Finances, Permits and a Pothole

The Board of Commissioners, meeting last night at the old meeting hall while our current room undergoes renovations, got great news about the town’s financial health.

We also approved permits for a barbecue restaurant on Corbett Avenue and an assisted-living facility on Swansboro Loop Road.

The board hit a rocky spot though when it appointed members to a steering committee that will help us fashion the much-needed update to our state-mandated land-use plan. To select nominees for this very important committee, we used a process that I thought was rushed, lacked transparency and required more open, thoughtful deliberation from the entire board. For those reasons, I tried to delay consideration of the committee and, failing at that, was one of two commissioners to vote against the list of nominees.

Auditor Gregory Redmon, a CPA from Tarboro, gave our comprehensive financial report for FY 2016-17 glowing reviews. Some of the highlights Redmon noted:

  • The town’s assets exceed its liabilities and other expenses by more than $7 million. That so-called “net position” increased by more that $617,000 last year alone because of our ability to increase capital assets and reduce liabilities.
  • At the close of the fiscal year, the town’s fund balances, essentially our savings accounts, stood at more than $2.6 million, an increase of more than $931,000 since the previous year. About 65 percent of that amount, or $1.7 million, is unassigned to pay future expense and thus available for spending at the board’s discretion. That unassigned fund balance amounted to about 53 percent of total our total expenses. The state requires cities and counties have an unassigned fund balance of 8 percent, or about a month of expenses. Most towns Swansboro’s size have fund balances of about 40 percent.
  • The town’s debt increased by about $800,00 during the fiscal year. That money was spent on installment purchases and financing for equipment, vehicles, a new fire truck and the addition of a sleeping quarters for fire fighters.
  • The town received a Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting for the 21st consecutive year.

We should all be very pleased. Much of the credit goes to our staff, led by Manager Scott Chase and Finance Director Sonia Johnson. They have worked hard to cut expenses and stretch our tax dollars. The previous Board of Commissioners and mayor also took seriously its obligations to spend our tax dollars wisely.

The commissioners last night approved the special-use permit for Moore’s Chicken and Barbecue Restaurant on the corner of Corbett and Hammocks Beach Road. The permit hearing was tabled at our last meeting at the request of the developer, Baldwin Design Consultants of Greenville. There’s no reason to rehash all the project details here. You can find them in previous posts below. Baldwin did include an important amendment to its plans by including internal road access from adjacent, undeveloped properties. That should alleviate some of the traffic problems on Hammocks Beach when those properties are developed.

We also approved a special-use permit for Swansboro House, an 80-bed assisted-living facility on about 23 acres on the Loop Road across from the baseball fields. The commissioners had approved this project last year, but the developer, Onslow Propco Holdings LLC, reduced the building’s footprint by about 5,000 square feet to about 38,000 and changed the façade. Those changes required the developer to return to the board for a new permit.

The developers committed to avoid the half acre or so of wetlands on the site and to incorporate innovative methods to control stormwater.

The land-use plan provides the policy foundation for the town’s development ordinances, such as its zoning codes.

The project didn’t raise any serious concerns among the commissioners and was approved unanimously.

It saddened me deeply that the selection of the steering committee to devise our new land-use plan turned contentious. I generally believe that the appointment of these volunteer committees should be unanimous, but I was so disturbed by the process used to select the committee that I decided to make an exception in this case.

The committee will be the most important one we appoint in my time on the board. It may work as long as a year fashioning our new land-use plan, which is the community’s blueprint for future growth and its policy foundation for our development ordinances. The task is important enough that the board should have carved out serious time to discuss the committee’s mission and composition. We had time. The committee won’t start working until May at the earliest.

At our meeting on Feb. 13, we directed Mayor John Davis to work with our manager to compile a list of nominees from recommendations submitted by board members and others. I assumed that the board would discuss the list in an open meeting and begin culling it down into a workable committee. Instead a couple of weeks later, we were emailed the names of 20 people who would serve on the committee. That list was amended twice with no explanation why people were added or deleted.

Though I talked to the mayor several times after original list was distributed, there was never an open discussion among board members about the committee’s composition or qualifications.

Then, it was rushed onto the agenda last night. After failing to persuade enough commissioners to pull the appointments from the agenda to give us time for serious deliberations, I felt I had no choice but to vote against the nominees. Commissioner Roy Herrick joined me.

To those on the committee, please understand that my vote wasn’t personally directed at any of you. I know most people on the committee and nominated a couple of them. They are good people who care about Swansboro and will, I’m sure, work hard to fashion a good plan. I look forward to joining them.

I objected to a rushed process that took place mostly in the shadows.

Author: Frank Tursi

Author, Journalist and mayor pro temp of Swansboro, NC

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