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

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