The former has recovered, and the other two are in home isolation.

The single-day total on Sept. 28 also included a late case report from the State about a resident who had tested positive and since recovered.

The total COVID-19 positive cases in Dare County is now 576, 312 local residents and 264 nonresidents.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 10/8/20