Manteo meeting: It’s a new era

Published 6:52 am Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Mayor Bobby Owens said the phone-in Manteo Board of Commissioners meeting was, “awkward as hell, but got through it.” He called the meeting a new era for Manteo as the town looks for ways to balance self-distancing while maintaining mandated governmental responsibilities during the coronavirus health crisis.

The Wednesday night, April 1 BOC meeting saw commissioners phone from the isolation of their homes, while the town hall was staffed only by the Manteo manager and a few staff members. The public was allowed to dial in to listen to the teleconference meeting and participate in a public comment session, if they desired.

The mayor opened the meeting with the customary call to order, approval of past meeting minutes and approval of the agenda. A proclamation recognizing Child Abuse Prevention Month – April 2020 was passed. A report on the future of the Manteo recycling program indicated in the face of possible hefty rate increase, residents favor some form of continued recycling. The company that supplies recycling services has said the cost for the service could double.

The bulk of the meeting’s discussion centered around the health crisis. Commissioners heard assurances from the manager that town services were being provided, Town Hall was operating, although approved admission to the building was screened using telephones at the entrances.

Commissioners also approved the setup of a sick leave fund for staff in which the town manager and other interested employees can donate accumulated leave to help employees if they become sick or face extended quarantine due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A recommendation for the board to set a public hearing to consider a Manteo small business emergency fund brought a caution from Mayor Owens. Owens called the proposal a possible Pandora’s box. Owens worried that local help might actually hinder businesses from getting state or federal help.

The board set an April 15 public hearing date as a first step to determine the need for a  local small business emergency fund, but not before commissioners Darrell Collins and Betty Selby secured a separate request for the exploration of relief for town residents who may need help paying utility bills.

The town has already stopped disconnects, late fees, penalties and waived additional charges for customers paying utility bills online. Selby and Collins want to see a proposal that could offer some sort of monetary relief if the crisis drags on.

The mayor wanted to table a non-coronavirus related agenda item, but commissioner Christine Walker – doubting an April meeting would not follow the same electronic format as this meeting – urged the discussion for traffic and traffic calming measures on Sir Walter Raleigh Street (West of Highway 64) continue.

After a Manteo Police Department update on current measures to monitor and ticket speeders using the street, the board discussion turned to a citizen request to remove bump-outs the town had placed on the street. It soon became apparent beauty was in the eye of the beholder. The bump-outs – intended to beautify the area with plantings and also intended to slow down traffic – have been called ugly by some residents and a pedestrian hazard by others. The commissioners were divided on the issue of removing the bump-outs and their usefulness and delayed action until a later time.

The BOC action authorized the manger to erect signs designating parking spaces for service veterans, set a public hearing in May on a flood maps and flood damage prevention ordinance and passed a resolution allowing the Town of Manteo Board of Commissioners to continue remote participation via telephone or other electronic means.

Before adjourning the meeting, the mayor and commissioners urged citizens to stay in touch with them during the stay at home advisory. They asked town residents to email or call them with comments and concerns and to visit a new website, https://www.manteolife.org/ for available services and updated information.

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