Board amends town ordinances, plans future coronavirus spending

BY D. LARS DOLDER, News + Record Staff
Posted 11/4/20

SILER CITY — The board of commissioners resolved several town planning amendment proposals before evaluating plans to spend federally-awarded coronavirus relief funds at its Monday night …

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Board amends town ordinances, plans future coronavirus spending

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SILER CITY — The board of commissioners resolved several town planning amendment proposals before evaluating plans to spend federally-awarded coronavirus relief funds at its Monday night meeting.

In the board’s Oct. 19 meeting, Planning and Community Development Director Jack Meadows introduced a series of suggested revisions to sections of Siler City planning code in response to various citizen requests. They included:

• An adjustment to accessory building setback requirements in response to a resident’s petition to build a carport in violation of standing ordinances. Meadows pointed out that many older Siler City homes have long had similar carports; the request was not unreasonable, he said.

• Editing town code requirements for entrances to streets and parking area aisles widths to accommodate plans for the affordable housing project on Campus Dr. and adjustments to the Deep River Missionary Baptist Association facility. The amendment would also permit Mountaire Farms to make street modifications around its property.

The board voted to proceed with both ordinance changes.

Back in May, the commissioners approved a request for “vendors for nuisance abatement services” — contractors hired to address violations of the town’s ordinances respecting “public nuisances” on privately owned property. According to a memorandum issued following the request, public nuisances include but are not limited to:

• “Mattresses, boxes, paper, tires, garbage, junk, food waste, animal waste, rotten/decaying matter, items with rough and jagged edges and vacant dilapidated homes.”

Approved contractors would be invited to investigate sites identified to be in violation of public nuisance ordinance, the memorandum outlined, and given 24 hours to submit sealed bids. The selected contractor would be paid following satisfactory completion of work at which point the town would “submit a statement of cost to the property owner” plus “the town’s $180 nuisance abatement fee.”

Town staff emailed about 700 vendors with a request to join the town’s approved list. Eight responded with proposals.

The commissioners voted to approve the eight, but added the stipulation that any bid in excess of $1,500 must be submitted to the board for approval before the contractor renders services.

CARES Act spending

Discussion continued at length concerning what to do with $381,000 in coronavirus relief funds awarded to Siler City as part of the federal CARES Act.

Town Manager Roy Lynch recommended the board distribute the money according to four categories of spending.

“The first area that we are looking at,” he said, “is citizen communication.”

The spending would include modifications to the town’s website, purchase of emergency communication tools, “voice amplifiers for the fire department” and other technology updates including “purchasing iPads for the board of commissioners.”

“You know, many times now we’re constantly printing out the agendas and all the packets and having to disseminate the information that way,” Lynch said. “But with newer upgraded technology with these iPads, Jenifer (Johnson, Siler City’s Town Clerk) would be able to send everything out through those. You’d be able to bring those to the meetings, use them, instead of having all this paperwork.”

The second category of spending would be for non-profit organizations.

“As I have mentioned before,” Lynch said, “many local governments were supporting their communities through these non-profit organizations. This past year, as we realized what our revenue constraints were going to be, the board had to make the decision to pull the non-profit funding… However, with this generous funding, we potentially will be able to go back and appropriate that funding.”

Each non-profit would only receive about 50% of what was allocated for them in the town’s original, pre-pandemic budget, though.

Category three would encompass public safety expenditures.

“In looking at this one,” Lynch said, “we have the body cameras for the police officers… You know, the use of body cameras is an invaluable tool for the department due to all the COVID changes we have seen over the past few months. We’d actually be able to see how the staff interact with community, and if there ever was a situation they became engaged in, be able to identify what the situation was in relation to any COVID incidence.”

Finally, Lynch proposed that personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies make up the fourth spending category.

A breakdown of exact funding for each category was not publicly available during the meeting.

The commissioners responded vociferously to the proposal, calling for a greater proportion of funds to be allocated for non-profit organizations.

“We don’t necessarily have to decrease funding to a non-profit,” said Commissioner Lewis Fadley. “We could pull it from another category… My first preference would be to see if we can pinch our own pennies.”

Commissioner Bill Haiges agreed, and suggested that Lynch revisit the proposal and resubmit to the board at its next meeting.

“I think maybe Roy can come back to us,” he said. “The more I think about it, the more I don’t want to take from the non-profit and give it to another (category). Maybe we can find out of some of the other three categories (money) to put toward non-profit funding.”

The board at large agreed to have Lynch reevaluate the proposal. The town has until Dec. 30 to finalize its spending plan for submission to the federal government.

A poignant moment

This week’s board of commissioners meeting was Siler City’s first since Mayor John Grimes passed away two weeks ago, and the weight of his absence was palpable. Before drawing the meeting to a close, Mayor Pro-Tem Cindy Bray asked to express herself.

“I’d just like to say,” Bray started, “that it’s been a rough six months for this board, for this town. We’ve lost two people that could never be replaced.”

Before Grimes, Mayor Pro-Tem Larry Cheek passed away in May.

“I know everyone has done the best they could, and I’d like to say that I’m thankful for that,” Bray said. “Always keep the town in our prayers, because we’ve had a rough go of it. But I think everybody here has been awesome; I think the town employees have been awesome; I think Roy has been awesome. We couldn’t ask for anything better, and I think we should all be grateful.”

Out of respect for the late mayor, the board did not discuss any plans to fill Grimes’ seat.

Reporter D. Lars Dolder can be reached at dldolder@chathamnr.com.

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