Sink hole off Star Hill Drive

Town officials will use grant money from the state for road repairs and other expenses related to Hurricane Florence, like putting together a permanent fix for this sink hole off of Star Hill Drive in Cape Carteret, as seen Sept. 21. (Dylan Ray photo)

CAPE CARTERET — After several months of waiting, the town has gotten official word it will receive a $500,000 state grant to help fund hurricane recovery and resiliency efforts.

Town Manager Zach Steffey made the announcement Friday evening.

The money will come from the N.C. Office of Resiliency and Recovery.

“The grant will cover the town’s planned monthly operating expenses (i.e. payroll and reoccurring vendor payments) while Hurricane Florence recovery efforts continue,” Mr. Steffey said in a press release.

Chief among those efforts will be removal of dangerously leaning trees and branches left in or hanging over town streets and public property in the wake of Hurricane Florence, which devastated the area in September. In addition, the grant will help free up money for necessary road repairs, some caused by the heavy equipment contractors used to remove hurricane debris.

In the release, Mr. Steffey said he and Town Finance Officer Sandy Favreau worked with state officials over the past few months to secure the money, which will “ensure that the town receives funds to support its normal operating expenses while continuing its hurricane recovery efforts.

“The town submitted the application for the stimulus grant on January 28 … and received notification of the grant award on February 1,” Mr. Steffey added. “The town is extremely grateful to the NCORR, North Carolina Emergency Management, (state) Representative Pat McElraft (R-Carteret) and (state) Representative Greg Murphy (R-Pitt) for their commitment and service to Eastern North Carolina communities recovering from Hurricane Florence.”

Although the town submitted the formal grant application Jan. 28, after the state completed work on the process for applications, it had actually been in the works far longer.

After hurricane debris cleanup costs quickly rose into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, officials at first sought a loan from the state, but because of uncertainty about rules and when the town would be able to pay the loan back, officials opted to instead seek a grant.

“We’re very happy to get the grant,” Mr. Steffey said Monday. “It will help a lot so (we) can continue normal operations for the next six months while we get the hurricane repairs done.”

All told, the town estimates it needs about $800,000 worth of work done, including the tree and branch removals and road repairs, Mr. Steffey said Monday.

Of that $800,000, an estimated $493,000 is for roads, including a permanent fix for a large sinkhole on Star Hill Drive, the manager said. Town officials fixed that sinkhole temporarily a couple of months ago, but to keep the sink hole from reforming, it’s going to be necessary, and expensive, to replace a culvert under the street.

At any rate, when you combine that $800,000 with the $673,975 the town has already paid for hurricane debris removal, the total hurricane bill will probably be close to $1.5 million.

“That’s basically all of our (2018-19) budget just for this one storm,” Mr. Steffey said. “We’re going to get through it, though, thanks to the help from the state.”

The town will set up a special fund for the grant money and pay normal operating costs, including employee salaries, from it.

The town already received two expedited reimbursement checks, totaling $542,000, from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and expects more, but there’s no way to know when that money will come.

The concept now, Mr. Steffey said, is to use the state grant for operating costs, use the town’s own general fund to pay for the tree and road work, then use additional FEMA reimbursements to rebuild the general fund.

Town officials – Mr. Steffey, Ms. Favreau and the commissioners – will soon begin deliberations to formulate the budget for the 2019-20 fiscal year, which begins Monday, July 1.

The next budget, according to commissioners’ comments in recent months, promises to be even more difficult, as the town remains committed to not using its reserves, which have dwindled from more than $1 million only a few years ago.

Contact Brad Rich at 252-864-1532; email Brad@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @brichccnt.

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