Wednesday, August 27, 2008
After four years of training diligently my German Shepherd Dog Jaz finally attained her Shutzhund I title in a trial held in Pungo, Virginia in May. Loues Vandepool of Belgium was the judge.
We obtained her obedience (BH) title about two years ago. In these trials each dog is judged on tracking, obedience, and protection. With the exception of tracking, all other routines are conducted “off-lead”.
Last month we helped our son Dave and his fiancée Kali move from Wilmington, NC to the Ft. Lauderdale, FL area for his new job as mate on a private sport fishing boat. His previous employer, George Sawley was recently featured in a “Top Five Captains” article in Marlin magazine.
In the August issue of Saltwater Sportsman, Dave can be seen in action, in his element in the “Top Shot” two page photo. He's the one in the white t-shirt in the foreground.
There hasn't been much to report, Council Workshop meetings have been canceled each month, with only one scheduled meeting a month there apparently hasn't been much in the way of serious business to conduct. One exception were the recessed and sometimes raucous meetings to discuss the “cut-through” issue (non-residents using Dogwood and Hickory Trails as a shortcut to Duck). I didn't report on this as it was well covered in the local papers and OBXAlert blog.
During this period council has primarily acted on some requisite resolutions, committee appointments and a directive.
September brings the return of the Mayor's Chat at 6:00 PM immediately before the 7:00 PM Council Meeting Sept. 2nd. Perhaps there will be more to report after that.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
In a relatively brief meeting, the TOSS Council passed the new budget by a 3 to 2 vote. Instead of the .09 (cent per $100) recommended by the Town Manager, they passed the budget with the same .0975 rate as this past year.
So the net result of the past four months of turmoil along with considerable cuts in services (Ocean Rescue, Recycling, Chipping Program, and Volunteer Fire Dept.) is: nil ----zilch -----nada. Perhaps Mayor Smith is correct, if I may quote him (OBXAlert.blogspot.com) “This comes under the category of you can't make this stuff up”.
Now, the question is, can our services be restored? Probably not. Although the same tax rate was retained, so was the spending plan as designated in the Town Manager's original .09 budget. This gives TOSS a buffer of around $180,000.00, against further loss of revenue or funds to apply to Capital Improvements. We'll just have to wait and see what impacts there are from the service cuts. Retained in the new budget is Council compensation totaling $18,600 plus FICA, roughly equivalent to the cost of the two Lifeguards that were cut from the Ocean Rescue contract.
While reading a prepared statement before the budget discussion, Mayor Smith referred twice to a former council member. Commenting that this individual, 1.“voted for 40% of tax increases” and then that this person, 2. “recently suggested a .10 tax rate”. I confess, he was referring to me.
You be the judge, am I guilty or innocent as charged?
I voted on every TOSS budget during my tenure, and some of those did include tax increases. But as noted in the TOSS Minutes of June 24, 2005, I voted against the budget which included a .01 increase from the revenue neutral rate. So, I don't believe I'm responsible for the full “40%” increase. I'm not even going to try and figure out whether the 40% is accurate or not.
At one of the recent meetings I spoke at the Public Comment session regarding my personal analysis of the proposed budget. My comment s were essentially the same as you find in my post of May 16 on this blog under the title of Conclusions, with one exception. At the end of my statement, in a facetious manner I said (referring to Council compensation) “Why don't you go ahead and round that (tax rate) off to .10 and give yourselves a good raise. I don't think I'll miss the extra $9.26 this year”.
Again I wish to thank those council members that decided to err on the side of common sense and reason. Thanks go to Brian McDonald, Jodi Hess and Jim Pfizenmayer. And, although he did vote against the budget I want to recognize Kevin Stroud for a valiant attempt at a compromise budget. After all, I also voted against a budget for reasons different than those expressed by the Mayor.
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
Sorry I just could not come up with a more proper title for this post.
Tuesday, June 3, 2008 Southern Shores Town Council meeting. The agenda can be viewed here.
Note the that in the agenda there was to be an awards presentation “to several SS firefighters, SS police, Duck firefighters, Duck Police, and Dare County EMS members.
Earlier, in preparation for the meeting, as I ran a lint roller over my SSVFD uniform, it dawned on me that there are so few occasions when volunteer firefighters have the privilege and opportunity to wear the official uniform. All too often it is worn ceremonially with a band of mourning across the badge. But for this night it was to be worn with honor by all, to celebrate the saving of lives.
As you may well know, there had been considerable rancor over the TOSS/SSVFD contract. But, it appeared that a negotiation session the previous Friday had resolved most of the primary issues and at this point had been approved by the SSVFD Board of Directors only lacking a formal vote of approval by the TOSS council.
Very few of those who attended this meeting could have anticipated what would transpire, I certainly did not!
After the Council voted to formally approve the agenda, Mayor Smith immediately diverted from the approved agenda by announcing that he had a statement to read. He then proceeded to present what I can only describe as mean-hearted, condescending diatribe, rife with (what I view) as erroneous and faulty information, delivered in the form of an angry rant. Included in his presentation was the threat of forcibly taking control of the department. I will attempt to obtain a copy of his statement to post here in it's entirety.
I truly do not know if his intent was to disrespect and demean those rescuers present, but that was the net effect.
Perhaps he carried it further than he intended, but he did go to far, which I base on the stunned and shocked reaction of the 90+ members of the public present.
At the end of this statement, as a whole, with hardly a word said, most all those in uniform arose as one and filed out of the building. You had to be there to understand, there was nothing else they could have done. They proceeded to the SSVFD South Station to perform the ceremonies. Even though I was one of those to receive a unit citation for participating in a technically challenging vehicle extrication, I chose to stay, feeling compelled to speak.
I may address what I had to say in some other post, more important, were the speeches of numerous others speaking in support of the SSVFD during the Town Budget Public Hearing. On conclusion of the hearing, council deferred until next Tuesday at 7:00 PM the final vote on the budget.
Under old business, Council Members discussed the SSVFD/TOSS contract. It became apparent as the discussion continued, that if the Mayor had ever had any support for his agenda of defeating the contract and dissolving the SSVFD, that support had been severely eroded. I don't believe he would have gone to the measures that he did, if he did not feel he could carry the vote. The result was a 4 – 1 vote in favor of signing the SSVFD contract as agreed upon and modified through the course of this proceeding I can only assume that this action precluded the possibility of the Mayor then proposing a take over the department, at least for another year (term of the contract).
Thank goodness! Common sense and reason prevailed. My faith in the ability of this Town Council has been greatly restored. My thanks go to Brian McDonald, Jody Hess, Jim Pfizenmayer , and Kevin Stroud for recognizing the seriousness and potential realty of their decision.
More to come.........................................................
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
This is my last posting on this specific matter and I am reconsidering whether there is any true benefit to this blog. There was no intent in my previous posts to exacerbate this situation. My intent was to bring this to your attention.
My analogy regarding the Stages of Demise was written as a warning of what could happen, not a prediction nor a plan.
The lines have been drawn in the sands of Southern Shores, the outcome remains to be seen. Maybe, just maybe, common sense and reason will prevail over indignation and emotion. At any rate, in situations like this, it seems that government usually wins, good or bad. After all, there's the old adage “You can't fight Town Hall”.
As for myself, I can only express my own feelings with the term “heart-sick”. After 24 years of service I have to wonder: What does it amount to? What was I thinking all those years? I cannot help but feel that this is no longer a “Town of Volunteers” , it's more like: A Community of Millionaires Quibbling Over Pennies.
And now I can't resist the opportunity for one last analogy:
Jean-Luc Picard and his heroic crew of the Starship Enterprise having volunteered to explore the far reaches of the Universe, are now in contact with the Borg. Are we watching the last episode of this series?
You will be assimilated, resistance is futile!
Friday, May 23, 2008
I understand that, yesterday, the Board of the SSVFD was to meet with Council Members Hess and Stroud to (presumably) discuss the recent differences between their respective organizations. Of course, I was sorely tempted to contact either a Board or Council Member (or both) to see what transpired. But I have been able to restrain myself up to this point so that I might conduct an experiment in the dynamics of the situation.
The basis of this experiment is to test the often quoted adage, “history shall repeat itself”. Of course, that is, if we do not learn from the past. Along with this, I am formulating a new theory that, as there are five distinct and identifiable stages of grief (or crisis)which are unavoidable, there are also several distinct and identifiable stages in the demise of a Volunteer Fire (Rescue or EMS) Department. These, I hope, are avoidable.
When I moved to Southern Shores during the summer of 1984, to the best of my memory, five of the the six fire departments on the Dare County north beaches were volunteer: Nags Head (with a paid Chief), Collington, Kitty Hawk, Southern Shores, and Duck. Although a “combination” department, I believe that Kill Devil Hills had a fairly strong volunteer program at the time. Today, the SSVFD is the last all volunteer department, and largest pool of on-scene personnel available this side of Roanoke Island.
As an historical parallel I'll be using a Volunteer Fire Department, Inc., which is now a town, combination, fire department. I will apologize in advance if in this process I somehow mis-state or otherwise err in my memory regarding the events that lead to the transition of this VFD to a paid department.
Please note: “Names have been changed to protect the innocent”I am trying to relate this in the simplest terms I can to try and keep this as brief as possible. Those readers who may recognize these circumstances and are much more knowledgeable than I regarding the VFD in this parable need not be insulted nor incensed if I have left out some detail of which I am unaware.
Sometime, I believe during the early '90's, a VFD reported to the Town their need for a new fire truck. For some reason, that I am not aware of, the town ended up ordering a new truck to present to the VFD. Given that the usual process for purchasing fire trucks includes the input of the fire department, in order to suit the specific needs of the department, the bulk of volunteers seemed to be resentful that the town had done this without their input. As I remember the situation, I believe this created a rift between the VFD and the town, with the volunteers not understanding why the town council would meddle in their affairs, while the council could not understand why the VFD did not seem to fully appreciate the purchase of the fire truck. Ultimately, the truck was delivered, accepted by the VFD and placed in service.
Unfortunately, over time, this rift seemed to grow into outright distrust. This, along with, complaints from some disaffected volunteers, caused the town council to start looking into and enter into the internal politics and operations of the VFD. (It is, after all, a part of the human condition that there are internal politics in every organization, healthy or otherwise.) Then there were accusations of fiscal misconduct in the VFD, so out of a sense of governmental responsibility the town council initiated an investigation into those accusations.
The Stages of Demise.
Stage 1. Denial: this may be expressed in being unable to accept what is happening or not acknowledging the situation or it's severity.
Town: They (VFD) can't be that upset about this. They should be more cooperative and conciliatory in this matter. They must have something to hide.
VFD: Why don't they (Town) trust us all of a sudden. We do our best, train hard, and get the job done.
Stage 2. Anger: produces the desire to fight back or get even with the offending party accelerating toward a direct confrontation.
VFD: They have no right to tamper with our internal affairs. They had better stop and leave us alone.
Town: They have no right to resist us. They had better cooperate or they'll regret this. The taxpayers expect action, we'll get a court order and settle this.
Stage 3. Bargaining: actually in this case nonproductive non-bargaining.
VFD: Lets give them a show of force and turn up at their meetings en mass, in uniform. They need to to know we cannot be intimidated. If they don't leave us alone we'll walk out and lock the doors.
Town: We've gotten a court injunction to keep their Fire Chief away from the VFD station and any dispatches. We've contact the SBI to investigate. We'll show them we won't be intimidated, if they continue to resist we'll padlock their station and lock them out.
Stage 4. Depression: overwhelming feelings of frustration, bitterness, doubt, or guilt.
VFD: How can we ever regain the trust of the citizens? Will the Town take over the VFD?
Did we do something wrong? We were in the right weren't we?
Town: If they had only cooperated we could have settled this without being forced to be so harsh. We were protecting the public interests, weren't we?
Stage 5. Acceptance: in this case more like resignation to the realities.
Town: So the result of the investigation produced nothing and there is no prosecution, they brought this on themselves. We'll be certain to keep an eye on them so the don't get out of hand again.
VFD: Our Chief has resigned, we're fighting among ourselves, this is really a mess. Can't we try to start over?
Conclusion: In my opinion the VFD never truly recovered. The spirit of proud service and camaraderie had been broken. The only option left was to hire a paid Fire Chief from outside the VFD and rebuild the department on a new model, as a combination department.
Does history have to be repeated here in Southern Shores? Can this “train wreck” be avoided? Or is the momentum to great?
Does my analogy between Grief and Demise work? Can any of the above stages be mitigated or avoided altogether?
I, personally, would rather have this experiment fail, and the progression above stall before my conclusion becomes a prediction. But I fear we are already at Stage 2. Anger. If it hasn't happened already, resolve on both sides, has begun to jell. Soon, if not already, the threats will begin to fly.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
"I don't know whether he did justice to the topic " in just a few words" but it was way too long for me to read and comprehend. Someone needs to put out a short synopsis of what the problem is. Sorry to be so dense but long winded dissertations on any subject will lose the readers interest fast."
I've eliminated the sender's name as I don't believe it's necessary to reveal the identity.
Thanks for the comments XXXX, I understand. I stopped where I did, for now, because of the length and complexity. I'm certain i probably left out some key point that would help you understand. I'm pretty sure that with more background and detail (good grief) that you might better understand.
Basically, it is my belief that, the department could be inadvertently pushed into oblivian through some political game that is being played out. I'm not even certain of the purpose.
Volunteer's save this community literally millions of dollars each year. But they like to think they are truly appreciated, trusted, and are performing a valuable service. Feed them those three things and they thrive. Treat them with lip service as praise and imply distrust, they will find something else to do and fast They don't like politics and controversy, they just want to do what they are trained to do.
As an organization they are being treated by this council with the atmosphere of distrust as if they have mismanaged the business affairs of the department. I believe the SSVFD is and has been a good steward of their finances, and is a healthy viable organization. I may not, as a member agree with everything the goes on, but I tend to be an outcome oriented person. What I watch for is what happens when the dispatch goes out. If there are any internal differences at that point, they get set aside in order to get the job done.
And, this department does an outstanding job. There are paid departments on the beach that at times have had to reply to dispatches with "Not Responding" or "Standing By". To my knowledge it has never happened in the history of the SSVFD.
Why would it be in the interest of the citizens to ruin this? What is the purpose of strangling the SSVFD budget while reducing the tax rate and begin to pay council members $300 a month each?
I'm honestly concerned that this could lead to the end of the SSVFD. Is the Town Council prepared for that? This could easily lead to one of two realities, a paid Fire Dept. which would easily double the tax rate or double the insurance rates. Take a look at your tax bill then call your insurance agent and see which one you would prefer.
The SSVFD is a contracted agent of the Town. Council should hire them and stay out of their operations, let them do their job, or for more direct control start their own town department.
I don't know how else I could put it.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
As you may note from my previous articles, I have been an active member of the Southern Shores Volunteer Fire Department. To be exact I joined the SSVFD in December of 1984, so this is my 24th year with the department. During those 24 years I have served in several roles, from Firefighter to Chief, including a couple of terms as Chairman of the Board of Directors. I wanted to state this up front to let you know the following may be somewhat biased.
In case you were not aware, the Southern Shores Volunteer Fire Department in not a town fire department. It is a separate non-profit corporation registered and incorporated under the laws of the State of North Carolina, operating under contracts of agency with both Dare County (for Martin's Point) and TOSS. Currently, there are 30 eligible (voting) members operating out of the two stations (East Dogwood and South Dogwood), plus around 15 support members assisting with other department activities. From Nags Head to Duck this is the last all volunteer department left on the Dare County North Beaches, all the others have three or more paid personnel.
In all these years I have never seen the relationship between TOSS and the SSVFD quite like it is today. Not since the early '90s when TOSS considered taking over the department, have I seen such tension between the two organizations. Now, I'm concerned, not just for the future of the department, but also for the future of the community and the taxpayers.
Over the last couple of years, contract discussions have resulted in friction to the extent that the SSVFD leadership has sought alternative means of support other than contracting directly with the town. As an example, they sought to accomplish this recently by expanding the existing Dare County/Martin's Point contract to include Southern Shores in the Fire Tax District. Although the county was amenable the town council did not agree to pass a resolution to effect that change.
So, now we are in a new town budget planning cycle and the friction increases further. Noted in my previous posting the SSVFD requested an increase, but it was recommended by the Town Manager that their budget should remain the same as the previous year. A $50,200 reduction from what had been requested. Why? When asked specifically why, by Council member Hess, the Town manger was unable to respond with a reasonable explanation. In the budget message he stated “...taking into consideration the Town's financial position, the status of the national, regional, and local economies, and the prior fiscal year appropriations for th fire service, I recommend an appropriation of $291,400.00 for the Fire Department Contract”.
So, are we to assume that the “Town's financial position” is the problem? Or is it the “status of national, regional and local economies”? I contend that it is none of the above!
Perhaps Council Member Stroud said it best when he stated “Let's not dance around the issue, let's get this out into the open” (not an exact quote, but I believe I have the gist of it), What is the real problem?
The SSVFD is the last department left on the beach without a full time paid Chief and that ---- is about to change.
In the past, the Fire Chief of the SSVFD was elected by the membership on an annual basis. A few weeks ago, as per the corporation's bylaws, the membership voted to change the bylaws to allow the Board of Directors to hire a Fire Chief, with a vote of 21 to 5 in favor. I believe this, as it became the primary topic after Councilman Stroud's statement, is the real reason the budget request was cut. Simply a political ploy to place the SSVFD in a financial position that precludes acting as directed by the membership. An attempt to interfere in the internal operations of the SSVFD.
Throughout it's existence, the SSVFD has only requested what was needed to operate efficiently and to maximize the ISO rating. Contract budget requests have gone up and down as each years needs have changed. If anyone has any concern as to the financial stewardship of the SSVFD they can review the annual certified audit provided as required by the TOSS contract, or I'm certain whether citizen or council member, either a member of the Board of Directors or the Chief, would be more than happy to arrange a meeting to go over the budget or any other matter of concern (252 261-2272 non-emergency number).
Will they be able to agree on a contract? What are the options? Will our tax rate be impacted? Will our insurance rates go up? Will TOSS take control of the SSVFD and form a town department?
I'm trying to sort this out and intend to present the options that I foresee, and to explore the potential answers to the those other questions as well..
You are welcome to return later for the “rest of the story”. I'll try not to take too long.
Friday, May 16, 2008
At this meeting the Council was presented with budget detailed spreadsheets and the Manager's “FY2008-09 Budget Message”. The following is the short version of the planned budget discussion:
Goal: A .09 tax rate (.0075 less than last year). With a total assessment of both real and personal property of $370,365 (from the Dare County Tax website) this tax rate would save me approximately$27.78. Or in simpler terms $7.50 per $100,000 in value.
Expenditures: Increased expenditures were noted in: salaries, benefits, cost-of-living increases, merit pay, fuel and insurance, despite the reduction in force of two permanent employee positions (replaced by temps). New with the presentation of this budget is Council Compensation totaling $18,600.
Revenue: Anticipated lose of revenue collection was noted in: Land Transfer Tax, Occupancy and local Sales taxes, Powell Bill money (for road repairs), and Building Permit fees. Of course the decrease in the property tax rate would also effect reduce both the revenue from that and the percentage of funding the town receives from the division of the Occupancy Tax collected by the county.
Undesignated Fund Balance: According to this plan, the Fund would remain at 75% (I assume 75% of the town's operating expense), and would not be used to balance this budget. Any growth would be transferred from the General fund to the Capital Reserve.
Reduction of Services: As previously established by town administration or council, the reduction in the number of recycling pickups in Winter, the elimination of the Chipping Program for the months June, July , and August, along with the modification of the Lifeguard/Ocean Rescue service, assist in making this budget balance.
Capital Improvements: None planned. $15,000 is included for the engineering studies required, but there is still yet no Capital Improvement Plan, therefore there are no street repairs or Storm Water mitigation projects scheduled or funded. Apparently two replacement squad cars for the Police Department had been considered, but removed from this budget plan.
Volunteer Fire Department: As a contracted agent for TOSS the VFD requested a budget of $341,600, noting the increase was due to: insurance costs (up 26.9%), fuel (up 14.3%), as well as, increases in Workers Compensation, Medical exams, State Pension contributions, member's benefits and awards (Volunteer Retention). Also, the hiring of the Departments first paid Fire Chief.
The Town Manager's recommendation was for no increase at all! This results in a budget of $291,400.
Compare this to our neighboring Fire Districts:
Town 07/08 08/09 (recommended by Town Manager)
Duck $427, 816 $517,500
Kitty Hawk $1,217490 (N/A at this time)
Conclusions: These are my thoughts and do not reflect the thoughts or opinions of anyone but myself.
The proposed budget appears to specifically reduce those services that directly benefit the individual taxpayers while increasing the Administrative and Operational costs of Town Hall. Don't mistake what I am saying. I think our Town employees are doing an outstanding job and have and deserve every benefit they receive. And, as exhibited by the turnover rate of the last couple of years, the Town must be competitive to retain good employees.
I would just rather have the Town keep my $27.78 and restore the services I used to have and fully fund the SSVFD (even if that means a modest tax increase).
Further: The audience at this workshop only consisted of myself, two other citizens, and the Fire Chief. The session was recessed until the May 27 Council Meeting (8:00 AM) and will be resumed at the end of that meeting. If you have and concerns about any of the above, you will want to attend.
This budget is still a work-in-progress and may be altered considerably. I believe Mayor Smith would like to present a budget that is further reduced in order to affect an .08 per $100 tax rate. While Council member Hess would like to consider a budget representing the current .0975 rate.
A full copy of the budget message can be found here.
There was considerably more discussion regarding the SSVFD at the meeting which I will cover further after I've had more time to sort out my thoughts.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Well, it sure has been a dry spell since my last February post. But, politically, nothing much has happened until recently (I'll be commenting on these issues in subsequent posts). Among things that have interrupted my blogging: my laptop decided to vacation in California for a couple of weeks while being rebuilt due to hardware failure, family considerations, major work projects (seemingly endless), and trying to be more attentive to my fire department obligations.
I did miss one TOSS Council meeting due to illness, but was advised by others that nothing notable was discussed.
Other than the Resolution Declaring English as the Official Language of Southern Shores, council had not really produced much.
More to follow, shortly....................................I promise!
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Our Engine Company, E123:
From left to right: Chris Loyd, Geoff Smith, Shirley Ruff , Jeannie Shrader, and Bob Ruff
In addition the SSVFD participated with a Truck Company (T12) and the Rehab Unit. Also participating were, of course, the Duck VFD, with crews from Kitty Hawk, Nags Head and I believe, Manteo or Manns Harbor.
I'm not certain exactly how may evolutions (fire attacks) were made through the course of the day, but our crew (standing by for any 911 calls) was able to make two entries on a room fire in the second level of the North Wing.
Letting it go!
The finished product.........a vacant ocean front lot.
Training opportunities like this are invaluable to our local fire departments. The nearest live fire training facilities are located on: Hatteras Island, Norfolk, and Wilson. Long distances for our North Beach departments to travel with all the needed equipment.
If you haven't considered the possibility, do think about joining your local volunteer fire department, they could use your help. Among other things, your participation will help with the community's insurance rating (and insurance rates), and help keep local taxes low.
As an example: the SSVFD maintains two Stations (East Dogwood and South Dogwood) with two Engine Companies and two Truck Companies, generally responding with around twenty personnel on a "working" fire call. Cost to the Town: under $300,00 this year. Can you imagine what it would cost to have the same level of service from a paid department?
Think about this: if no one volunteers, what will happen?
Monday, February 11, 2008
Mr. Muller's post of Feb. 7, entitled How to Ruin a Good Report can be found at View from the Ridge.
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
The service contract for this coming summer was approved at today's council meeting with more modest changes than previously discussed. The approved service consists of the following:
May 1 through Memorial Day and again Labor Day to September 30 there will be a roving lifeguard on a four-wheeler on the beach.
Memorial Day through Labor Day there will be two stationary lifeguard stands, one at Hillcrest access and at the Chicahauk access. In addition, there will also be two roving guards and a shared supervisor.
So the contract price has been reduced from $140,000 to $126,000 for a 10% savings. To accomplish this, the period of October 1-15 and the shared roving guard between Hillcrest and Plover Drive have been eliminated.
Other aspects of the contract were discussed further before being approved, in particular the the 3 year term of the contract which includes a schedule of small incremental price increases for subsequent years. The concern seemed to be that we would be stuck with the contractor and price for that period of time. The town attorney explained that the contract was based on the town appropriating funds for the service, and that if the town did not appropriate those funds or a sum less than required per the agreement, the contract would become null and void. After that council agreed to accept the terms.
Monday, January 21, 2008
So far, two comments have been received, actually one was in the form of a direct email. Both have brought up pertinent questions that deserve consideration.
1. Regarding Ocean Rescue: "My questions are for Liability to the town for reduced coverage? Are there liability issues we should be aware of and taken into consideration, especially if rental companies have already gone to print with local information provided about beach coverage for the upcoming season? The pre-season time-frame is more popular with families with young children, due to slightly lower rental fees".
2. Consolidation: Actually a statement you can review by selecting the comments key on this blog.
Ocean Rescue: Indeed, liability regarding this service has been much discussed. In fact, the only way the town's liability could have been eliminated is to never have provided the service. A lawsuit was actually filed once involving an incident on our beach about 300 yards North of Kitty Hawk Pier. At the time, Nags Head Ocean Rescue was the service provider and I believe they bore the brunt of the suit.
So, it would seem that no matter what the situation is, people can file suit if they can find an attorney willing to take the case. The concern here is, since the service has been provided in the past and performed between specific dates, should there be more concern for liability during a period where service has been reduced or eliminated?
I'm not an attorney, nor do I purport to practice law in any form. But I have attended classes and seminars in the past related to the laws and liability issues surrounding the Fire Service (served as Chief of the SSVFD from '90 – '97). In Dare County the general practice is for the Fire Departments to provide this service, as in Nags Head, Kill Devil Hills, Kitty Hawk, and Duck.
What I learned in those classes was,that the primary questions in the event of a lawsuit are: What is the standard practice of the area? What do neighboring districts do in such incidents? What are their procedures? If it could be said that an agency's coverage and procedures were out of step with, or severely departed from common practice, a lawsuit would not go well for that agency.
In this case, we would most likely be compared directly to the Duck and Kitty Hawk services. I believe the coverage schedule for both has been the same in all three districts (including TOSS): May 1 through October 15. I am not aware of the existing procedures in all three areas, but since Duck uses the same contractor as Southern Shores, I'm certain the procedures have been the same here, up to this point.
Another issue that comes into play is the concept of Mutual Aide. Whether by formal agreement or otherwise, neighboring emergency services generally will provide coverage or resources for special situations whenever available on a “like/kind basis”. Mutual Aide agreements assume similar resources such as equipment and personnel are available. Ocean Rescue service is seasonal be nature and usually employees non-residents.
If neighboring districts know that budgetary cuts were made to economize the service in Southern Shores, will they still be willing to commit their personnel or resources to help cover an incident when they know our town will not be able to reciprocate? If substantial changes are made to our service structure we'll have to wait and see.
When it comes to the effect on rental reservations, I'm not certain what the result could be, but the I'm sure the effect would not be immediate. Any discontent or reluctance to rent properties in our town would mostly be noticed in subsequent years. I don't know of any contractural obligation to provide lifeguard service in the area. But, with 22 years in the industry, I believe it would be a consideration, especially since the advertising for most of these properties specifically targets families.
Consolidation: A complex topic that recurs on a regular basis in Dare County. Interestingly, the taxpayers/voters in neighboring Currituck County had the perfect opportunity to resolve a lot of future issues in the recent referendum that would have allowed Currituck to incorporate as one governing entity. Why that referendum failed I will never truly understand. It would have eliminated the possibility of ever incorporating any towns.
Since I moved here in 1984, I believe there have been at least two serious attempts to bring this concept to reality. If my memory is correct, at one time there was an organization or committee formed to work out a plan. Nothing substantial has ever come from those efforts.
To some degree, local fire and rescue agencies will occasionally work out some group purchases of supplies and equipment. But nothing formal has ever developed out of that.
When given consideration in the past, it was assumed that consolidation would result in a substantial change in the tax structure in Southern Shores. Just in considering the SSVFD, ourservice cost is approximately half that of Duck and is all volunteer. Most likely a county wide system would not evenly cover all districts, specifically, in Southern Shores it would not make sense to man two separate stations. Depending on which existing station was eliminated about a third of Southern Shores or half of Martin's Point would be outside of the “four mile limit”. This could cause an increase in their insurance rate of up to 25%. In my case (though I believe I would be covered either way) that would be a $700 increase in my insurance premium, nearly double my town tax. Check with your own insurance agent for a more accurate estimate.
Where this problem really stands out for us, is that in the other municipalities, their ad velorum tax represents 50+% of their overall budgets. In Southern Shores it is currently only 37%. I can't see how our citizens would benefit from consolidation as it currently stands.
We've probably just had an opportunity for such an experiment slip by us. With the recent resignation of Duck's Police Chief. It would have made sense to explore the possibility of combining our two police agencies. I believe Chief Kole would have been both capable and acceptable to the Town of Duck, but given the perception of political turmoil here, such a concept might have been doomed from the start.
Have I been fair in this topic? Do I appear to biased? Certainly there are more aspects of consolidation to explore, I really don't think I can “do justice” to this topic in so few words. What do you think, should we be exploring this?
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
I have been amazed the number of times I have been asked that question or heard that desire expressed the last few days. But, I have to admit that I have made that statement before, in both open and closed sessions of the council. At the time I was trying to make a point and was being facetious.
Seriously, though, what circumstances would lead a reasonable person to that conclusion or desire?
In my opinion, if the town's service levels are ever reduced to the same level as provided by the county, it might become a true consideration. If the services offered are no greater than the services that would be provided otherwise, why should the town government exist? The best thing to do at this point would be to explore the effects this would have:
Zoning : .......................................Yes...............................................Yes
Code Enforcement:.................... Yes............................................. Yes
Building/Repair Permits:......... Yes.............................................. Yes
Fire Inspection ...........................Yes..............................................Yes
Law Enforcement .......................Yes .............................................Yes
Public Works/Beautification .....Yes ..............................................No
Road Maintenance .....................Yes ..............................................No
Emergency Medical Service .....No ...............................................Yes *
Fire/Rescue ................................Yes............................................. Yes
Ocean Rescue/Lifeguards......... Yes .............................................No **
Garbage Collection......................Yes .............................................Yes
Chipping/Vegetation Disposal ..Yes.............................................. No
*EMS is provided to all residents of the county, the towns do not participate in this operation
**This service can be arranged but an additional tax would need to be levied.
Most often singled out during town budget discussions, whether for major cuts or outright elimination, are Ocean Rescue/Lifeguards, Recycling, and Chipping. Remove them and the case for dissolution begins to look a little more attractive. After all, beautification issues could be put in the hands of local associations and the individual subdivisions could either take responsibility for their streets or work out something with the county. For example: property owners in Seacrest Village subdivision would not be paying for street repairs through a tax for repairs to a street in Chicahauk. Is this looking like a possibility?
Let's look at the realities involved, such as the ad valorem taxes:
Currently collected in TOSS............................................................. If no TOSS
County: .26 .........................................................................................County: .26
Town: .0975....................................................................................... Sanitation: .0675*
..............................................................................................................Fire Tax: .02**
Total: .3575 ........................................................................................Total: .3475 (This is what Martin's Point pays)
*Charged in all unincorporated areas of Dare County primarily for garbage pickup.
**Current Fire Tax in Martin's Point for service from the Southern Shores Volunteer Fire Dept., Inc., at this time there is no Fire Tax in the town it is a contracted service.
So, judging from the above, if Southern Shores were to dissolve town government the savings to the taxpayer would only be .01 per $100 of value.
Now let's look at what we are getting for that penny of tax:
Code Enforcement – this actually would include Zoning, Planning, Permitting, and Fire Inspection. Our town ordinances are customized and enforced based on the desire of the local community. Under the county, these matters would be based on more broad considerations and would not necessarily match our desires. Would you want to see a couple of “big box” stores in our commercial district?
This is the main reason Duck incorporated
Law Enforcement - the town currently provides 24/7 service, with constant community patrols and overlapping shifts to assure constant coverage. Although the county would assign a deputy to our community on each shift, that deputy would most likely be assigned Colington Harbour and Martin's Point as well. Street patrols would be minimal, and dispatch times (to arrival) could take awhile if the officer happened to be in Colington.
Public Works – to include beautification. This department maintains road signs, sight lines at intersections, mowing, maintenance for town buildings and grounds, and has dealt with storm water problems. Of course, the county would provide none of this.
Roads – under the NC General Statutes, counties have no responsibilities in regard to streets or roads. The town was most likely first incorporated so that shared revenues that then became available could be used to finance the repair and replacement of our streets and bridges.
Fire/Rescue – whether under the county or town would actually remain the same. One minor exception, the Fire Tax levied in Martin's Point is .02, while in the town the budgeted amount is currently equivalent to .017. The county will only levy this tax in whole or half points. Another point of interest is that in NC law the town is not required to provide fire service, the county is though.
Ocean Rescue/Lifeguard – details of how this service is structured can be found in a previous post. It is not a required service, but one that has been provided by the town for a number of years and matches the services that are currently provided in both Duck and Kitty Hawk. The county would have to charge for a service like this, as in Duck before they incorporated they would probably boost the Fire Tax .01 to be used for this service.
Garbage – the county is currently our contract for trash pickup, so I wouldn't expect much change with this service. Although, in Martin's Point there is no curbside pickup, they pay a full .0675 for centralized dumpsters.
Recycling – I believe Southern Shores is still the only community with curbside recycling, the county would probably provide a central recycling center somewhere in the vicinity.
Chipping – it is true that no other town here has a program exactly like Southern Shores, but most of the other towns in the county do have a larger Public Works Department that has the resources to haul away and deal with vegetative debris. In the case of Southern Shores, we use a contractor to deal with it. I don't believe the county deals with this problem except possibly through burn permits.
Having completed this exercise, it appears that, for now, the best course of action “for the better good of the whole” would be to maintain our independence and identity as an incorporated town. If you really thoroughly reviewed and digested the above, isn't it a wonder that we can employ the number of people along with providing the equipment and materials necessary to conduct business as a town?
On top of that to also provide customized, unique services to our citizens for little more than what would be paid to the county.
So, what is the problem? Why would anyone even consider the possibility? Obviously, they must be frustrated about the haggling and hullabaloo surrounding the town's budget and services.
What do you think?
Friday, January 11, 2008
A hot topic of the last three Town Council meetings has been renewal of this contract. As submitted the service would remain the same as the last couple of years and cost $140,000. After the initial presentation the service representative Mirek Dabrowski was asked to cut the contract cost. Mirek agreed to return with a modified contract.
To better understand what impact a change might have let’s look at how the existing service is organized:
From May 1 to Memorial Day a roving patrol is provided with a Lifeguard on a 4-wheeler covering our four mile beach. From the Tuesday after Labor Day to October 15th there is again one roving Lifeguard.
Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend our beach is covered by stationary guards at stands (Hillcrest Access and Chicahauk), two roving guards patrolling the rest of the area, one roving guard shared by Duck and Southern Shores (Plover in Duck, Hillcrest in Southern Shores), and one Supervisor shared between the two towns.
In the past, the Town depended on the contractor to organize this service based on the need and his expertise. The company maintains a count of people using the beach through the summer months and uses those statistics to determine the level of protection required, based on density.
The only change to service in the last three seasons was the addition of a shared roving guard between Plover and Hillcrest accesses due to the increase in use at those two popular areas.
At the last regular council meeting a number of alternatives were proposed and discussed.
Mayor Smith suggested (as he has in the past) that swimming at our beaches should be at a persons’ own risk and is a matter of personal responsibility. Further, that at most, we should do as “we do in New Jersey” and only provide lifeguard service at the two stationary stands where the guarded areas would be marked by flags. Town Manager Charlie Read seemed to agree by indicating that Council should consider experimenting with that idea for one summer season to see how that would work out.
Mirek was asked by a council member if the contract could be reduced by changing the service period to just Memorial Day through Labor Day, he initially responded that it could be done that way if council wished... This caused an extensive discussion regarding coverage outside that period and what other agency would be dispatched to cover any incident that might occur. Ultimately, Mirek was asked, and he agreed, to return with a more balanced proposal to include a 10% reduction in cost.
Other than the above, the Town Manager stated that the contact should be placed on an annual renewal instead of the indicated three year contract.
The last contract proposal I have knowledge of was presented at Council Retreat and consisted of the following:
May 1 to Memorial Day weekend and from Labor Day through October 15th
one Lifeguard would be on-call to be dispatched to any incidents between the hours of 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM.
Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend there would be two stationary guards, one roving patrol and one shared Supervisor.
It seemed that the Town Manager was not pleased with this version and told Mirek to meet with him later in the week to discuss changes. At this point the status of the contract is undetermined, I will report back on this when I am able to obtain more information. Other than that we may have to wait to see if this will be covered in the January 22nd Council Meeting Agenda.
This situation seems to beg the question: Should a service involving the safety of our citizens and visitors be based on the level of service needed or based on a dollar amount and designed to fit?
What do you think? I would love to see some other perspectives on this matter.
As an update: The Town Manager has assured me that he had a "fruitful meeting "with Mirek yesterday and they were "off and running on a positive note. Although no details regarding the service were provided. Guess we'll have to wait and see.
The new council has now had the opportunity to meet a few times, most importantly; the two day retreat has been completed. The agenda for this event can be found here . As you may see a lot of topics were covered, generating a considerable amount of discussion.
For the most part the meetings were orderly and informative. Presentations from both staff and the service contractor that spoke were well organized and thorough. This is especially important for the new council members so that they can “get up to speed” on the internal works of town operations and the issues being faced in the near future.
From these meetings both near and long term goals are established, and the Operations and Capital Improvement budgets are “roughed out” so that town staff can generate a first draft budget and project schedule. The first order of business was to establish the “theme “ of the next years’ budget. The Town Finance Officer sought guidance from council as to whether the budget draft should be service based or tax based. In other words, should she prepare a draft based on the cost of the services as provided in the past, or budget based on a set tax rate with services adjusted to match the rate?
Initial consensus seemed to be to produce a draft based on the tax rate. Comments from council members ranged from rolling the current ad-valorem tax rate (.0975 per $100) back to .08, to fully funding existing services as they had been. The prevailing compromise position was to produce two drafts, one at a .08 tax rate and the other at .085. As the matter was discussed further four of the council members modified their stance by indicating that they were seeking to produce a workable budget that reflected an effort to be fiscally responsible without eliminating any services, with the aim of producing a 10 % cut where possible. For his part, the Mayor has been quite consistent in his argument that the tax rate must be rolled back to at least .08, and that all services and department budgets must reflect that reduction.
Tax-wise, what would this mean to the property owners?
In round numbers, our current tax rate of .0975 produces $97.50 per year, per $100,000 of value. So, a .08 tax rate would produce a tax savings of $17.50 per year, per $100,000 of property value.
The math is simple if you want to calculate your own property tax liability. Go here to look up your property by address, determine the tax levy value, and do the math.
Example: My property:
Tax Levy Value: $355,500 divided by 100 = $3,550
Current Tax $3,550 X .0975 = $346.13 per year.
Reduction to a .08 rate would save me $62.13 a year. But what effect would that have on the services I receive? Refer to my previous post to see what the town structure is and what services you currently enjoy.
This brings me to a specific topic that I want to address next due to the immediacy of contract negotiations involved; the Ocean Rescue/ Lifeguard service.
Later I will report on other retreat discussions, further analysis and background on our ad-valorem taxes, and explore other matters that produce the unique issues that have to be dealt with in Southern Shores.
Friday, January 4, 2008
-Located on the Outer Banks of North Carolina in Dare County.
-Bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and Currituck Sound on the East and West, and the incorporated towns of Duck and Kitty Hawk to the North and South.
-Approximately one by four miles in area.
Motto: “A Town of Volunteers”
Town Hall Staff:
Services: Code Enforcement, Police Department, and Public Works
-Code Enforcement Staff:
-Code Enforcement Administrator
-Code Enforcement Officer
-Fire Inspector (Part-Time)
-Sergeants – 2
-Patrol Officers – 6
-Maintenance Technicians -2
-Fire/Rescue: Southern Shores Volunteer Fire Dept., Inc.
-Ocean Rescue/Lifeguards: Surf Rescue-Life Guard
-Garbage Collection: Dare County Public Works
-Recycling: Tidewater Fiber Inc.
-Chipping/Vegetation Disposal: Atlantic Tree
-Ocean Beach – 4 miles
-Paved Roads – 38 miles
-Canals – 7 Miles
-Bridges – 4
-Cemetery – 1
-Southern Shores Civic Association
-Chicahuak Property Owners Association
-As of the US Census of 2000: 2,201 (currently estimated at around 2,800).
-Summer Population: Estimated at an additional 3,000 to 5,000.
Property Tax Rate:
-Currently .0975 per $100 value
-Example: $97.50 for every $100,000 of value, a property valued at $500,000 would have a total tax of $487.50 per year.