Mayor Pro Tem’s Summary of the June 11, 2020 Virtual Town Council Meeting

Greetings Montreaters,

It was my honor to chair tonight’s meeting in the absence of Mayor Helms. Tim had hip replacement surgery Wednesday afternoon and I am happy to say that his wife, Mimi, reports that he is doing well. We pray for a full recovery for him.

With the continued COVID-19 restriction limiting indoor meetings to 10 or fewer people, we conducted our June Town Council meeting virtually as we did in April and May. The meeting was closed to the public, but people logged on to the meeting via Zoom. 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 all Commissioners present except the Mayor. We approved the minutes of the March Public Forum and Council meeting and the May Council meeting.
  • I made comments about our current social situation, with the coronavirus pandemic and the public outcry against racism. It is my hope, and others as well, that we can overcome the COVID-19 situation quickly and see reform in law enforcement and healing in our race relations.
  • Four Public Comments were submitted in advance and read by Angie:
    • Mary Standaert made comments about purported past over spending, which has helped cause the current budget problems. She also commented that she did not receive any response from her questions asked during the budget Workshop two weeks ago. As an aside, Alex Carmichael published the answers to the questions online earlier today.
    • Martha Campbell commented that she asked Chief Arrant to share information about Montreat’s model of policing, including a number of specific practices and procedures.
    • Leta Jean Taylor commented that she feels the employees are being penalized in the upcoming budget year since they will not be receiving longevity bonuses or Ingles gift cards. Other cuts could have been made including not buying new furniture for the Town Hall.
    • Mary Standaert stated that daily from noon to 12:30 there will be a Stand for Justice near the Montreat Gate through July 4th.

  • Under New Business, the Commission discussed and acted on the following:
    • Discussed the FY 2020-2021 Budget Ordinance. Several commissioners asked questions of staff and discussed the difficult situation we are facing. Commissioner Widmer read a portion of an email response he sent to a resident who had asked questions about the need to raise taxes. Here is a portion of Commissioner Widmer’s response:

“Until recently, I thought that nearly all our income came from real estate tax receipts. Actually, only about 60% of our revenues come from property taxes. Nearly 30% come from sales use taxes and personal property taxes.  Already in this current quarter, we had a reduction of nearly $30,000 in sales taxes from the county due to reduced spending by all of us during the pandemic. Projections are that it will continue well into the Town’s third and maybe fourth fiscal quarter (first half of 2021). In fact, Alex, in conversation with both local and state leaders, told us to expect a 27% decrease in revenues, and hence a 27% decrease in expenses.

“You know we don’t have that much fat in the budget. We run a pretty lean and efficient ship. But, we did consider some tough choices:

  1. We considered some limited staff cuts, but there wasn’t enough there to make a dent.
  2. We considered cutting staff salaries by 3%, saving $19,000. But, we were able to find other savings in order to save salary cuts and, likely, morale drops as well.
  3. We considered, and did indeed make, capital improvement cuts. The Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) went from an approved $916K plan in March to $52K in this current budget.
  4. Departments cut their operating budgets to bare minimums for the year.

“So, once we got expenses down to a level we thought could get us through but with no fluff, we backed into the revenue budget by first looking at traditional revenue sources. There was still a shortfall. So, we looked to our “savings account” and finally to taxes. The two cent increase will generate about $48,000 in new revenue and the balance ($135K) will come out of the savings account.”

After further discussion, the Council approved the FY 2020-2021 Budget Ordinance.

  • Discussed the need for a procedure to log, assign and respond to questions asked during the Public Forum and Public Comments portions of the meeting. After much discussion, the Council directed Alex to work on such a system and to bring it back to the Commission at the July meeting.
  • In Commissioners’ Communications, Commissioners Fouche and Widmer announced there will be a Town Hall Open House Tour on July 4th. The open house hours and other details will be announced soon and will be conducted using COVID-19 safe procedures. It will be an opportunity for the community to see the new Town Hall and celebrate the 4th in a different Montreat way. Town Hall dedication plans are still on hold pending COVID-19 regulation changes. Commissioner Lentz commented that she hopes we can feel and act for peace in these troubled times and pray for our community, local and global.

Before we adjourned, we commented on how we miss the Public Forum and interacting with community members. We look forward to returning to normal and being back together again. In the meantime, please stay well.

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.

Mayor Pro Tem Kent Otto on behalf of the Town Council