Mayor’s Meeting Summary of 04/14/2022

Mayor’s Summary of the April 14, 2022 Town Council Meeting

Greetings fellow Montreaters,

The Council, staff and about eight visitors convened for the meeting and others joined us by Zoom. If you would like to view the recording, CLICK HERE. Here is my summary of the Forum and Council meeting. Remember you can read the complete, official summary in the meeting minutes that will be published next month.

Public Forum

  • Linda Stroop read questions asked by two of her neighbors who were not available for the meeting, but she agreed to come on their behalf. Her first question was from residents Meredith Green and Laurie Morgan asked “What is the total amount the Town has spent on the SUP hearing to date?” I answered the question with a total as of today: between $121,555 and $124,555. The total includes $14,742 of staff time, an estimated $7,000 to $10,000 in attorneys’ fees for the Superior Court appeal, and the balance of $99,813 for attorneys, court reporter and other direct costs. Linda then asked four questions from resident Dan Zorn: 1) What was the annual budget allocation for legal fees? I said we budgeted $45,000 in the ’21-’22 budget; 2) Should the Board increase the amount? My response was that we hope we don’t have another such situation- but it’s impossible to know; 3) What will suffer with the added expenses? I responded that we were forced to use the funds we budgeted for the Texas Road Bridge repair to pay the expenses. We have several ways to pay for the bridge, including two grant proposals we have submitted and, hopefully, including some expense in next year’s budget; 4) Since the Town was not a direct party in the application or opposition, why did we have to spend the money? We had one attorney who worked directly with the Board of Adjustment to instruct and counsel them to ensure the BOA’s proceedings were proper and legally correct. We had another litigation attorney on behalf of the Town to monitor and observe the hearings to be prepared to defend the Town in the event of an appeal to the Superior Court, which is happening.
  • Grace Nichols provided information about the Landcare Committee’s upcoming Native Plant Sale and Arbor Day Celebration on Saturday, April 23. There will be activities and events for the entire family including food and educational programs in addition to the plant sale. At 9:00am, I will read the Arbor Day and Monarch Pledge Proclamations and kick off the day. Watch for details or go to the Town website for more information.
  • Brad Hestir reminded everyone that the Native Plant Sale is also an Arbor Day celebration and explained the importance of trees to Montreat, our state, nation and the world. He urged the Council to support tree conservation in Montreat and that the Board make sure to consider the environment as a primary issue in all the decisions we make.

Council Meeting

  • In my comments I reiterated the total we estimate we will spend on the hotel SUP issue- between $121,555 to $124,555, of which only $45,000 was budgeted for legal fees. The expense represents almost 6% of the Town’s annual budget.
  • In the Town Administrator’s report, Interim Administrator Ben Blackburn spoke about the two grant applications the Town submitted in the last two weeks for Texas Road Bridge funding, including the French Broad River Metropolitan Planning Organization grant program and the Buncombe County COVID ARP program. The amount of the application was $191,000, including $111,000 for Phase I (structural repairs) and $80,000 for Phase II (aesthetic upgrades).
  • There were no Public Comments
  • There was no Old Business, but plenty of New Business:
    • We held a Public Hearing to hear from individuals on the possible change to the Montreat Town Charter from a Mayor/Council to a Council/ Manager form of Government. Resident Wade Burns stated there are many issues with the current form and the Manager form will take the politics out of staff management. Commissioner Mason Blake said NC leads the nation in municipalities adopting the Manager form because it is more efficient and is the right move for the Town. Commissioner Kitty Fouche agreed with the previous comments and supports the change. Resident Brad Hestir expressed concern that he did not know about this issue and wondered if it was properly/adequately communicated. I told Brad it was a significant topic of conversation at last month’s Council meeting and a resolution was passed to hold a Public Hearing this evening. We also stated that it was communicated in the Montreat Minute, on the Town website, posted in the Post Office and the minutes of last month’s meeting. Brad felt that such an important issue should have more public involvement.
    • The Council approved committing 20% Matching Funds for the Metropolitan Planning Organization’s LAPP Grant application for repair and renovation of the Texas Road Bridge.
    • Approved a special meeting to discuss how to manage the issue of hunting dogs in Montreat during bear hunting season. The invitees include three Montreat community members, representatives from the Mt. Mitchell Bear Hunting Club, NC Wildlife Resources Commission, MRA, and the Town Council and staff.
    • Denied a bid from Cekra, Inc. in the amount of $317,000 for Phase I repair of the Texas Road Bridge.
    • Adopted an Arbor Day Proclamation
    • Approved a motion to sell a Town dump truck
    • Approved a renewal of health insurance policy for town staff. The increase was only 4% over last year.
    • Approved six budget amendments to transfer funds between various accounts. The reason was to not overspend established budgets necessitated by higher than expected expenses in salaries, legal expenses, gasoline for Town vehicles, increased use of sanitation services, and several other accounts. At the end of this series of motions, Mayor Pro Tem Widmer asked if any funds had to be used from the General Fund (our savings account). Financial Officer Darlene Carrasquillo reassured everyone that the General Fund has not touched, that we simply shifted funds between accounts.
  • In Commissioners’ Communications, Commissioner Otto thanked staff for their hard work during this difficult economic time for the Town. He said the staff is like a family, pulling together to get things done. Mayor Pro Tem Widmer thanked Pubiic Works staff Daniel Wiggs, Barry Creasman and Drew Brown for their excellent work in mulching the grounds of the Town Hall and pocket park and saving the Town landscape contractor fees. He also recognized Montreat resident and astronaut John Casper for the release of his book, The Sky Above. The Montreat Adult Summer Club will host John for a book signing in July– date to be announced. I concluded the meeting with appreciation to attendees Grace Nichols for her work chairing the Landcare Committee, Brad Hestir chairing the Tree Board, Mark Spence chairing the Board of Adjustment and Wade Burns for his role on the P&Z Commission. We couldn’t do the work that is done without community volunteers and leaders like these four.

I adjourned the meeting and thanked everyone for attending.

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,

Mayor Tim Helms on behalf of the Town Council