Recovery funds expected

Trash and organic debris piles can still be found in the Star Hill area of Cape Carteret. The town will accept a state grant for recovery. (Dylan Ray photo)

CAPE CARTERET — Commissioners voted 5-0 Wednesday night to authorize Town Manager Zach Steffey to accept a two-year, $500,000 to $600,000 state grant to pay for Hurricane Florence debris removal, infrastructure repairs and future efforts to increase the “resiliency” of town properties, including town hall.

“This is essential for us,” Mayor Dave Fowler said during the board’s monthly meeting in town hall off Dolphin Street. “This storm caught all of us unprepared, like it did everyone else.”

The town initially was paying close to $100,000 a week for debris removal, and the process has been ongoing since shortly after the storm hit Sept. 13-14. There are at least a couple more weeks to go. The cost figure has dropped to $55,000 to $60,000 per week, however.

In addition, the mayor said, when the debris is gone, the town is going to be faced with significant street repairs, and the annual state Powell

Bill distribution of about $75,000 will not be adequate to cover it.

“We’re going to get reimbursed by FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency)” for the expenses, Mayor Fowler added, “but FEMA does not work on our timetable.”

The town, with the aid of state Rep. Pat McElraft, R-Carteret (Jones), was able to get one FEMA reimbursement of $271,000 “expedited,” and it arrived near the end of last month. In addition, the board voted last month to release up to $428,000 – basically the town’s whole reserve fund – to help pay the high cost of debris removal.

Still, the mayor said, big needs remain and will continue, “and this (grant) is a good deal.”

Initially, he and Mr. Steffey said, the town worked out a no-interest loan with the state, but that proved untenable, in part because the town’s reserves are so depleted there’s no way to know when the town could pay back the money, so officials have worked with the state for the grant, which will come from money the General Assembly appropriated specifically to help local governments recover.

The mayor and Mr. Steffey praised Rep. McElraft and Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, with whom they talked during the governor’s recent visit to the area.

Mr. Steffey estimated the town faces up to $700,000 in costs for additional debris removal and for cutting “leaning and hanging” trees that are over street rights-of-way and could still fall.

He also estimates the town will face $500,000 in road repairs and $250,000 in repair costs in town parks.

He figures the total debris removal will be $1 million at the least, more than double, maybe triple, the $400,000 Cedar Point Town Administrator Chris Seaberg has estimated for his town, just to the west.

“We had 100-year-old trees come down,” Mr. Steffey said. “We’re looking at couple more weeks” before it’s all gone.

Commissioner Charlie Evans asked if the state grant is “sufficient,” since it’s less than half of those estimated financial needs.

Mayor Fowler said the $500,000 or $600,000 grant is clearly short of the town’s needs, but added that other towns affected by the storm also need money from the state, and legislators have indicated they might add to the pool of about $8 million they have so far made available.

Commissioner Mike King made the motion to authorize Mr. Steffey to accept the grant money when all the details have been worked out.

Commissioner Don Miller seconded it and the motion passed unanimously under the assumption it’s a grant and won’t have to be paid back.

“The grant,” Mr. Steffey said, “would allow the town to complete the necessary repair and recovery operations while maintaining adequate cash flow for necessary town operations.

“The second phase of the grant,” Mr. Steffey said, “would be for recovery and resiliency activities … including upgrading culverts, installing and/or upgrading generators and making other changes to improve storm readiness in the town.”

The town’s operating budget for 2018-19, which began July 1 and ends June 30, 2019, is about $1.53 million and is highly dependent upon the property tax rate of 21.25 cents per $100 of assessed value.

It’s expected to generate more than $814,000 during the fiscal year, but most of the money doesn’t flow into the coffers until January when tax bills come due.

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

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