Newport Town Manager William Shanahan sits before another packed council chamber at his third meeting with residents. He brought his tax administrator and finance director in to discuss tax collection and the budget process. (Josie Mullins photo)

NEWPORT Town Manager William Shanahan sat before a nearly packed council chamber Wednesday night in his third meeting with town residents. Unlike prior meetings that were intentionally not attended by town commissioners, the most recent meeting did include members of the council. 

Newport Mayor Dennis Barber, along with town commissioners Jeanne Benedict, Rhonda Shinn and her husband, Carteret County Commissioner Chuck Shinn, attended the one-hour meeting that started at 6 p.m. with 19 town residents and business owners present.

Shanahan explained one purpose of the evening’s meeting was to provide details about the town’s tax collections and budget process. Assisting in this effort were Newport’s Tax Administrator Kelly Caldwell who also serves as town clerk, along with Finance Director Linda Modlin.

In addition to giving details about the town’s finances, the two employees also answered questions from the audience which included an explanation on the criteria and application process for seeking homestead exclusion tax discounts.

“To qualify, you must be 65 years old or permanently disabled with no minimum age requirement,” Caldwell explained. “You must have a combined total income of $31,900 and be a permanent resident.”

Caldwell also noted that these criteria must be met by Jan. 1 and all applications are due by June 1. 

Modlin, as the town’s finance director, is in the process of preparing the 2023-24 budget. In reviewing the budget calendar, which is established by the state and the town, noted the town’s program is currently ahead of the schedule as required by state statute.

“The department heads were required by the state to submit their budget request by April 30, and we (town council) requested that all requests be in by March 10,” she said. “The governing board requires the budget and budget message be submitted by June 1 and adopted by July 1.”

According to the finance director, the various department budget requests will be submitted to the town board by May 25, and after that a copy will be available to the public for review. She said the town will hold a required public hearing for the budget tentatively scheduled for June 8. Following that hearing, she anticipates adoption of the new budget at the town council’s regular scheduled meeting on June 12, well ahead of the state requirement.

Newport has fallen behind in its audit and compliance process with the state, and a town resident wanted to know the actions the town is taking to rectify this. Shanahan explained that at the end of each year the town is required to show what it did the year before and that it followed strict state guidelines to spend the money exactly how it was appropriated in the budget.

“We are working with the audit process,” he said. "The town got behind in this process and what needed to be done. I am not looking for causes. What I care about is getting it where it needs to be and making sure this never happens again. If names come out of that, that’s great and we’ll deal with it, but that’s not what’s important.”

Shanahan said Modlin has a great relationship with the state and is working very hard to get caught up, because if the town does not, it could miss out on a lot of good things.

Shanahan noted that he is going to look at the proposed budget line item by line item because he wants to justify the budget so that when presented to council it is based on needs only.

“I don’t like fluff,” he said. “I spend your money and I, along with council, are aware of that. Just because we have budgeted something for the last 20 years does not mean that it will be budgeted again.”

Modlin explained that the biggest sources of income for the town are ad valorem taxes and sales tax. Matt Shortway, owner of Shortway Brewing Company, addressed sales tax revenue and wanted to know when the town was going to get an ABC Stamp so business could buy alcohol and mixed beverages from the local ABC Store and keep that revenue in town.

“I have heard from a lot of restaurant owners that live in Newport and are forced to buy product out of town,” he said. “They want to buy here, where they live and that money could stay here.”

In response to Shortway’s remark, Mayor Barber said that the bidding process has begun for remodeling the county’s ABC Store located on Highway 70 inside the town’s limits. Once the store is updated, the mayor noted, it will have the proper computer systems to accommodate wholesale transactions to restaurants thereby increasing the sales tax revenues for the town.

In addition to financial questions, residents expressed concerns about drainage and flooding issues in several neighborhoods, including Beaver Dam Trail and Park Avenue. 

Stormwater flooding was of particular concern in the Sand Ridge subdivision in the vicinity of the Croatan Ridge Rehabilitation and Nursing Center. “This area is a flood zone on Gray Stone Street and out behind Croatan Ridge,” said Eugene Thompson. “I have to drive through very deep puddles if we get rain.”

Newport Fire Chief Richard Blaine addressed the citizens and informed them that a community CPR program was being developed and that the department was giving away smoke detectors to town residents with a free install as well. If interested, just call the fire department.

Shanahan told the residents that his 100-day report on his citizens workshop meetings was 99% done. He said he needs to share it with department heads, then present it to council before making it public. He announced that his next citizen workshop will be scheduled for some time in June.


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