Here we are in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, and it has changed our lives significantly. Life here in Montreat is different—very quiet and somewhat secluded. But it is even more changed outside of the gate.
However, we are not letting the virus stop the work of the Town. After checking with state and local authorities, we were able to organize a “virtual” Town Council meeting. That means the meeting was closed to the public, but folks could log on to the meeting via Zoom or on the phone. We also set up a system for people to send in their comments for the Public Comments section in advance, and those comments were read by Town Clerk Angie Murphy during the meeting. We struggled a bit with the technology but are grateful to Alex for setting up this first virtual meeting. Here’s a summary of the meeting:
- I called the meeting to order with Commissioners Fouche, Otto and Widmer and myself present to create a quorum. Commissioners Alexander and Lentz “Zoomed” into the meeting from their homes. In addition to the participants, there were 17 others logged in to view the meeting.
- Four people submitted comments in advance, that were then
read during the Public Comment period:
- Beth Casper commented that she has observed out of town homeowners not abiding by the quarantine order and others walking in Montreat not following social distancing rules. She asked how to respond and suggested putting a sign up at the gate.
- Mary Standaert stated that the public records requests and personal requests about the total attorney’s fees for the Town’s portion of the legal proceedings brought by a Montreat resident haven’t been answered. She wants the information about attorney’s fees.
- Wade Burns provided information about the Greybeard Extra Territorial Jurisdiction (ETJ) where 23 building lots and three homes are located. The lots are currently unbuildable due to town ordinances. He requested that an annexation study be conducted to determine the feasibility of annexing the ETJ.
- Mike Sonnenberg recommended some fiscal actions in the face of the COVID-19 crisis, including delays in planned purchases and potential budget cuts in phases.
I stated that we will respond to these comments soon.
- Under New Business, the Commission discussed and acted
on the following:
- Approved a motion to allow virtual participation by Commissioners not physically present at the meeting, also allowing them to vote on motions.
- Received a presentation on the One Buncombe Fund to aid COVID-19 victims. After the presentation, the agenda called for a motion to call a Public Hearing on contributions to the One Buncombe Fund. However, it failed for lack of a motion.
- Received a presentation on the Texas Road Bridge renovation design, given by the engineers who conducted the design study. No action was taken.
- Received a presentation from Alex Carmichael on the ’20-’21 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). There was significant discussion following the presentation, primarily focused on the need for conservative spending in the next fiscal year. Action will be taken on the CIP as part of the June budget discussion and action.
- Approved a motion to renew the Town’s Workers Compensation Insurance policy in the amount of $18,882.99. Fortunately, the premium increase was only several hundred dollars.
- Approved a motion to renew the Town’s Property and Liability Insurance policy. The new premium will be determined after the application is submitted.
- Commissioner Fouche began a
discussion of what we can all do to ensure the needs of Montreaters are
met in the face of the COVID-19 crisis and Stay Home order. I suggested we
begin a “neighborhood check in”, calling neighbors around you to
find out if they are OK or need anything. Alex indicated that if
people are in need, they can call 211. This is a help line operated by United
Way in partnership with Buncombe County. United Way will then work
with County agencies to meet people’s needs.
We also talked about how to respond to out-of-staters wanting to come to their homes here in Montreat. I’ve had some experience on this subject, telling callers that they are welcome to come to their home, but they must abide by the County 14 day quarantine. Granted, it is a self-quarantine and it is difficult to enforce. But we expect folks to abide by the order.
If anyone has any concerns or incidents, please
contact the Town staff at 828/669-2002 or write [email protected].
- Regarding Town project updates, Commissioner Widmer gave a Town Hall update. The pandemic has not stopped progress on the building. In fact, we were told earlier this week that the building will be turned over to us approximately May 29, about 1½ months sooner than we expected. We will have to determine the opening and dedication of the Town Hall based on COVID-19 regulations. Public Works Director Barry Creasman updated everyone on the new Public Works building. After a slow start and despite recent weather challenges, the building is going up quickly. The structural steel was completed last week and the exterior walls should be complete this week. Barry also commented that the Greybeard Trail project is complete except for guardrails, which the Town staff will install soon.
- Commissioner Lentz provided an update on Tree Board and Landcare activities including postponement of the Native Plant Sale and Landcare receiving a grant to study Flat Creek.
Please stay home and stay well,
Mayor Tim Helms on behalf of the Town Council