CAPE CARTERET — Mayor Dave Fowler laid out his 2019 goals for the town Monday, including starting to build a separate $1 million hurricane reserve fund, making headway on efforts to repair the town’s roads and completing the Cape Carteret Trail.
Speaking during the town board of commissioners’ monthly meeting in town hall off Dolphin Street, the mayor said he believes the town should aim for compiling the million-dollar reserve fund within five years.
Money, he said, is the lifeblood of local government, “and our money situation is tenuous.”
The town, like most in the area, has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars since September for cleanup and repairs of damage caused by Hurricane Florence.
Although the town has received $543,000 in reimbursement funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and expects another $250,000 relatively soon, the mayor said the town shouldn’t let itself be in the position of “begging” for those reimbursement funds the next time a major storm hits.
The town has gotten help from state officials in accelerating those reimbursement payments because of the town’s financial position.
At least some other towns in the area had much healthier reserve funds when the hurricane hit, Mayor Fowler said, and were in a much better position financially after the storm.
Further, he said, “I’d like to have this money in a separate line so it would take a supermajority vote (four of the five board members, not including the mayor) to touch it.”
Earlier in the meeting, Town Manager Zach Steffey said he believes the town faces another $500,000 in expenditures to fix roads, and probably an additional $250,000 to remove leaning and dangerous trees damaged by the hurricane.
Mr. Steffey said the next FEMA payment will help, and the town is still expecting a sizable grant from a pool of money established by the N.C. General Assembly after the storm.
Still, the mayor said, the town can’t afford to be in the same position again.
As for roads, he said, many of them were in bad shape before the storm and the heavy equipment contractors used to remove hurricane debris exacerbated the problems.
“The roads are horrendous now and they were not very good before the storm,” he said. “Some of them barely qualify as roads. Holly Lane, for example, is like a sponge.”
The town should have about $100,000 to spend on road repairs from its Powell Bill (state-shared gas tax revenues) fund this year, the mayor said, and FEMA money and/or the anticipated state grant should help.
The Cape Carteret Trail – a multi-use bike and pedestrian path that follows Highway 24, Highway 58 and Taylor Notion Road – has been in the planning and construction stage for years.
Mayor Fowler said at least two more sections should be complete fairly soon, using $125,000 granted by the county and money from an anonymous donor. For example, work is underway along Highway 58. But the town, he added, needs to use what money it has left in the trail fund after the next two sections are complete to get the engineering and permitting work done in advance for the other sections that will fill in the gaps and complete the trail. He credited Mr. Steffey for the idea.
“Mr. Steffey is great at writing grants,” but what the town needs is an advisory, volunteer trail committee to come up with more fundraising or donation ideas.
“One major corporate donation could seal the deal,” Mayor Fowler said. “We haven’t used any taxpayer dollars (on the trail) and we don’t want to.”
Summing up his budget philosophy, the mayor said “there are needs, desires and necessities.”
Infrastructure – roads, especially – is one of those necessities.
The town so far has been able to pay all its bills for storm cleanup, a figure that has reached more than $673,000, thanks to the FEMA money and the collection of about $317,000 in property tax revenue in November and December.
Contact Brad Rich at 252-864-1532; email Brad@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @brichccnt.