SILER CITY — The town’s board of commissioners divided most of its time on Monday between discussions about planning ordinance revision proposals and adjustments to teacher evaluation and pay …
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SILER CITY — The town’s board of commissioners divided most of its time on Monday between discussions about planning ordinance revision proposals and adjustments to teacher evaluation and pay before readdressing the coronavirus relief fund and acknowledging the late Mayor John Grimes’ vacancy.
Planning and Community Development Director Jack Meadows kicked off the meeting with a series of proposals to simplify the approvals process for new development projects. Among several minor adjustments in ordinance language, Meadows suggested the commissioners consider expanding the definition of “minor subdivisions,” thereby allowing town staff to approve bigger development projects without involving the board.
“The critical change would be the number of lots that would allow it to be considered a minor subdivision versus a major subdivision,” Meadows said.
As per town ordinance, town staff can approve construction of minor subdivisions — developments including four lots or fewer. Anything larger must go before the board of commissioners for approval. Meadows’ proposal would change the definition of a minor subdivision from four lots to 12.
“This is somewhat of a significant change,” he said.
The recommendation was based on considerable research into standard practices across similar towns in N.C., Meadows emphasized.
“We try to investigate all the communities in and around Siler City,” he said, “the seven, eight, nine counties around us, and maybe a little further.”
His findings yielded a precedent — 12 lots seemed to be about the standard tipping point. In fact, the number 12 appeared frequently as the maximum allowable size at which town staff can approve project development without board consent.
“So, we’ve continued to use this as we’ve updated planning ordinances,” Meadows said, “and 12 or 13 is sort of the magic number the planning board chose.”
Meadows, therefore, proposed a second amendment of town ordinance, permitting town staff to approve apartment complex projects of 12 units or fewer, and a third to expand the acreage maximum that town staff can approve for retail projects to 10 acres.
The board could not make an immediate decision. The proposals were part of a public hearing and required 24 hours for public comment. But reception was positive, and it seemed likely the commissioners would approve the ordinance amendments in their next meeting on Dec. 7.
“This is good,” Commissioner Lewis Fadely said, “I think this will help with our housing problems.”
Town employee salaries
Every year, Siler City town employees undergo a performance evaluation process that begins on March 1 and ends in the following February.
On Monday, Town Manager Roy Lynch introduced a proposal to amend and simplify the evaluation process. The changes would tighten the parameters under which town employees receive promotions and pay raises.
The measure was suggested in part to unburden supervisors of a complicated evaluation process, and to limit potentially reckless spending trends.
It was met with strong opinions.
“I personally think we need to rethink pay for performance,” said Mayor Pro Tem Cindy Bray. “I think we’ve treated our employees very well in the last few years, and I know we want to keep good employees … but can we sustain the amount of money we’re giving these people, especially with COVID, when people are out of work? It seems like the town is getting a lot of raises, and everybody else is not getting a job.”
Fadely felt otherwise.
“Mayor Pro Tem, I hear your arguments,” he said, “and while I respect them, I respectfully disagree with them ... I don’t think we should perpetuate that thinking upon our employees.”
Other commissioners expressed a mixture of feelings.
Whatever the board’s ultimate decision, however, current pay raise percentages are unsustainable, Lynch pointed out. They cannot maintain the pay raise precedent currently in place. Under the town’s current budgetary limits, something will eventually have to change.
The commissioners have until March 1, 2021 to resolve the issue and approve an evaluation system to go into effect with the 2021-2022 evaluation period.
CARES Act funding
Over the course of several meetings, the board of commissioners have deliberated over a spending plan for its more than $380,000 in CARES Act coronavirus relief fund money.
In its previous meeting, the board expressed dissatisfaction with the portion allocated to non-profit donation.
In response, Town Manager Roy Lynch shared a modified proposal on Monday that increased non-profit funding 19% from about $54,000 to $65,525.
Board members supported the adjustment and the revised spending plan was unanimously approved.
For the first time since Mayor John Grimes’ death on Oct. 20, the board discussed potential action to fill his vacancy.
“It’s whatever you want to do, really,” Town Attorney William Morgan told the board, “in whatever time-frame you want to do it.”
Town law does not require the board to fill the mayor’s seat as it would if a commissioner passed away. Even before Grimes’ death, Mayor Pro Tem Cindy Bray was already presiding over board meetings as she still does.
The board tabled the discussion for further review in its Dec. 7 meeting. If board members choose not to officially replace Mayor Grimes, his position will remain vacant until the next election season in Nov. 2021.
Reporter D. Lars Dolder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @dldolder.
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