Mayor’s Summary of the August 12, 2021 Town Council Meeting

Hello Montreaters,

It’s a little quieter here with the conference and Clubs seasons complete and vacationers having returned home. But on the other hand we’re beginning to see Montreat College students arriving on campus. So, the Montreat cycle continues!

The Council meeting brought approximately seven people for the Forum and 13 for the Council meeting. We live streamed and recorded it. To view the recording, CLICK HERE. As you know, the official overview is the meeting minutes in September’s agenda packet.

Here’s a summary of the meeting:

  • Public Forum questions/comments included:
    • Martha Campbell thanked the Council and staff for making the decision to require masks for staff and visitors in the Town Hall. She recommended that the Council require that staff be vaccinated or tested weekly. I commented that, as in the past, we will follow Buncombe County’s COVID guidelines, which they will release soon.
    • Letta Jean Taylor asked the Council to reconsider the ordinance changes about removing the requirement that homes in the ETJ have to tie into the Town sewer and water systems.
    • Eric Nichols disagreed with my comments from last month’s Forum where I stated that the 2008 Comprehensive Plan had been “used sparingly”. He said that past Councils had used it significantly from 2008-2014. He would like me to retract and correct my statement and asked the Council to begin using the Plan. In my response to Eric, I said that I made a misstatement in answering a question about the Town of Montreat Comprehensive Plan. I told everyone that my comment was incorrect. The Town Commission in past years implemented quite a lot of the plan. What I meant to convey is that a lot has been done by the present and previous Commissions, but there is much  more to be done to complete the work in the plan. The remaining and unfinished work is why the Town Council has budgeted monies to revisit and build on the current Comprehensive Plan, which is most important to the future of our community. I misspoke and apologize for the remark.
    • Mary Standaert commented that the Commission failed to properly video record a number of Council meetings. She asked that we send out to the Sunshine List the audio recordings of the June and July meetings. Mayor Pro Tem Widmer replied that the video recordings were an extra service provided by the Council and augmented the official minutes and the audio recording of the meetings. The Mayor’s Meeting Summary and the video recordings were implemented to increase the transparency of the work of the Council. After much conversation, I said that we encourage anyone who is interested in hearing the audio recordings of the June and July meetings to go to the Town Hall and request to listen to them, but we will not email them to everyone on the Sunshine List.
    • Tom Frist offered appreciation from the community to Letta Jean Taylor, Martha Campbell, Eric Nichols, Mary Standaert and the current Council for their service and stated he was grateful the former Council members were in attendance tonight.
    • Bill Roberts reminded everyone that the College students were returning and classes would begin soon. He asked that the Montreat Police Department officers be fully informed of what the noise ordinances and enforcement regulations are and that his inquiries to Town staff are responded to, saying they had not been in the past.
    • Sarah Baughman, VP of Marketing and Communications at Montreat College, provided an update on College activities. All students will be back on campus by Saturday, with classes beginning next week. This is the seventh year in a row of record enrollment levels, with nearly 700 undergraduate students enrolled, including 200 new students. Renovations were done to three dorms and a $2.5 million dollar update to the Howerton dining room is nearly complete. With COVID concerns, Sarah said that either proof of vaccination or negative test results will be required of all students. The College’s COVID dashboard will be actively reporting cases on campus.
    • Richard DuBose reported that Buncombe County will be reinstating the COVID mask mandate effective next week for masks to be worn in all public buildings. I mentioned we were aware of the mandate and are following suit in all public buildings.
  • At the conclusion of the Forum, I called the Town Council Meeting to order. In my comments, I reiterated that masks are required by visitors and staff when meeting with one another. This holds true for the Town Hall and the Public Works building. I also welcomed Ezra Maille, the new reporter for the Black Mountain News and Asheville Citizen Times. We were glad he joined us tonight.
  • Town Administrator Alex Carmichael reported that we have received the first payment on our American Rescue Plan funds. The first payment of $138,000 that we received will be duplicated next year, for a total of $276,000. Like other government programs, there are a lot of provisions regarding what the funds can be used for. We are still learning about the provisions, but are confident it will help us given the losses we incurred due to the pandemic
  • On the subject of the Administrative Reports, Mayor Pro Tem Widmer asked Public Works Director Barry Creasman if the big water leak was found. Barry said it was found, along with two others. Tom also commended Alex, Finance Director Darlene Carrasquillo, and all the staff for their diligent work in containing their spending in a difficult COVID environment. Year end results showed that revenue was 1% above budget and expenses were 10% below budget, resulting in year end net income of $264,287. This is most unusual in a pandemic year, and we are indeed grateful to the staff for their fiscal attentiveness and saving taxpayer dollars.
  • During Public Comments:
    • Letta Jean Taylor  provided an overview of Town Comprehensive Plans including the 1996 and 2008 plans. She shared how the Councils during that time, until 2014, reviewed their progress on accomplishing the goals included in the Plans. She stated that 73% of the goals in the 2008 plan had been accomplished. She shared specific accomplishments of the plan and said the current Council should consider looking at the plan and revising it. As I mentioned earlier, the Council began some preliminary work on revising it last year and funds have been included in this year’s budget to update the plan.
    • Martha Campbell thanked Letta Jean for the “history lesson” and reiterated how the Council during her term used the plan in their annual planning. Martha also stated specific accomplishments  of the then Council.
    • Mary Standaert also spoke about the process that the Council followed during her term of service regarding the Comprehensive Plan. She said she wanted to see a retraction of my July comments about the plan being sparingly used.
  • There was no Old Business, so we moved directly to New Business:
    • The Council approved the proclamation designating September 4th as Arbor Day in Montreat. I read the proclamation aloud. You can read it by CLICKING HERE.
    • The Council heard an overview of plans and recommendation on the Texas Road bank repair project. Engineering firm CDC has prepared engineering drawings for the repair, and their representative, Jesse Gardner, explained the current state of construction. Due to the effects of COVID, the construction industry has no excess capacity at this time, there are supply chain issues affecting availability of materials, and the industry is seeing a 25% increase in costs. He recommended that we wait on bidding out the project until the first of the year, hoping that the industry will settle down and costs will come down. We asked Jesse if he thought the bank would undergo more damage if we waited. He indicated that he didn’t think so. He also commented that because we asked for a plan using Redi-Rock, a superior aesthetic solution to gabion baskets as used at Greybeard, the cost will likely be 25%-30% higher. We asked Jesse to work up a plan using gabion baskets as an alternative. We also asked that they apply washed stone at the base of the damaged area to prevent further erosion.
    • The Council approved the annual renewal for zoning administration with the Land of Sky Regional Council at a fee of $58,686, which represents a 5% increase over last year. This is the first increase we have incurred in two years.
    • The Council also approved a contract with Reuben, Caldwell Drilling in the amount of $15,835 to repair the well on Texas Road that was recently struck by lightning. Insurance will pay the cost after deductible.
  • In Commissioners’ Communications:
    • Commissioner Lentz urged everyone to view the recently updated Landcare website, containing new information and design. She also reminded everyone about the upcoming Arbor Day celebration on Sept. 4 from 10:00am to 2:00pm at the Town Hall.
    • Commissioner Otto recognized William DuBose Sr. in the audience and thanked him for attending. He also recognized past Town officials Letta Jean Taylor, Mary Standaert, Martha Campbell and Eric Nichols who were also in attendance, thanking them for their service. He also stated that Montreat College students will be offering their services to the community in small chores on Friday mornings. Details will be forthcoming
  • We then adjourned into Closed Session to discuss a personnel matter. No action was taken, just discussion.

On behalf of the Council, we greatly appreciate your support. Please continue to stay in contact with us if you have questions or comments on issues related to the Town.

If you have any questions about this meeting summary or any topic, please write me at [email protected] or call me at 828/669-3852.

Mayor Tim Helms on behalf of the Town Council