Councilman Abernathy

Councilman Weidner Abernathy gives his council comments during the Town of Beech Mountain council meeting on May 11.

BEECH MOUNTAIN — The Beech Mountain Town Council provided an opt-out clause in its bear-resistant container ordinance and set a public hearing ahead of its decision to contract with a commercial trash pickup service during its May 11 meeting.

Public comments included one submission from local resident Urs Gsteiger, who commended the council for addressing the difficult infrastructure challenges, while also voicing his concerns over the town’s “generous” health insurance payments for dependents, the Lake Coffey water intake project, the dedicated EMS station, as well as the increase in town spending by 20 percent of the past year.

Once the evening’s agenda was approved, the council promptly set a public hearing for its next meeting on June 8 to give citizens the opportunity to address the town’s budget before it is approved. As a reminder, public comments must be sent to the town clerk by 5 p.m. the day preceding the meeting, and communication between council members directly do not qualify as public comments.

After opening and closing the public hearing, the council discussed proposed amendments to the solid waste ordinance provisions related to bear-resistant container regulations. Mayor Barry Kaufman brought up a “compromise” that would allow property owners to exempt their property from the bear-proof container requirement by submitting a request no later than Aug. 1.

Councilman Weidner Abernathy expressed concern that the council was simply “kicking the can down the road” by not requiring all residents to have trash containers. Abernathy also spoke of the potential de-incentives of some property owners having to take their trash to the recycling center while some properties receive trash pickup services.

Town Manager Bob Pudney noted that its takes approximately $300,000 annually to operate the recycling center. The majority of short-term rentals in the town have bear-proof containers, whereas non-rental properties may either have a wooden or metal bin that is up to standard, or they may opt out. The ordinance amendment would not apply to motels and hotels. After further discussion, the board then approved the ordinance amendment.

Council members then discussed the solid waste franchise agreement, which covers the first draft of a proposal between the town and Republic Services for the company to complete the collection and disposal of commercial solid waste within the town for a period of three years. Commercial accounts will not be managed by the town, with businesses paying Republic Services directly. Republic Services will also provide bear-resistant dumpsters will metal lids. The council will set the rates each year, and businesses will have a 90-day period to sign up for the service.

The council approved a public hearing for the franchise agreement on June 8, giving the council and the public 30 days to review the agreement before its potential approval. The public hearing will also include the franchise ordinance, which is different from a corporate franchise agreement, that was created in order for the town to be able to enter into an agreement with the waste collection service.

As the next order of business, council members nominated two individuals, John Pendergast and George Paddeck, to fill a vacancy on the Planning Board. Paddeck was approved by a 3-2 vote.

Pudney then gave his town manager’s update, in which he reported that the town’s revenues are up and that only 9.35 percent of the appropriated fund balance has been used, despite the council appropriating 100 percent. Pudney also reported positive financial marks for water and sewer and sanitation.

Furthermore, Pudney took a moment to acknowledge police officers Chris Ward and Logan Fox, victims of the recent shooting incident in Watauga County.

“The town was rocked pretty hard with this. Chris started his career here in Beech Mountain, and Logan grew up here in Beech Mountain. The police and fire departments attended the memorials and services. I met with Tim Fox and expressed my personal condolences and on behalf of the town,” Pudney said.

To commemorate the officers, the town distributed blue lights and red ribbons to the community. Pudney also reminded the public to thank their local officers and to tell them that they are appreciated.

The town held its 40th anniversary birthday celebration at Buckeye Recreation Center on May 1. In the inaugural cornhole tournament, the police department defeated the fire department.

The public works department is working on moving into a new building by the second week of June. The new convenience center is also expected to be brought online by the same time period. Pudney reported that the project is under budget, albeit being over time.

Beech Mountain Parkway is not scheduled to be repaved this summer, although patching and sealing will be performed. The council is also looking to revisit its golf cart ordinance at the request of a local resident as a discussion item at its next meeting.

In response to the Colonial Pipeline ransomware incident, Pudney reported that the town had 45 days worth of gasoline and 30 days worth of diesel on hand. Pudney said at that time he was comfortable with the town’s fuel supplies.

The council will be addressing the subject of dependent health care during its next budget workshop on June 19. Pudney recommended that the town splits the cost of dependent health care with its employees so that the town plays 50 percent and the employee pays 50 percent that would be structured over a three-year plan, with employee contributions rising over the three-year period until the amount reaches 50 percent.

Previously, employees were being charged at different rates depending on whether the health insurance covered their spouse, children or family as a whole. The new recommendation would do away with this particular pricing model. Pudney noted that the cost of dependent care would rise for the employees but would provide a “substantial” saving for the taxpayer. Currently, the employee is paying 18 percent of the policy. A decision on the new policy has not yet been made.

Considering the amount of demand that has been placed on town services and departments throughout the past year, Pudney insisted that the council reconsider the approval of bonuses to town employees and instead implement a merit-based system, which is able to compound in the employee’s retirement account and provide a net positive to the employee. Council members seconded Pudney’s recommendation.

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