This is the first message from me as Mayor to you, the taxpayers of Montreat. The Town Council, staff and I value all of you in this wonderful community that we are privileged to be a part of, whether you live here all the time or divide your time in different places.
First, let me say that I am happy to report that there will be no tax increase in the coming year! As you are aware, your new Town Council and I inherited a heavy agenda involving a new town hall on Florida Terrace and a large bridge on Texas Road. We have addressed these major challenges from day one, and here is what has been done so far:
We have placed the Texas Road Bridge on hold. I appointed a Citizen Bridge Committee to work with members of the community and State and Federal Government officials to find a solution which serves Montreat best, now and in the future. The Bridge Committee held public meetings and made recommendations to the Town Council on June 2. See the committee’s list of recommendations which is attached. I would like to congratulate and thank the Chairperson, Alice Lentz, for her pleasant and efficient leadership, as well as the members of the community who served so diligently on the committee with her. The Town Council will address their recommendations in the near future.
The Town Hall on Florida Terrace was estimated to cost more than $2.25 million. In December, 2014, a lawsuit brought by five Montreat taxpayers resulted in the court ordering the Town not to proceed with the project until the lawsuit had been decided. In December 2015, the Plaintiffs (Montreat taxpayers who brought the suit) offered to settle the lawsuit. The new Town Council rejected the Plaintiffs’ initial offer and deliberated on how to (1) save taxpayer money by settling the lawsuit that could result in significant additional costs from months of depositions and trial, (2) expedite finding an appropriate location for a much-needed new Town Hall, and (3) obtain a clear title to the Florida Terrace property to allow for the sale of the property.
The Town Council found it necessary to put aside a natural objection to paying some portion of the requested Plaintiffs’ legal fees. The Town Council attorney advised us that if the Town Council did not settle and the case went to trial that it was possible that the Town could be ordered to pay all of the present legal costs plus the additional fees accumulated during the trial and possible appeal. To stop the accumulation of legal fees and to allow the Town to move forward with the acquisition of a site for a new Town Hall, the Town Council agreed (in a 3-2 vote) to settle the lawsuit, agreeing to pay $50,000 of the $66,000 legal fees incurred to date by the Plaintiffs. It is my understanding that this money will be distributed on a pro rata basis to the Plaintiffs and the 110 Montreat contributors who supported the lawsuit. I agreed with the Town Council’s decision to settle following the Town Attorney’s opinion that the Town could be made to pay all the costs if they went to trial. The risk of losing more money was too great. Most civil lawsuits are settled (reportedly 80 to 97%), so the Town’s decision (3-2 vote) to settle was not unusual in order to end the spending. The Town Council also voted to pay the additional related legal fees incurred during the litigation process. With this settlement comes a clear title to the Florida Terrace property allowing it to be sold. I believe the Town Council will support my strong view that we should spend significantly less that the proposed $2.25 million Florida Terrace Town Hall for our small town.
At the request of a concerned Montreat citizen, the Town established a Reconciliation Fund for those who would like to help defray the cost of resolving the lawsuit filed in opposition to the Florida Terrace town hall. Those who contributed to the lawsuit will be receiving money back and they may choose to donate all or part of that money to the Town Fund to help pay the legal fees. There may be others who may not have supported the lawsuit but who want to help the Town resolve this divisive issue.
With the approval of the Town Council, I will appoint a Town Hall Committee of taxpayers along with one or more commissioners to ascertain the will of the community regarding the size, style, location and costs of a new Town Hall. I will ask for their recommendations to be presented to the Town Council by September 2016.
The Town Council approved a trial solution to the garbage service which was initiated on May 30 and entails the use of preprinted, colored bags when garbage is brought to the Town Services Office, Monday-Friday. Please see the attachment for details. Commissioner Kent Otto graciously agreed to provide a trailer for garbage at the Gate on Saturday mornings, 7:00-11:00 a.m., as a volunteer service to those leaving on Saturday mornings. We realize that the disposal of garbage is important, and procedures will be reviewed and adjustments made to meet your needs.
Once these high priority matters are underway, I will work with the Town Council and our committees to review our regulations along with the structure and costs of our Town government. We will keep you informed of progress on the bridge and the new Town Hall and new developments as they arise. The Town Council and I welcome your suggestions and questions. The public is now invited to speak and interact with the Town Council on the first Thursday of each month, 6:30-7:00 p.m., before the start of the Agenda Meeting. Also, please check the Town of Montreat board at the Post Office and the Town of Montreat website for information. If you are not on the Town’s Sunshine List for Town Communications, please add your email to that important list by logging into the Town website. We are dedicated to serving you and to communicating with you as we work for the Montreat we all want.
Town Administrator Ron Nalley has accepted a position at Lake Lure starting August 1 and has submitted his resignation. Along with the community, I wish him well with his new expanded duties in a larger town, and we thank him for all he has done for Montreat. I encourage you to come to the Walkup Building at 6:30 p.m. on July 14th, prior to the regular Town Council meeting, to offer your thanks and good wishes to Ron before he leaves.
Tim Helms, Mayor