Dear Beacon Readers:
We have decided not to diminish our Sunday pleasure by writing extensively about the Town Council’s understanding and handling—past, present, and future—of municipal service districts (MSDs) for the purpose of unequally taxing town property owners to finance the nourishment of Southern Shores’ public beaches. Nor do we intend to write about COVID-19.
Such work is what Mondays are for, and tomorrow will come soon enough.
We will say that the Southern Shores Town Council is scheduled to consider at its Tuesday meeting its previous handiwork in creating possible MSDs—the district maps are in the meeting packet—which it did without reference to (or concern for) the N.C. statutory standard that governs their creation and, no doubt, with a majority of the Council members not having bothered to read the relevant statute .
You may recall seeing these district maps in the springtime before the last public hearing on beach nourishment, and you may have wondered what became of them. Well, they’re back for the Council’s predictably perfunctory input—which will be predictably approved unanimously—on Tuesday when it meets at 5:30 p.m. in the Pitts Center.
You may access the Council’s agenda here: https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/minutes-agendas-newsletters/Agendas_2020-12-01.pdf.
The meeting packet is available here: https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/minutes-agendas-newsletters/Meeting-Packet_2020-12-01.pdf.
The meeting is open to the public, with COVID-19 safety protocol in place. Everyone must wear a mask and observe six-foot physical distancing.
The meeting also will be available to view by live stream on the Town’s You Tube website: https://www.youtube.com/user/TownofSouthernShores.
There will be two public-comment periods during the meeting. If you will not be attending the meeting and would like to submit a comment, you are directed in new instructions posted on the Town website to email “public comment” to email@example.com, not to send comments to Town Clerk Sheila Kane.
COUNCIL TO REDUCE ITS PUBLIC MEETINGS IN HALF
We note that, pursuant to a resolution included in the meeting packet, the Town Council has decided to eliminate its second workshop meeting of the month in 2021, reverting to the 2018-2019 calendar schemes of holding a meeting on the third Tuesday of the month “as needed.”
The Town Council has been inconsistent in its scheduling of third-Tuesday meetings during Mayor Tom Bennett’s two terms in office.
We see this move as an opportunity lost for the public to know what the Council is doing and thinking, in more detail—if it would cooperate in enlightening us—and for the public to bring up problems and concerns, as well as to voice opinions, to elected officials.
That the curtailment has occurred just as the Town Council is moving into the potentially contentious financial phase of the 2022 beach nourishment project is disappointing, and, we hope, coincidental.
The cost of the 2022 project, the details of which the Town Council has never specifically approved, is estimated to be about $16 million, of which Dare County presumably will pay a sizeable portion. According to a statement by Town Manager Cliff Ogburn in the meeting packet, the Town has not yet secured a commitment from the County for a sum certain.
The reduction in the number of meetings also suggests to us a refusal by the Town Council to engage in long-range planning, which requires workshop-type meetings, over time, to discuss.
The regular first-Tuesday meetings are chock-full of staff reports and other housekeeping matters and leave little time for the thoughtful and unrushed discussion of other issues facing the Town that require analysis and planning.
Indeed, we note further that the proposed 2021 calendar contains no designated dates for budget or planning workshop sessions. This is highly unusual. The Town Council has not held a strategic planning retreat since Feb. 16, 2016, but it has held planning sessions. With a brand-new fire station, it has an ideal location to hold a retreat.
Perhaps the next mayor will be inclined to engage in this highly valuable planning tool, which allows for the expression and consideration of public opinion in an informal setting.
(Revision of the Town Land-Use Plan, which is to be budgeted for fiscal year 2021-22, should involve a community meeting/retreat, if history is any guide. Although the current Land-Use Plan is dated 2012, it is based on community opinion data collected in 2005. The plan was so lacking when it was submitted in 2008 that the N.C. Division of Coastal Management sent it back to the Town for corrections and revisions, thus delaying its finalization for years.)
We remind you that next year is a municipal election year. The four-year terms of Mayor Bennett and Town Councilman Jim Conners will be expiring in 2021, and their successors will be elected in November.
The other three Council members mark their first anniversary of Town elected service this week.
Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 11/29/20