Mayor’s Meeting Summary of 5/14/2020 Town Council Meeting

Hello Montreaters,

We continue in this strange way of pandemic life. We’ve adjusted schedules, social calendars, our ways of communicating and so much more. It’s my hope that you are faring well through it and adapting to this new normal.

As we did in April, we conducted our May Town Council meeting virtually. The meeting was closed to the public, but people logged on to the meeting via Zoom and Facebook. Community members sent in their comments/questions for the Public Comments section in advance, and those comments were read by Town Clerk Angie Murphy during the meeting. Here’s a summary of the meeting:

  • I called the meeting to order with Commissioners Alexander, Fouche, Otto and Widmer and myself physically present. Commissioner Lentz joined the meeting via Zoom from her home. We approved the minutes of the February meeting and after a slight alteration, approved the amended April meeting minutes.
  • Two people submitted comments in advance, that were then read during the Public Comment period:
    • Spencer Henschen, six years old, commented he noticed that the road signs at the intersection of North Carolina Terrace and Virginia Road are missing and asked if we could put up new ones. We thank you, Spencer, and we will take care of it thanks to your alert. It might take us a few days to get new signs.
    • Ron Vinson, Presbyterian Heritage Center (PHC) Executive Director, announced the PHC will re-open its doors on Saturday, May 23, from 1:00 to 4:00pm. This will be the only open day in May. The PHC will announce June openings at a later date.
  • Town Administrator, Alex Carmichael, informed the Council on several items:
    • The Town Hall is still making good progress. The interior is nearly complete. On the exterior, the contractor has had difficulty obtaining several construction items due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although several weeks delayed, we will still take ownership in June and will move in on July 1 as originally planned.
    • The Public Works building is also making swift progress. The exterior building is complete and the interior is well under way. Electrical and plumbing inspections are imminent, so we expect completion soon.
    • Alex commented that although we have not received reimbursement from the State for Tropical Storm Alberto repairs, the Commission will be taking action to facilitate reimbursement.
  • 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.
    • Approved the Health, Dental and Vision insurance program for employees. The good news was that there is no increase for the coming year.
    • Approved two budget amendments, one in the amount of $2,700 and the other for $109,442.
    • Approved a special meeting on May 28 at 5:00pm for presentation of the 2020-2021 budget and public hearing.
    • Approved a resolution authorizing Alex to sign an agreement with the state to reimburse Montreat for a portion of the expenses related to Tropical Storm Alberto damage in 2018.
  • Commissioner Widmer began a discussion of COVID-19 precautions moving forward. He stated that Montreat is extremely unique given the activities that occur here but is also home to the most vulnerable population affected by the coronavirus. Tom suggested we should be looking at precautions as crowds increase for the summer and beyond. People coming to Montreat likely are not aware of local COVID-19 regulations involving quarantines, rentals and other similar circumstances. With MRA looking at opening up programming in July and the College bringing students back in the fall, we need to be talking together about what can be done to protect our senior population.

    We had a lengthy discussion and felt increased communications to property owners as well as on-site communications may be a starting point. We agreed that several of us will get together with Alex to put a plan together, including messaging and how to communicate the messages. Stay tuned for more on this subject.
  • In Commissioners’ Communications, Commissioner Lentz told of the Landcare Committee’s “Montreat Beautiful Day” program, a successful Firewise group conference call about the results of the Town’s recent Firewise risk assessment and the launch of the Flat Creek water sampling initiative next week. Commissioner Widmer shared about the 2020 Census results thus far, with Buncombe County at a 54% self response rate while Montreat is only 9.6%. Being counted is important for many reasons, including tax dollars flowing to Montreat based on population. Please make sure you complete your census either online or by the census package that was placed on your door this week.
  • We adjourned into closed session to deal with a personnel matter. Afterward, we reopened the meeting in order to officially adjourn.

I want to alert you of an item that the Commission and staff have been talking about, and that is the 2020-2021 Budget. We have already felt a negative revenue effect due to the pandemic. Our share of sales tax for the last quarter of the year was short by $26,000 because of NC state tax shortfalls. We know it will go into next year (our fiscal year begins in July), we just don’t know how much. As a result, staff are preparing a very conservative budget, both in revenues and spending. New initiatives will likely be curtailed and capital improvement projects will probably be delayed. But know that we will do our best to maintain high levels of service such as you are used to. We will keep you informed about the situation as the budget develops.

If you have any questions about this meeting summary or any topic, please write me at [email protected] or call me at 919/801-8618.

Thank you for your support and encouragement. Please stay well,

Mayor Tim Helms on behalf of the Town Council