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County puts replacement funds on hold

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Posted: Friday, December 23, 2011 12:00 am

BEN HOGWOOD

BEAUFORT — The Harkers Island Fire and Rescue Department will have to wait another 30 days to find out if it will get county money to replace its heating and air conditioning system.

The County Board of Commissioners decided to table the request during its regular meeting Monday, held in the administration building, over confusion with the department’s budget.

The department requested the county release $11,500 of their reserve funds for a new HVAC system. According to a letter from the department’s chief, Paul Hinman, the heat pump, which was installed in 2005 and was expected to last 20 years, has deteriorated due to salt erosion and can no longer keep the building cool.

Further examination of the system revealed the inside unit was leaking and poorly installed, and the insulation on the existing ductwork, dating back to 1971, was totally inadequate. This caused excessive condensation, which has resulted in the formation of mildew on the ductwork, and water stains on the ceiling tiles.

Commissioners aren’t questioning whether the work needs to be done. Rather, they are questioning whether the department has the funds on hand to pay for the work without releasing reserve funds.

The County Fire and EMS Commission, which examines the budgets of all the departments in the county and makes recommendations to commissioners, seems to think that’s the case. According to Jo Ann Smith, director of the County Emergency Services Department, the fire commission felt Harkers Island had more-than-adequate reserves of its own — $332,000, with $100,000 of that tied up in bonds.

But Fred Schramm, a member of the department’s board of directors who attended the meeting due to the inability of Chief Hinman to attend, said that wasn’t the case.

Mr. Schramm said the county cut its funding last year and the department also had to purchase a used pumper to fix the pump on Engine 2, which failed a pump test.

He said the department was “in the hole every month because of some mismanagement on the county level.”

Commissioner Pat Joyce said the department received $427,000 through the district’s tax rate in fiscal 2010-11 and $460,000 this fiscal year. “How did we cut you?” he asked.

The department’s treasurer and Mr. Schramm’s wife, Marie Ellen Schramm, said the county was including bond money in the department’s cash flow. However, she said, that money isn’t available and isn’t a realistic amount, because the value of the bonds are always changing depending on the market. “It’s something you can’t count on. It is a nebulous thing out there.”

Mr. Joyce pointed to a report for the department that showed it had the cash on hand it needed, but Mrs. Schramm said the report was incorrect. She said numbers can be taken and used to make them look like the department is making money or losing money.

After some discussion, Commissioner Doug Harris made the motion to table the request until next month to straighten out the numbers. Commissioner Jonathan Robinson gave the second and the decision was unanimous.

Also at the meeting:

•    The board approved a request from Health and Humor LLC to rezone property at 1498 Highway 24 from single-family residential, conditional use, or R10CU, to general business B-1A, which it was previously zoned.

The property was rezoned in 2007 to R-10CU for a group housing project, but the project never materialized. Mr. Harris made the motion to approve and Commissioner Holt Faircloth gave the second. It passed unanimously.

•    The board approved rezoning property at 121 EZ Breeze Lane from rural agricultural RA to single-family residential R-15M.

The applicant, Pauline Radford, wants to put a manufactured home on the property but RA zoning allows only one detached single-family residence per parcel. Commissioner Greg Lewis made the motion and Commissioner Bill Smith gave the second. It passed unanimously.

•    The board held a public hearing and then approved proposed text amendments to the subdivision ordinance to update the required certificates on plats. Mr. Harris made the motion and the decision was unanimous.

•    The board held a public hearing and approved amendments to the zoning ordinance to specify where cell towers and wind turbines are permitted uses. According to the County Planning Department, the new regulations allow residential wind turbines in all residential zoned districts, other small wind turbines in all zoning districts, large wind turbines in all non-residential zoned districts and utility-scale wind turbines only in industrial zoning districts.

Cell towers and their co-locations will be allowed in any non-residential district and co-locations will be allowed on water tanks, church steeples, and utility poles. Mr. Harris made the motion to approve and Mr. Faircloth gave the second. It passed unanimously.

•    The board approved text amendments to the zoning and manufactured home/RV park ordinances to update special use requirements. Mr. Comer made the motion and it passed unanimously.

•    The board also applied for four transportation grants from the N.C. Department of Transportation.

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