Morehead City hopes to move past coronavirus, focus on citywide improvements in 2021

Construction continues on Morehead City’s new city hall on Bridges Street, with city officials hopeful the new building will be occupied by Labor Day. (Elise Clouser photo)

MOREHEAD CITY — It’s officially a new year, and while much of 2020 was dominated by the response to the novel coronavirus pandemic and the challenges it presented, officials in Morehead City are hopeful they can begin to shift the focus back to other priorities in 2021.

Morehead City Manager Ryan Eggleston met with the News-Times Thursday to reflect on 2020 and share some of the city’s goals for the year ahead. He said many projects were placed on the back burner last year as officials dealt with the emerging and ever-evolving COVID-19 crisis beginning around mid-March.

“Obviously, that has been a great challenge for us in 2020, and lot of our time, energy and resources were spent on preparing for the disease and trying to keep folks safe, and also doing the business that we need to do on a daily basis,” he said. “But I think even through that, we’re continuing to move forward with a host of projects in 2021.”

The pandemic is likely far from over, but Mr. Eggleston said the city seems to have a handle on how to manage when employees get sick and the council chambers were upgraded with better audio-visual equipment to improve the quality of virtual meetings. With those and other COVID-related issues addressed, and vaccinations now underway, Mr. Eggleston is hopeful Morehead City can start to move on.

Before officials can think too far ahead though, they have to first get through the budget process for the 2021-22 fiscal year, which begins Thursday July 1. That may still be six months away, but the Morehead City Council kicks off budget discussions next month with its yearly goal-setting retreat taking place Tuesday, Feb. 16 at 9 a.m.

“That’s coming up quick, and what we’ll probably see is a carryover of some of our goals that we’ve been working on, and probably also some new ones that have come up, as well,” Mr. Eggleston said.

Chief among Morehead City’s goals already in place for 2021 is completion of the new city hall building on Bridges Street. Construction began in 2020, and despite the pandemic and occasional poor weather, the project mostly stayed on track. Mr. Eggleston said the building itself should be finished by Memorial Day at the latest and staff should be moved in by Labor Day.

The new city hall building will house all the city’s government offices under one roof, except for the police and fire departments, which have their own facilities. Offices are currently split between the old city hall on Arendell Street and the municipal building on S. 8th Street.

As for the old city hall, that building is pending sale, with buyers AJK Acquisitions LLC expected to close within the next few weeks. Mr. Eggleston said the buyers intend to use the building for office space, with the company expected to announce formal plans later. There are no current plans to sell the municipal building.

As in the past, Morehead City will continue to plan and execute street paving and related drainage projects this year. Crews repaved a large portion of Bridges Street in 2020, and a forthcoming citywide road assessment will inform officials which areas need to be prioritized for paving moving forward.

“It’s one of those costs we have every year, it’s not going away,” Mr. Eggleston said.

Another recurring expense Mr. Eggleston expects Morehead City will face in the years to come is related to stormwater management. In 2019, the city council hired the firm Wood Environment & Infrastructure Solutions Inc. to help develop a stormwater plan, and representatives from Wood are set to present next month recommendations based on a pilot study conducted on a small area downtown. Eventually, officials hope to develop a comprehensive, citywide stormwater plan.

“Much like paving, it’s a project we’re going to have to do on an annual basis as we continue to deal with the variety of stormwater issues here,” the manager said. “…Hopefully in the coming year, we can begin to move some of (Wood’s) recommendations forward to being to implement an overall stormwater plan.”

Officials will also continue to think about the long-term future of Morehead City in 2021. Mr. Eggleston said the city is due for a land-use plan update soon, which will help guide growth for the next decade and beyond. There’s also a study wrapping up soon on staffing and space needs for Morehead Fire Station No. 3, with a new station potentially in the future.

There are a few other projects officials would like to see come to fruition as well, like continuing beautification efforts, shoreline stabilization at Sugarloaf Island and a dog park. The council will begin to set those and other capital project priorities during its upcoming budget discussions.

“We’re excited for 2021 and feel like it’s really going to be a really good and prosperous year for the town,” Mr. Eggleston concluded, “and we’re just looking forward (to) working with residents and business owners to continue to make Morehead City the wonderful and attractive town it is.”

 

Contact Elise Clouser at elise@thenewstimes.com; by phone at 252-726-7081 ext. 229; or follow on Twitter @eliseccnt.

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