Peletier Commissioner Steven Overby’s sudden and precipitous resignation from that town’s board of commissioners, after only a year of service, highlights the impacts of political polarization and inertia delaying important decisions that this relatively new town is facing.
In the process he is challenging the town to make a decision about its future.
Overby’s first year on the town board has not gone smoothly but he has succeeded in raising awareness about issues that will soon need solutions.
The town of Peletier was incorporated in 1996 to prevent possible forced annexation into nearby Cape Carteret. Once the approval was given by the legislature, the petitioners discovered the age old adage of “be careful for what you wish for, you just may get it.”
Suddenly the residents of the newly formed municipality were faced with having to act like a town, providing governance and public services which required money in the form of taxes, something few people like. Over the past 27 years the town has had to manage and solve a variety of problems such as fire, rescue and police services as well as creating ordinances to accommodate its growth. The big challenge throughout has been finding the funds to provide the services that are the responsibility of a town.
At the outset there were numerous questions about the advisability of this defensive maneuver. The town had fewer than 300 hundred full-time residents, was located in relatively isolated region of the county, and was pretty much a “spot on the road” for traffic traveling down N.C. 58 headed to the beach.
But circumstances have changed. North Carolina is now one of the five fastest growing states in the nation and because of Carteret County’s attractive coastal location that growth is filtering down to the county and its eleven municipalities. The eventual construction of I-42, which terminates at the county line, is enhancing growing attention for developers and future residential investment in the county and particularly for the once sleepy community of Peletier.
Citing the need to prepare for growth challenges and the need to provide more services for current and future Peletier residents, Overby successfully ran for the town board, garnering the highest number of votes of all the other candidates.
After being sworn in as town commissioner, Overby proposed that the town join the N.C. League of Municipalities to assist in developing a strategic plan for the town, to include an updated land use plan and ordinances. The board approved the motion at that first meeting but has yet to join the league.
Worried about property within the town limits currently leased by the county’s solid waste contractor, he wanted to establish ordinances for the vegetative landfill that includes eight acres being managed by the town of Emerald Isle. And, to further control the development around the town he sought to increase the town’s extra-territorial jurisdiction (ETJ).
This significance of that effort was a heated and controversial decision by the county commissioners in early January to rezone 156 acres of formerly natural area from R-20, residential development, to a designation allowing for an RV-Camper Park. Because the county had denied the expansion of the town’s ETJ, the decision fell to the county commissioners who approved the zoning change in spite of the town’s opposition.
Because the town’s leadership has aggressively maintained a low tax base many of the public services such as fire, rescue and police are relegated to third party providers.
To provide fire and rescue services Peletier entered into a compact with Cedar Point and Cape Carteret to fund the Western Carteret Fire and Emergency Services District. Policing is provided by the county’s sheriff’s office, which Overby unsuccessfully proposed to increase by paying for a full-time deputy dedicated to the town, similar to an arrangement in nearby Cedar Point.
Taking issue with the board’s timid approach to raising taxes to pay for public services, the newly minted town commissioner went to social media to criticize town Mayor Dale Sowers and other unnamed board members.
“The budget doesn’t include any services provided by the town,” he wrote. “The town only provides mowing and street repairs with taxpayer money. In November 2021 I said it was paramount the town actually provide a service that addresses public safety concerns, otherwise there is no purpose of being an incorporated town. Our citizens pay county and town tax but receive no return on their investment on what they pay the town.”
Frustrated with the snail-like progress to changes he wanted, the resistance of the other board members and the lack of involvement by town residents, Overby resigned from the board Jan. 12 without any advance notice, effective immediately.
Comments made by readers at the News-Times’s online website, www.carolinacoastonline.com, were both critical and supportive. Unwilling to go quietly, Overby has very courteously responded to many of the posted comments.
The one driving and possibly most evocative comment he has made consistently is that the town should put a referendum forward to un-incorporate. His contention is that the town is not providing the services as it should and that the county can do a better job.
Unfortunately, former commissioner Overby has thrown in the towel by resigning from the board. Though it has definitely caught the attention of the town’s residents, not to mention the county writ large, it has shown that inertia can have negative effects. In this case the inertia is the result of an object (the town board) at rest that is resisting movement or action.
Rest assured, the growth of the county, particularly in the western end, will be a force that will move this stationary town board, should it remain a town. Now that Overby is no longer willing to push for movement on the town board, it is up to the residents to either get involved, or abdicate their responsibility for decision making and leadership.