Kill Devil Hills commissioners approve 7.5% cost-of-living increase for town employees; affordable housing discussed

Published 4:37 pm Monday, June 20, 2022

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Starting off the budget discussion at the June 13 commissioners meeting, commissioner Terry Gray recommended that the town increase the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to 7.5%, up 1.5% from the recommended 6% in the fiscal year 2022-23 town manager’s recommended budget.

“I’ve looked at some of the other municipalities and I’m concerned about retention from a staff level,” Gray said.

Mayor Ben Sproul agreed: “I get where you’re coming from with that. It is a tough year to figure out what the cost of living is going to do. It’s kind of scary times – every time I thought I knew what was going to happen, the next month a different thing happened.”

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Commissioners were all in agreement that it usually costs more to train a new employee than to it does to retain a current employee, as well as the fact that the labor market is tight and finding workers is a challenge.

Town manager Debbie Diaz said it was feasible in the recommended budget to increase the COLA to 7.5%. Commissioners voted unanimously at the meeting to approve the budget with the change.

According to Sproul, some goals for the coming fiscal year include beautification of beach accesses and the bypass, and “having a plan to slowly work towards a better looking carbon footprint.”

In ongoing business, commissioners voted to approve the sale of a small parcel of unbuildable land at 3315 North Virginia Dare Trail for $5,400 to the neighbor across the street, Sand Life, LLC.

During the mayor’s agenda, Sproul opened up conversation with commissioners about the prospect of an affordable housing complex in Kill Devil Hills. The state allotted $35 million to Dare County last year to address the affordable housing issue in the area. Kill Devil Hills is considering developing the Baum tract or other possible locations.

“I know that there is a lot of history there, and I know that there’s a lot of opportunity there, but before we went down the path of really getting into the details of the scope or design or size scale, I just wanted to ask the members of this board if we as a board are interested in looking at what the possibilities are for the Baum Tract when it comes to housing,” Sproul said.

Commissioner John Windley expressed hesitant approval: “I am somewhat reluctant to develop the Baum Tract. I do have a real appreciation for how over the years the town has used this space for community and government resources, but I feel like we owe this process its full due.”

Similar statements were expressed by other commissioners, but they decided to approve a motion to have staff look into development options. Next steps would be public meetings and forums to gather community input.