10/21/21: VIDEO OF TOWN COUNCIL CANDIDATE FORUM IS NOW ONLINE. Plus Details on Same-Day Voter Registration.

The videotape of the virtual Southern Shores Town Council Candidate Forum, hosted Oct. 13 by the League of Women Voters of Dare County, is now online at https://lwvdarenc.org/videos/.

All five Southern Shores candidates—two for mayor and three for an at-large Town Council seat (see ballot above)—participated in the forum and also answered questions for the League’s Vote411.org online voters’ guide.

You may access the voters’ guide at https://www.vote411.org/ballot.

Early voting, aka “one-stop” voting, for the Nov. 2 municipal election began Oct. 14 and runs through Saturday, Oct. 30, at the Kill Devil Hills Town Hall and the Dare County Administration Building in Manteo from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, and on Sat., Oct. 30, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

There will be no early voting this weekend, Oct. 23-24.

The Southern Shores polling place for voting on Election Day, Nov. 2, will be the Kitty Hawk Elementary School gymnasium, not the Kern Pitts Center. The polls will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Please Note: Because of my conflicts of interests as a Town Council candidate, The Beacon will not be endorsing a mayoral candidate, as we thought months ago we might.

SAME-DAY VOTER REGISTRATION

If you are not yet registered to vote, you have missed the deadline for voting on Election Day, but you still may participate in same-day voter registration during the early one-stop voting period. The process and requirements for same-day voter registration are explained on the Dare County Board of Elections’ website at https://www.darenc.com/departments/elections/register-to-vote.

Basically, you must attest to your eligibility to vote in your respective Dare County town by completing and signing a Voter Registration Application and then producing documentary evidence of your residence.

The evidence need not be a N.C. driver’s license with a Southern Shores (or other Dare County town) address. You may produce a copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, paycheck, or other government document showing your name and address.

After you have registered, you may vote in the municipal election.

Within two business days of your registration, according to the Board of Elections’ website, the Board will verify your registration (or not) and count your vote if you are qualified.

IF YOU ARE ALREADY REGISTERED TO VOTE, you do not need to produce your voter registration card or a photo ID in order to vote. All you need to do is state your name and residential address to a poll worker upon check-in.  

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 10/21/21

10/20/21: TOWN COUNCIL APPROVES SPENDING $800,000 ANNUALLY ON ROAD MAINTENANCE IN A 10-YEAR CAPITAL IMPROVEMENT PLAN; PLANNING BOARD RECOMMENDS NEW SIGN ORDINANCE, TACKLES PRODUCE STANDS.

Crocodile or alligator cracking is a common type of distress in asphalt pavement.

The Southern Shores Town Council unanimously approved yesterday pursuing a 10-year capital improvement plan (CIP) that would entail spending $1 million annually on road maintenance—$800,000 to be allocated to improving the Town’s 37-mile street system and $200,000 to be available for “contingency” construction.

Town Councilman Matt Neal, who made the motion to approve the $800k-$200k option, cited as its advantages that the Town would be “touching streets at a vastly greater velocity than we are now” and would have the flexibility to do up to $200,000 in additional needed construction.

The $800k-$200k option was one of four CIP options presented to the Town Council for its consideration at yesterday’s morning workshop session. SEPI Engineering and Construction, which performed a pavement condition survey of the Town’s roads in the spring, proposed two of the other options in its report and provided an analysis for the option that the Council chose.

(For background on the four options, see The Beacon, 10/16/21.)

SEPI’s final report is accessible at https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Southern-Shores-PCS-CIP-Final-Report-v2.pdf.

According to Town Manager Cliff Ogburn, the $800k-$300k option, which he recommended to the Council, will “raise as many streets as we can to a better condition.”

In his agenda item summary for the Town Council’s workshop, Mr. Ogburn said that the $800k-$200k option “touches 47 miles of road and improves the system to 73 percent good/excellent, [and] 27 percent fair.”

All of the CIP options envision treating some sections of roadway more than once during the 10-year period. The approved CIP represents a major change from the Town’s past and current practice of rebuilding full sections of selected streets, rather than doing preventive maintenance town-wide.  

Mr. Neal suggested that after year two or three of the new plan, the Town Council should have a “lessons learned” discussion to evaluate how implementation has fared.

PLANNING BOARD ACTION

In other town business, the Planning Board unanimously voted Monday to recommend to the Town Council an amended version of Zoning Text Amendment 21-08, which is a new Town Code sign ordinance; and to table ZTA 21-09, which amends the Town Code so that there is no question that the area used for calculating 30 percent lot coverage on oceanfront property extends up to the first line of stable vegetation, and not beyond to the mean high water mark, which is the property’s easternmost border.

We will publish a link to the revised ZTA 21-08 when it comes before the Town Council for consideration.

You may access ZTA 21-09 at https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/ uploads/2021/10/ZTA-21-09-Lot-Coverage.pdf.

Planning Director/Deputy Town Manager Wes Haskett asked to table ZTA 21-09 because he is continuing to work with Town Attorney Ben Gallop and Professor David Owens, a municipal law and land-use expert at the University of North Carolina School of Government, on the language of the proposed ordinance.

They want to avoid “over-complicating things,” Mr. Haskett said, and “bring something forward that we all feel comfortable with.”  

The Planning Board also discussed the requirements it might impose on produce stands in the Town’s commercial district if such stands become a permitted use, which they currently are not under the Southern Shores Town Code.

Board members agreed that they support produce stands, both those that are temporary and those that are permanent, while also acknowledging that their presence in the Marketplace, the Sandy Ridge Center (the strip mall on U.S. Hwy. 158), or the Southern Shores Crossing would ultimately be up to the respective property owner.

The Board considered criteria such as the stand’s size, its hours of operation, its products, its wind resistance and other safety factors, its trash disposal, its electricity needs, its parking requirements, etc.

Many of the criteria were suggested by requirements imposed by Kitty Hawk and Nags Head on produce stands that operate in those towns.

Mr. Haskett furnished the Board with these criteria and said he also would look at Duck’s and Currituck County’s ordinances before he “makes an attempt” to draft a Zoning Text Amendment for Southern Shores, which the Board authorized him to do.

For the Kitty Hawk and Nags Head requirements, see https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Produce-Stand-Requirements.pdf.

At the end of Monday’s meeting, Planning Board Vice Chairperson Tony DiBernardo said he would like to “resuscitate the trash discussion” at the next Board meeting, which will be Nov. 15 at 5 p.m.

The Board agreed that the collection of solid waste in Southern Shores, and any problems attendant to it, would be the priority of the November meeting. The Board also may take up the revised version of ZTA 21-09 and Mr. Haskett’s produce-stand ZTA then. 

*** 

Issues arose during the Town Council’s workshop, which featured extensive consultation with Town Engineer Joe Anlauf—who, unfortunately was off-camera and off-microphone—that we are too constrained now by time to address. We are hopeful that we will be able to pick up on some of them after the Nov. 2 election.

Mr. Ogburn said that he will bring “bid packages” for the initial work on the new CIP to the Town Council’s next meeting, which will be Tues., Nov. 9, at 5:30 p.m. 

Dare County Manager and Attorney Bobby Outten made an unannounced appearance at the workshop to explain in a lengthy public comment why the Dare County Board of Commissioners is “not prepared to move forward” with the proposed Northern Dare Library project in Southern Shores.

Two members of the Town’s Exploratory Committee for a Potential Branch Library appeared at the Town Council’s Oct. 5 meeting to enlist the support of Council members in communicating with Dare County officials about the prospect of funding a new library branch. Committee Chairperson Michael Fletcher and member Lilias Morrison said then that their correspondence and phone calls with the County had gone unanswered.

Mr. Outten said yesterday that perhaps the County had not been forceful enough in its rejection of the library project, leaving the committee with an ambiguous impression, but people had been trying not to be rude.

Among the reasons the County Manager cited for not supporting the proposed library were that Dare County librarian, Jonathan Wark, “doesn’t think it’s a good idea”; the County is currently engaged in “a pretty aggressive capital campaign,” which involves “redoing nine EMS stations”; and Southern Shores residents have only to travel “eight to 10 miles” to Kill Devil Hills to access a library.

Town Councilman Jim Conners, who is the Council’s liaison to the Town’s library committee, took issue with Mr. Outten’s comment about distance, pointing out that the Southern Shores-based library would serve people in northern Duck and Martin’s Point, who are farther away, and would be more accessible to children in Northern Dare communities.

Mr. Conners characterized distance as “a weak argument in the scheme of things.”

In the course of an exchange with Mr. Conners, during which both men said they did not want to be “argumentative,” Mr. Outten cited the unincorporated community of Rodanthe, which is on Hatteras Island, as having a better case for a library, in terms of distance, than Southern Shores. Rodanthe is more than 30 miles away from the Hatteras Library.

“We’re not going to build five more libraries to solve the distance problem,” Mr. Outten said.

According to 2020 U.S. Census population projections, Rodanthe only has 141 year-round residents. It is not included in the N.C. General Assembly’s N.C. town listing of 2020 census counts. See:

According to the General Assembly 2020 population data, Duck, Southern Shores, and Kitty Hawk have 742, 3,090, and 3,689 year-round residents, respectively.

Town Manager Ogburn told The Beacon yesterday afternoon that he did not know the County Manager was coming to the workshop until he called him yesterday morning to speak about another matter.

Mayor Tom Bennett “previously spoke with [Dare Commissioner] Steve House to clarify the County position,” on the proposed library, Mr. Ogburn explained in an email. “He [The Mayor] thought he might speak at public comment to say that the County had clarified there wasn’t library support but didn’t know when (today or November, if at all). Commissioner House had a conflict so [Mr. Outten] came instead.”

Mr. House represents legislative district three, which consists of Kitty Hawk, Southern Shores, and Duck, and lives in Southern Shores.

According to Ms. Morrison, Mayor Bennett did not reach out to the committee before yesterday’s meeting to share with members his interaction with Mr. House.

REMEMBER:  FRIDAY IS BULK-WASTE COLLECTION DAY.

The Town asks that you have approved items for collection in the street right-of-way by 5 a.m. Friday.

For a list of acceptable and unacceptable items, see:

Among the unapproved items that we routinely see on the roadside are lumber and other building materials, screens, doors, and carpets.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 10/20/21

10/16/21: PLANNING BOARD TO MEET MONDAY; TOWN COUNCIL TO TAKE UP OPTIONS FOR 10-YEAR CAPITAL IMPROVEMENT PLAN AT TUESDAY WORKSHOP.

Vehicle load contributes to some of the distress that the Town’s road-pavement surveyor observed during its evaluation.

The Town Planning Board will resume its discussion about the proposed new sign ordinance (Zoning Text Amendment 21-08, now revised); address amendments to the ordinance on maximum lot coverage (Town Code sec. 36-202(d)(6), as it pertains to oceanfront property; and possibly consider requirements for produce stands in the commercial district when it meets Monday in the Pitts Center at 5 p.m.

The next day, the Town Council will convene for a 9 a.m. workshop, also in the Pitts Center, to continue its discussion about contractor SEPI Engineering and Construction’s pavement condition survey of Southern Shores’ 37-mile road network, which was finalized earlier this month, and recommendations for a 10-year capital improvement plan (CIP) that include two options offered by SEPI and two prepared by the Town staff.

For background materials on the Planning Board agenda, see Planning Board will meet on October 18, 2021 | Town of Southern Shores, NC (southernshores-nc.gov)

For the Town Council’s workshop agenda, Town Manager Cliff Ogburn’s evaluation of the four CIP options, and materials pertaining to options three and four, below, see MEET-Packet-80044fe6d58c4fc2b414f2e2454c272f.pdf (usgovcloudapi.net).

SEPI’s final report is accessible at https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Southern-Shores-PCS-CIP-Final-Report-v2.pdf.

According to Mr. Ogburn’s agenda item summary, the four CIP options are:

  • Option one: spending about $675,000 annually on pavement maintenance, which would improve the road system from about 27 percent good/excellent condition, according to SEPI’s pavement condition indexes, to 53 percent good/excellent condition. (One of SEPI’s two options.)
  • Option two: spending about $1 million annually, which would improve the road system to 99 percent good/excellent condition. (SEPI’s second option.)
  • Option three: spending about $800,000 annually on improving the system and setting aside an additional $200,000 for “construction contingency.” (An option suggested by the Town Council.)
  • Option four: spending $675,000 on pavement maintenance and $400,000 on “defined construction projects.” (An option prepared by the Town staff.)

Mr. Ogburn recommends that option three be adopted, explaining that it “recognizes the need to spread the maintenance and repair dollars along a greater portion of the Town’s streets while still reserving funding to address construction needs of build in a Capital Reserve Street Fund.”

Please see the Town Manager’s agenda item summary for more details about what he considers to be the advantages of this option.

Under option three, Mr. Ogburn says, the road system would be improved to 73 percent good/excellent pavement condition and 27 percent fair. There would be no deterioration of roads to a poor state, as there would be under option one.

As The Beacon has previously reported, SEPI’s pavement condition survey found that all of the Town’s 37 miles of roads are in fair, good or excellent condition, as follows:

  • 4.41 miles of streets, or 12 percent of the total, are in excellent condition
  • 5.44 miles of streets, or 15 percent, are in good condition
  • 26.81 miles of streets, or 73 percent, are in fair condition

Overall, SEPI stated in its report, the street system is in a “fair but aging condition and is well suited for preservation and minor rehabilitation repair treatments.”

Treating the roads for preservation and minor rehabilitation represents a different approach to street maintenance than the approach that the Town has taken to date, which has been to repair and reconstruct specific roads on an as-needed basis.

The top three “distresses” observed during the survey, according to SEPI, were fatigue cracking, surface distresses, and transverse cracking. We refer you to the contractor’s report for a detailed description of these structural problems and photographs of roads in Southern Shores that have them.

The Town asks all meeting attendees to wear face masks, in accordance with recommendations by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The meetings will be live-streamed at https://www.youtube.com/user/TownofSouthernShores.

PROPOSED NORTHERN DARE COUNTY BRANCH LIBRARY

Because of other commitments, we have been unable to return to the subject of the proposed Northern Dare County Branch Library in Southern Shores, as we said we would and as we would like. See The Beacon, 10/6/21.

Comments by Town Council members and the Town Manager at the Oct. 5 Council meeting made clear that Dare County does not currently support financing a new branch library in the legislative district that serves Kitty Hawk, Southern Shores, and Duck.

Equally clear, however, was the determination that chairperson Michael Fletcher and key member Lilias Morrison of the Town’s Exploratory Committee for a Potential Branch Library in Northern Dare County expressed at the Council meeting to keep the library vision alive, even if it means starting out small with private funding, rather than with public funding.

According to Mr. Fletcher, the Hatteras branch of the Dare County Library System started in a resident’s garage. It grew into a popular enterprise that Dare County considered worthy of public funding.

On a personal note, I have been involved in the startup of a non-profit educational center that came into existence because of creative brainstorming, networking, hard work, and some grant and “angel” monies. I have long believed that where there is a will, there is a way–provided people think creatively and allow a project’s development to occur gradually. Just some observations . . .

We promise that after the Nov. 2 election we will give the library project and the committee’s vision their due.

Have a wonderful weekend! A cold front is coming.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 10/16/21

10/8/21: YOU HAVE TWO CHOICES ON ELECTION DAY; NEW TOWN COUNCIL COULD MAKE A THIRD.

The close-up photograph above depicts the content of the ballot that Southern Shores voters will mark for the Nov. 2 general election. The Beacon obtained it courtesy of a resident who votes by absentee ballot.

As you can see, you have two choices: 1) to vote for a new mayor; and 2) to vote for a new Town Councilman (member). You may vote for only one person in each election. There are no qualified write-in candidates.

The Beacon has heard confusion expressed by some voters who believe that they can vote for two Town Councilman candidates. This confusion may have arisen because of the possibility that election returns may result in another seat on the Town Council becoming vacant.

In the event that Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Morey defeats Rod McCaughey, the immediate past president of the Southern Shores Civic Assn., for the mayor’s office, Ms. Morey’s current Town Council seat would become vacant. She has two more years remaining on her term.

If Ms. Morey wins, the new Town Council would appoint someone to serve out her unexpired term. There would not be a special election.

It may seem peculiar or even inappropriate for four residents (or three, see below), out of the 3,000-plus who live in Southern Shores, to decide who will serve as a fifth member of the Town Council for two years, but appointments are standard procedure in North Carolina municipalities when council/board vacancies occur.

North Carolina is not a special election or public referendum type of state. It charges elected officials with decisions that other states, especially those in the West, might turn to the public to make.

The N.C. General Statutes clearly state who picks a new person to fill a vacancy on a town or city council (NCGS 160A-63); a county board of commissioners (NCGS 153A-27 and -27.1); or a school board (NCGS 115C-37 and -37.1.)

Section 160A-63 specifies that “a vacancy that occurs in an elective office of a city shall be filled by appointment of the city council.”

The statute elaborates upon how long the appointed person shall serve. In the case at hand in Southern Shores, it would be until an elected successor takes office after the next regularly scheduled city election.

The next election in Southern Shores is November 2023. New Town Council members would take office in December 2023.

If Ms. Morey wins, the new Town Council is under no obligation to appoint the person who came in second in total voting in the Nov. 2 election or third, if the second highest vote-getter was elected Town Councilman.

Town Manager Cliff Ogburn confirmed this with us yesterday, emailing: “[T]he new Council can appoint anyone they choose. There is no requirement that the person receiving the next highest vote total would automatically fill the unexpired term of [Ms. Morey’s] seat should she become Mayor.”

“Nothing is automatic or predetermined,” he stressed.

According to Mr. Ogburn, the new Town Council would make its selection by the “motion and vote method” or the “nomination and ballot method.”

VOTING METHODS OF APPOINTMENT

We turned to the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill School of Government (SOG) for an explanation of these methods and found both to be well-detailed, if not always clearly so, in an article by Robert Joyce, an SOG professor of public law and government, titled, “How to Fill a Vacancy on an Elected Board.”

See https://canons.sog.unc.edu/how-to-fill-a-vacancy-on-an-elected-board/.

Here is how Mr. Joyce, an attorney, elucidates the methods:

*Motion and vote: A member of the new Town Council would make a motion in an open meeting, such as “I move that Larry Hamilton fill the vacancy in Henrietta Miller’s seat,” and if by “the regular procedures of the Council, that motion receives a majority of affirmative votes, Larry fills the vacancy.” If it does not, then a new motion must be made.

If this method is used, Mr. Joyce explains, the mayor may vote only in case of a tie. As we read Mr. Joyce’s article and the underlying statute, we believe that a Southern Shores appointment by motion-and-vote would most likely be made by three people, whose vote would result in a tie only if one votes affirmatively, one votes negatively, and the third abstains.

Regardless of the voting method used, the rules about ties and other procedural issues should be clearly established by the new Council. Presumably, Town Attorney Ben Gallop would assist the Council with this exercise.

*Nomination and ballot: Town Council members would nominate citizens in an open meeting to fill the vacancy, or, in the alternative, the Council could decide “that everyone who has filled out an application is to be considered a nominee,” Mr. Joyce explains, and then vote by ballot.

It is possible for members to decide to mark their ballots secretly, rather than to vote openly, but even if the rules they adopt allow for secret ballots, the SOG professor says, “the ballots must contain the members’ names so that when the vote is counted the minutes [show who voted for whom].” So, while ballot marking may be secret, the announcement of the vote and the ballots themselves would be public.

Under this method, each Council member would vote for the person he or she favors, and the person who receives a majority of the votes would be selected to fill the vacancy. In the event there is no majority-vote candidate, “those who receive the fewest votes should be dropped from consideration, so that the voting is between the front-runners,” Mr. Joyce writes.

This contemplates both a larger council than Southern Shores has, as well as multiple candidates and rounds of ballots.

The rules established in advance for the nomination-and-ballot method of appointment, which is preferred by Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised 10th ed., according to Mr. Joyce, are critical.

The rules might say, for example, the professor explains, that “all candidates who receive zero votes would be removed [or that] after the second round . . . all candidates but two will be dropped so that the third round is between the two highest vote-getters.”

The mayor does not vote to break a tie under the nomination-and-ballot method. So, this appointment would be made by three people, too.

Of course, none of this would occur if Mr. McCaughey wins the mayor’s race. We make no endorsement here now of either candidate.

We do think, however, that it would be in residents’ best interests to vote for all five Town Council representatives in one election.

This same scenario came up in the 2017 election when sitting Town Councilman Gary McDonald ran against incumbent Mayor Tom Bennett for mayor. It is not unusual for sitting Town Council members to aspire to the mayor’s office.

It also makes more sense to us to hold the mayor’s election in the alternating election cycle when three Town Council members are elected, but that is not what a previous Town Council decided to do when it staggered the elections.

Registered voters in Southern Shores did not get to vote for mayor until the general election of 2001. (See Town Code sec. 3-4.) Until then, the five elected Town Council members chose the mayor from among themselves.

REMEMBER:

OCT. 14: Early “one-stop” voting for the election begins Thursday, Oct. 14, and runs through Saturday, Oct. 30. It will be conducted at the Kill Devil Hills Town Hall and the Dare County Administration Bldg. in Manteo from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, and on Sat., Oct. 30, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. There will be no early voting on the weekends of Oct. 16-17 and Oct. 23-24.

ELECTION DAY, TUESDAY, NOV. 2: The Southern Shores polling place for voting on Nov. 2 will be the Kitty Hawk Elementary School gymnasium, not the Kern Pitts Center. The polls will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Enjoy this fabulous weather, everyone! This is why we’re here.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 10/8/21

10/6/21: TOWN’S FY 2020-21 REVENUES EXCEED EXPENSES BY MORE THAN $1 MILLION, AS OCCUPANCY, SALES, AND LAND-TRANSFER TAXES SOAR; TOWN COUNCIL APPROVES INCREASE IN POLICE SALARIES, ANALYSIS OF THIRD OPTION FOR ROAD MAINTENANCE PLAN.

The Town of Southern Shores’ revenues for fiscal year 2020-21 exceeded its expenses by $1,115,810, and the Town started the new fiscal year with a General Fund balance of $7,149,603, according to accountant Teresa Osborne, who presented the Town’s annual audit to the Town Council last night.

The FY 2020-21 revenues reflect “one of the greatest tourist seasons” ever on the Outer Banks, said Ms. Osborne, who attributed the over-budget revenues to a “higher than expected” increase in Dare County’s sales, occupancy, and land-transfer tax collections.

Southern Shores received $439,611 of Dare County’s occupancy tax revenue, an increase of 46 percent over the previous fiscal year; and the Town’s portion of the county sales tax increased $234,837, which was a 25 percent boost.

Southern Shores’ share of land-transfer tax collection was $314,135, or 128 percent more than its share in FY 2019-20.

Ms. Osborne also cited an 18 percent increase in property values overall, thanks to the County’s recent reassessment, and a “sales bonanza” in which residential properties are being purchased for record-high prices. Ad valorem tax revenue for FY 2020-21 was $3,241,973.

“The Town ended the [fiscal] year in a very strong financial condition,” she concluded.

The Town does not carry any “traditional debt,” such as loans, said Ms. Osborne, who is with the Nags Head accounting firm of Dowdy & Osborne. But she cautioned the Town Council that it needs to start thinking about setting aside funds for long-term liabilities, including $1,640,367 in pension liability and an additional $713,229 for police pensions.

As of June 30, Ms. Osborne reported, the Town’s unassigned fund balance, which must contain at least $3 million, was $5,189,116. These undesignated monies act as a reserve for emergency expenses and as a working fund for expenses that arise during the fiscal year.

This balance reflects a decline of $806,430 from the unassigned fund balance of June 30, 2020, but Ms. Osborne attributed the decline to accounting methods, rather than to an actual diminution of available funds. (At least, as we understood what she said.)

The Beacon has a copy of Ms. Osborne’s Independent Auditor’s Report, which will be posted to the Town website, and will have to study it more before reporting further on its financial content. 

POLICE SALARIES, ROAD UPKEEP

Also last night, the Town Council unanimously approved creating a separate standalone pay scale/plan, to be administered by the Town, not the Police Department, for all police positions, except those of Chief and Deputy Chief, and increasing police salaries, as recommended by Town Manager Cliff Ogburn; and unanimously authorized paying SEPI Engineering and Construction $4,000 to conduct an analysis for a third road maintenance plan that would cost $800,000 per year over 10 years.

SEPI, which conducted a pavement study of the town’s roads in the spring and reported on its results in September, has proposed two 10-year capital-improvement plans for street maintenance, one that would cost $675,000 annually and another that would cost $1 million.

(See The Beacon, 10/3/21, for background on both police salaries and SEPI’s work.)

Both the police salary increases, which would raise minimum salaries for police officers and sergeants and take effect Nov. 1, and SEPI’s two maintenance plans are outlined in the Council’s meeting packet, which is accessible at https://mccmeetings.blob.core.usgovcloudapi.net/soshoresnc-pubu/MEET-Packet-a99196edf5654b038fd19f5a3eb08f4b.pdf.)

The expectation, according to Mr. Ogburn, is that SEPI would submit its analysis by Oct. 15, and the Town Council would choose one of the three capital-improvement plan options for implementation at its Oct. 19 workshop.

All Town staff members who spoke in support of increasing police salaries referenced how difficult it has become nationwide to recruit, hire, and retain well-qualified police officers, and how important it is for Southern Shores to be remain competitive in those efforts.

“We don’t have to be the highest paid,” said Police Chief David Kole, “we just have to be competitive.”

Chief Kole spoke about how much time and money are invested in training Southern Shores police officers and how great the need is to keep those who are trained here and not lose them to more attractive salary and benefit packages offered by other towns.

According to Town Finance Officer Bonnie Swain, the Town would spend an additional $36,943 in FY 2021-22 for the salary increases, and a full year of implementation would cost $55,514.

Ms. Swain said last night that each salary increase comes with a corresponding proportionate increase in FICA (Social Security), which is 7.65 percent, and retirement benefits, including a 401k account, of 17.05 percent.

In other news:

  • The Town Council unanimously approved an amendment to the Town Code’s prohibition on bonfires that would allow bonfires to be held at the Kitty Hawk Elementary School, provided a member of the Southern Shores Volunteer Fire Department or another fire protection official is present to supervise the blaze. The KHES plans to have a bonfire at its Nov. 5 fall festival.
  • The Town Manager announced that the Town has realized a savings of $100,019 in its beach nourishment costs because all of the construction bids “came in way below budget.” The winning bidder was Weeks Marine Inc.
  • Planning Director/Deputy Town Manager Wes Haskett announced that the Town Planning Board’s next meeting will be Monday, Oct. 18, at 5 p.m. (not 5:30 p.m.). The Board will continue its discussion about the proposed new sign ordinance.

LIBRARY UPDATE: Members Michael Fletcher and Lilias Morrison of the Town’s Exploratory Committee for a Potential Branch Library in Northern Dare County gave an impassioned appeal last night for support—the exercise of clout, if you will—from the Town Council and left frustrated with what they received.

“I’m not hearing that you all support a library,” Ms. Morrison said in remarks that were both passionate and pointed and virtually challenged the Council either to back up the Town Council-sanctioned committee or disband it.

Ms. Morrison characterized Chairperson Fletcher’s presentation of the committee’s progress, and how it has stalled because the Dare County Board of Commissioners, the Dare County Library Board, and other key people at the Dare County level have ignored its overtures, as “very noble and tactful,” and then said she would “tell it like it is.”

The Beacon believes this hard-working group of residents, who first met and made great strides before the COVID-19 pandemic up-ended life, deserve better coverage from us than a few paragraphs at the end of a blog report on the Town Council meeting. We will write a separate story about the committee and its prospects as soon as we can.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 10/6/21

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10/3/21: TOWN COUNCIL MEETING PREVIEW: AUDITOR TO REPORT ON TOWN’S FY 2020-21; COUNCIL TO CONSIDER 10-YEAR ROAD MAINTENANCE OPTIONS, INCREASED POLICE SALARIES, SUPPORT FOR BRANCH LIBRARY.

Halloween has arrived early on South Dogwood Trail.

The Town’s auditor will report on the financial status of Southern Shores as of June 30, the citizens’ exploratory committee for a potential branch library in Northern Dare County will give an update on its progress, and the Town Council will take up road maintenance, police salaries, and an exception to the Town’s bonfire prohibition in a wide-ranging agenda scheduled for the Council’s monthly meeting this Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. in the Pitts Center.

The meeting will be live-streamed at https://www.youtube.com/user/TownofSouthernShores.

Because Dare County is considered by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to be an area of high transmission of COVID-19, anyone who attends the meeting must wear a face mask.

SEPI Engineering and Construction, which conducted a pavement study of the town’s roads in the spring and reported on its results in September, has proposed two 10-year capital-improvement plans for street maintenance, and the Town Council has previously discussed a third option.

(SEPI’s report and capital improvement plan options are in the Town Council meeting packet at pp. 55-147. A “road condition overview” on p. 65 shows that the pavement in all of the roads in the town’s 37-mile network is rated fair, good, or excellent. The packet is accessible at https://mccmeetings.blob.core.usgovcloudapi.net/soshoresnc-pubu/MEET-Packet-a99196edf5654b038fd19f5a3eb08f4b.pdf.)

SEPI’s “Option One,” which would cost $675,000 per year, proposes working on 38 miles of road in order to increase the percentage of good/excellent roads in town from 27 percent to 53 percent. This option also would allow some “fair” pavement to fall into the “poor” category at the end of the 10-year plan “due to a funding shortfall,” Town Manager Cliff Ogburn reports in his agenda item summary about SEPI’s proposals.

“Option Two,” which would cost $1 million per year, proposes working on 57 miles of road in town, over a 10-year period, in order to improve the system to 99 percent good/excellent.

A third option would fall between these two and would cost roughly $800,000 per year, according to Mr. Ogburn, who says in his summary that he has received a quote of $4,000 for the performance of an analysis “to produce this option.”

Until the election of the 2019-23 Town Council and the COVID-19-influenced budget, the Council had been budgeting about $675,000 to capital improvements each year. The new Council has approved allocating up to $1 million annually to streets and related infrastructure.

In other important fiscal business, the Town Manager has recommended that the Town Council remove the salaries of all law enforcement positions, except those of Chief and Deputy Chief, from the Police Department, and transfer them to a standalone pay plan that the Town would separately administer. He also recommends increasing police salaries so that they are more competitive with other Dare County towns.

The most recent opening in the Southern Shores Police Dept. went unfilled for nearly a year, Mr. Ogburn reports, a result he attributes to a “limited candidate pool” across the country and a starting salary that “has fallen behind by nearly $3,000 as compared [with Nags Head and Kill Devil Hills, which are] the top two departments in starting salaries.”

The current starting annual salary for a Southern Shores police officer is $44,354, according to data in the meeting packet. The respective starting salaries for police in Nags Head and Kill Devil Hills are reportedly $47,213 and $47,347. Mr. Ogburn seeks an increase in Southern Shores to $47,354.

He also recommends increasing the starting annual salary for a police sergeant in Southern Shores from $53,912 to $60,000. Salary data show that Nags Head and Kill Devil Hills police sergeants earn an annual starting salary of $54,656 and $54,810, respectively. 

Kitty Hawk, which is comparable to Southern Shores in year-round population, but twice its size in area, has considerably lower starting annual salaries for a police officer ($39,274) and a sergeant ($47,738), according to Mr. Ogburn’s numbers.

If the Town Council approves all of the adjustments in police salaries that the Town Manager has recommended, an additional $36,943 would be spent in fiscal year 2021-22. A full year of implementation would cost $55,514, according to Mr. Ogburn.

(See the meeting packet at pp. 202-205.)

The proposed exception to the Town’s bonfire prohibition, which is codified in the Town Code at section 14-68(8), arose in response to a request by SSVFD Chief Ed Limbacher that the Kitty Hawk Elementary School (KHES) be allowed to have a bonfire as part of its Fall Carnival on Nov. 5.

The Town Council will vote Tuesday on an amendment to sec. 14-68(8) that would permit the KHES to start or set a bonfire as long as it is under the supervision of the SSVFD or “other fire protection official(s).”

TOWN ANNOUNCEMENTS:

The Town has previously announced the following:

Beach nourishment: The timeline for the construction of the 2022 beach nourishment project, which is scheduled next summer, has not yet been released, but the Town assures residents that the beaches will remain accessible throughout the construction. As soon as the Town has a timeline, it will publish it on the Town website.

Oct. 22 bulk-waste pickup: The annual fall bulk-waste pickup will take place on Friday, Oct. 22. The Town asks that approved items for collection not be placed in the public right-of-way until Friday, Oct. 15. For a list of approved items, see SEMI-ANNUAL BULK WASTE COLLECTION | Town of Southern Shores, NC (southernshores-nc.gov).

SPEAKING OF THE PUBLIC RIGHT-OF-WAY, we remind you that the Town is actively enforcing the Code ordinance against signs being placed in the public right-of-ways (sec. 36-165(7)(h)) by confiscating all signs that staff find there. The Town Manager has advised Town Council candidates that, if they would like to be sure their political yard signs are not removed by the Town, they should advise their supporters to assume the right-of-way has a width of 15 feet. (In the absence of water meters, utility poles, and other indicators of the ROW, Mr. Ogburn said, staff will measure 15 feet from the road’s edge.)

Town Code sec. 28-2 declares as nuisances obstructions in the public right-of-way that are not specifically exempted, such as mailboxes, garbage containers, driveway aprons, and items placed there temporarily for scheduled pickup.

Among the enumerated “obstructions” prohibited in Town Code sec. 28-2(c) are:

  • Vehicles and trailers
  • Dirt and sand berms
  • Wood chip and/or mulch piles
  • Fences
  • Yard decorations
  • Stakes, poles, posts, bulkheads
  • Large stones/rocks
  • Concrete or other masonry walls

In nearly 30 years of living in Southern Shores, I have never known this ordinance to be enforced, although it clearly is intended to prevent public-safety hazards in the right-of-ways, and it clearly is violated across town.

Town Council candidates are not supposed to be controversial—so I hear—but I find it a bit much that a town that has always turned a blind eye to public nuisances in the right-of-ways is now sending out staff to remove political signs (as well as others in the ROW) that will only be on display for about six weeks.

I think Town staff members have better ways to spend their time.

As long as a political sign is in the right-of-way in front of a consenting property owner’s property—not on a random street corner or in a public median—it should be permitted.

The display of candidate yard signs is a time-honored practice in this country of an informed electorate, which Southern Shores, fortunately, has always had.   

Happy October, everyone.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 10/3/21