Mayor’s Summary from 02/10/22

Mayor’s Summary of the February 10, 2022 Town Council Meeting

Greetings fellow Montreaters,

It’s nice to see the snow piles dissipating, which gives me hope that spring is not too far away.

Approximately 19 people joined the Council tonight, which included an extended Public Forum to discuss the bears/dogs issue we began talking about last month. Others were live streaming the meeting. If you would like to view the recording, CLICK HERE.

Public Forum

I’ll start with a special summary of the extended Public Forum. We spent the first forty minutes in dialogue about the issue of bear hunting and its effect upon Montreat. Guests included Captain Andrew Melton with the NC Wildlife Resources Commission, Law Enforcement Division as well as Jim Gibbs, the President of the Mt. Mitchell Bear Hunters Club and other members of the club. I opened the discussion with resident comments so our guests could better understand the issues. The following residents spoke: Arrington Cox, Joely Rogers, Mark Rogers, Rusty Douglas, Philip Arnold and Mary Standaert. Comments were directed to concern about the safety of residents and guests during bear season, the need for control of hunting dogs by their owners, safety in public places like the playground and parks, hunters releasing their dogs in Montreat and clarification on what bear hunters can and cannot do.

Jim Gibbs then spoke about how important it was to the club’s members to have a good relationship with the Town as well as the college and MRA. The club requires that their members not go on private property nor do any hunting or releasing of dogs in Montreat. They understand our dilemma and want to help any way they can in trying to mitigate the situation.

Captain Melton then spoke about the growing bear population in NC and WNC. The population is growing 6% annually, and bear hunting is the primary way of controlling the growth. However, there are very strict bear hunting laws in NC designed to protect the public and the bears. He commended the Mt. Mitchell Bear Hunting Club for their integrity and ethical approach, then commented there has never been a complaint against any of its members. They can help us. He said the hunters we see in Montreat are not part of the club.

Captain Melton then opened it up for Q&A. I wish I had enough room in this meeting summary to cover everything. Instead, I really recommend that you go to the recording of the meeting and watch this portion. It’s at the very beginning. CLICK HERE for the recording.

There were several extremely important statements he made. First, he said it is possible for the town to add an ordinance limiting hunters from coming into Montreat. The Council will be discussing this possibility. He also offered a number of things for Montreaters to do who are having problems with bears, dogs and/or hunters:

  1. Immediately call the Wildlife Resources hotline to report illegal activity, like trespassing or releasing of dogs: 800-662-7137
  2. Call the Montreat Police Department
  3. Obtain the license number of the vehicles involved and report it on the hotline
  4. Take photos of the hunters involved and provide to MPD and NCWRC hotline
  5. Have heightened awareness during bear hunting season for safety sake
  6. But most important, don’t try to get between the dogs and the bear

We didn’t fix the problem tonight. But we are far more aware of rules, what we can do as citizens and what we as a Council can do. I promise we will stay on top of the issue and keep you informed.

We then moved into the last portion of the Public Forum:

  • Seth Hagler from MRA spoke about the strong relationship there is between MRA and the bear hunting club and how helpful the club is to Montreat.
  • Mary Standaert commented on the tardiness of the 2019-2020 Town Audit submitted to the state. It was one year late. I explained the reasons why it was late. She also was concerned the fund balance had dropped to 16% of the annual budget when the Council had set 35% as the target.
  • Tom Frist commented on what a wonderful discussion it was about the bear situation. There were many different points of view, but there was great respect for all and excellent dialogue. He felt very inspired.

We ran out of time and moved immediately into the Town Council meeting. Here’s a summary of the meeting:

  • After the normal opening formalities, I offered my comments about the wonderful job the Public Works staff did in handling our two snow falls. In the first snowfall, we had three trucks and five PW workers going 24 hours a day for three days. They spread 46 tons of sand and 9,200 pounds of icemelt. Their primary problem in plowing the roads was cars left in the streets. making it extremely difficult to maneuver the plows. As I said to everyone, “They worked their tails off!” Thanks to our dedicated staff in Public Works.
  • In Alex’s comments, he introduced the new interim Town Administrator candidate, Ben Blackburn.
  • During Public Comments:
    • Seth Hagler from MRA thanked Barry Creasman and the Public Works crew for help in removing some problem trees that they couldn’t handle by themselves.
    • Mary Standaert continued expressing her concern about the audit report being late, also affecting the 2020-2021 audit being late. She also spoke again about the low fund balance, tax increases in the past, using the fund balance to cover operating funds, not purchasing the financial software sooner, wanting to know the status of finances on a more regular and timely basis, stated we are not in a good position for the ’22-’23 budget hearings because we don’t know where we stand, commented that the Town’s financial officer should have been at tonight’s meeting, and suggested we re-institute agenda meetings.
  • There was no Old Business, so the Council moved directly to New Business:
    • Levonia Reese from Carter, P.A., our new auditing firm, reviewed the Fiscal Year 2020 (July 2019-June 2020) audit. She explained why it was late and that the state was well aware of the situation. She then reviewed highlights. Again, due to the length and technicality of her presentation, I recommend you watch the recording of the meeting. All in all, the Town is in good financial position– some metrics improved (debt reduction) while others decreased (General Fund). The audit has been accepted and certified by the state.
    • Approved the appointment of Ben Blackburn as Interim Town Administrator at the rate of $50 per hour plus mileage. Ben will work three days per week.
    • I then administered the Oath of Office to Ben.
    • Approved a budget amendment to transfer $12,500 to fund the Stormwater Services Contract
    • Approved a Stormwater Services Contract with the Land-of-Sky Regional Council in the amount of $12,500
    • Discussed but took no action on the topic of changing the Town charter to move from a Mayor-Council form of government to a Manager-Council form. The Mayor-Council form is more fitting in today’s environment and will add an edge in recruiting a permanent replacement. Alex and Ben offered advantages and disadvantages for both forms, but recommended we strongly look at the Mayor-Council form. It will be formally addressed in a future Council meeting.
  • There were no Commissioners’ Communications:

That was all, so I said good night to everyone and adjourned the meeting.

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

Thank you for your support and encouragement,

Mayor Tim Helms on behalf of the Town Council