Mayor’s Meeting Summary from 8/11/22

Greetings Montreaters,

The Council and staff and approximately 13 attendees for the Public Forum and 21 for the Council meeting convened while several others joined by Zoom. If you would like to view the recording, CLICK HERE. Here is my summary of tonight’s meetings. Remember you can read the complete, official summary in the meeting minutes that will be published next month.

Public Forum

  • Letta Jean Taylor asked that we not have a public hearing and vote on the subject in the same night.
  • Mary Standaert had questions on the 2020-2021 audit that was presented later in the meeting:
    • She asked what the fund balance formula was. Interim Town Manager Ben Blackburn stated he did not know the formula but would get back to her when Town Financial Officer Darlene Carrasquillo was available.
    • She wanted to know why Commissioners Kitty Fouche and Kent Otto did not sign the letter to the state treasurer. Actually, they did sign the letter on the second sheet, which apparently wasn’t included in the copy Mary was looking at.
    • She wanted it clarified that the fund balance was 16% in the previous year and went to 24% in the 2020-2021 audit, not 32% as we had expected. As a note of correction, the fund balance in the 2020-2021 audit was actually 28.6% of budgeted expenditures, not 24%. We are still 6.4% short of the 35% fund balance established by the Council in years past, and are working to meet the 35% policy.
    • She asked another question that did not pertain to the 2020-2021 audit, but to the 2019-2020 audit. She wanted to know when the Council was aware of the fact that the Town Hall was $255,000 over the $1.69 million budget. Mayor Pro Tem Widmer explained that the $1.69 million was the construction budget, and in reality we came in under budget at $1.64 million. The additional $255,000 was for land purchase, surveys, engineering studies, initial design and other related costs most of which was incurred prior to construction commencing.
    • Unrelated to the FY 2020-2021 audit, she wanted to know why the Town had a $277,000 net income for the FY ended June 30, 2022 and what areas of spending were underbudget. Ben explained that income was higher than budgeted and underspending was in many areas including salaries, as staff was trying to control expenses in an uncertain COVID environment. He said she is welcome to see the budget expense detail. As an aside, the entire Council is thankful to the Town staff for their attention to controlling budget expenses and ending the fiscal year with more than a quarter of a million dollars in net income.
  • Wade Burns stated that stormwater issues in Montreat are one of the top problems we face in Montreat and that he has been involved with stormwater remediation for a long time. With construction in the ETJ and elsewhere, erosion and other related issues will get worse. He offered his assistance to help control the stormwater problems.

Council Meeting

  • In my communications:
    • I welcomed Commissioner Alexander back after her hip surgery last month.
    • I welcomed the Town’s new zoning administrator Kayla DiCristina. Kayla will be working Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 8:00am to 5:00pm. Kayla comes to us with a great deal of planning and zoning experience, and we’re grateful to have her working for the Town.
  • In Ben Blackburn’s report, he stated that the Governor’s COVID Executive Order will expire on Monday. The biggest impact for the Town is that the expiration will no longer allow Commissioners to participate remotely in Council meetings. He commented that it is not clear yet if the same holds true for the appointed boards and we are seeking clarification. We will continue to stream meetings for the public as possible.
  • In Public Comments:
    • Jonathan Smith, secretary of the Mount Mitchell Bear Hunting Club (MMBHC), explained that all members will have stickers on their vehicles identifying membership and have made some procedural changes in how they operate, all of which will help us here in Montreat. He then offered several comments about the ordinances we considered later in the meeting.
    • Mary Standaert again questioned the formula for determining the fund balance and asserted that the audit firm and our own staff may have been playing with the formula. I clearly and unequivocally stated that our Finance Officer if of the highest integrity and no such manipulation took place.
    • Shirley Mitchell commented that she is against the idea of mandatory bear proof boxes that had been discussed earlier. She also commended the work of former mayor, Letta Jean Taylor, who assumed the mayoral role at a very challenging time and did an excellent job improving Town government.
    • Letta Jean Taylor reminded everyone that the Montreat bear problem has been constant through the years, stating that one summer 17 bears were relocated from the Town (Ed. Note: NC Wildlife Resources Commission no longer relocates bears). On a different subject, she commented that when the Council passed the 35% policy for maintaining the fund balance, it was an arbitrary figure set after discussions with the Local Government Commission.
  • Under New Business
    • We had a presentation from our audit firm on the recently submitted 2020-2021 audit. Highlights include:
      • Three of the concerns from the 2019-2020 audit have been cleared up
      • We are still non-compliant on the fund balance policy of having 35% of budgeted expenditures in cash reserve. We are currently at 28.6%.
      • Our net position (net worth) increased by $325,000 to nearly $8 million.
      • Our general fund balance increased $30,000
      • We have more than $9.6 million in total assets
    • The Council approved a resolution affirming support regarding implementation of a revised stormwater program required by the state.
    • We held a public hearing regarding handing over a portion of the right of way at 300 and 304 North Carolina Terrace. The applicant, Harry T. Jones and his attorney, stated their case as to the purpose and need for the abandonment. There was considerable discussion between the applicant, Council and staff to ensure Council was aware of all details.
    • After a great deal of Council discussion and the failure of the original motion, a new motion to grant the right of way request for 304 North Carolina Terrace only, and not for 300 North Carolina Terrace, was approved by the Council
    • Commissioner Blake gave a detailed explanation of new and revised ordinances he prepared related to bear hunting dog activity and restrictions. These include:
      • Revised dog control ordinances
      • A new trespass ordinance
      • A new ordinance prohibiting release of hunting dogs in Montreat
      • A new ordinance requiring notification to the Police for dogs running at large in Town
      • A new ordinance prohibiting feeding bears and penalizing improper garbage disposal

Again, after significant discussion, the ordinances were passed on a 3-2 vote. We will be informing the community in early fall about these actions and other important information relating to our bear issues. Stay tuned.

  • In Commissioners’ Communications, Mayor Pro Tem Widmer commented that despite several late audits and not being at our 35% fund balance policy level (as stated, we are at 28.6%), the Town has the highest net worth ($7.9 million) in its history, added $325,000 to that worth in the last year alone, and has $1.1 million in unrestricted funds. We are turning the corner in our fiscal health.

Thanks for your interest in and encouragement of the work of the Town. If you have any questions about this meeting summary or other town topics, 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