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Local Government Roundup - Jan. 18, 2024

New Bern

The New Bern Board of Aldermen met just once this month on Jan. 9.

The new fire chief Damien Locklear was introduced. Locklear began on Jan. 8. He previously served for 5 years as Kinston's fire chief.

Nate Halubka from McGill Associates, an engineering consulting firm, presented a parks and recreation master plan that's been more than a year in the making. The master plan serves as a "guiding document" with long-term goals, he said. Halubka presented several recommendations, including regularly inspecting parks for ADA compliance, installing security lighting and cameras, and removing 2-3 "mini parks" — specifically selling or repurposing Mary White, Tryon Village, and Speight Parks. The board unanimously adopted the nonbinding master plan.

The board denied a request to annex 53 acres in James City for the Riverside Leadership Academy, a charter school. The measure was legal formality since the charter school is using city water systems. Because it's not annexed into New Bern, the city will not have to provide building or fire inspections, so the county will pick up that responsibility. The K-7 school is set to open in August this year.

Lastly, the council considered several upset bids and property sales. One company, Lay Team and Remodelers, put bids in for two properties on Bloomfield Street to construct tiny homes, according to the Sun Journal. The two properties combined are less than 0.3 acres. How many homes on the property was not reported, but looking at other tiny home communities, 6-9 dwelling could be constructed.

At its upcoming meeting on Jan. 22, the board will vote on a resolution to oppose the proposed homeowner's insurance rate increase, Chief of Police Patrick Gallagher will present on last year's crime statistics, and a public hearing will be held on proposed leases to the Old State North League (a collegiate summer baseball league) for use of Kafer Park for the next decade.


January 11
Councilmembers received a report on spending halfway through its fiscal year. The city's chief financial officer Jacob Joyner said the city has raised $104 million and spent $98 million, netting $6 million altogether. Nearly three-fourths of that revenue came from property and sales taxes alone. Joyner attributed the additional funds to higher than expected investment earnings and sale taxes. Sale taxes increased 8.3% last fiscal year and investment earnings grew from interest rate increases. Looking at expenditures, every city department came under budget last fiscal year.

Notably, the city met the state recommended level of available fund balance of 25%, that is funds that are available and unallocated. Cities are encouraged to keep cash on hand for emergencies will be called before the Local Government Commission and may face penalties if not met. Last year, Greenville was below the 25% level and received a slap on the wrist by the LGC.

The council heard reports on spending so far this fiscal year and the results of an external audit for last fiscal year. The city received a clean report from the audit firm Cherry Bekaert for the 2022-2023 fiscal year. The city's chief financial officer reported the city netted $6.6 million in revenue during that same period, mostly due to increased revenues from sales tax and interest earnings on investments. Total expenditures for FY22-23 were around $98 million and revenues around $104 million.

January 8
At its Jan. 8 workshop, the council heard updates on plans to construct a sports complex, the process to overhaul the city's development ordinances, and police recruitment.

The council is looking to boost tourism to the Greenville through sports. Andrew Schmidt, CEO of Visit Greenville NC, said sports tourism is the fastest growing market in the hospitality industry. Last fiscal year, the city hosted 49 tournaments that brought thousands of people into the city -- booking hotels, eating out, etc. -- totaling $13 million of economic impact, according to Schmidt.

"We do have great facilities," he said, citing college and high school athletic fields. "But the commonality is that they're all for someone else first."

In August 2023, the council contracted with Victus Advisors to conduct studies on market analyses and economic impact. Founder Brian Connolly (no relation to Greenville Mayor PJ Connolly) presented the results of the first half of the study, which included analyses of market demand and sport tourism in our area.

According to Brian Connolly, baseball and softball generated the most hotel stays in Pitt County between Feb. 2020 and Nov. 2023, with nearly 25,000 bookings. He said one limitation today is that there are no baseball complexes in the county with more than 3 fields, and no softball facilities with 5 or more.

"If you don't have the sports facility that's needed, you're not going to get the event in the first place," Brian Connolly said bluntly.

Brian Connolly said a baseball/softball complex with at least eight diamonds would be the biggest boon for the city's sports tourism efforts, given the city's reputation for hosting events like the Little League World Series. The presentation focused on doubling down on the sports that frequently host tournaments in the city over building out the range of activities that may view Greenville as a destination for their event.

The council appeared receptive to the presentation. Victus Advisors will present the second phase of its study Saturday, January 27. That presentation will be more detailed in talking about financing and recommendations.

The second item the council heard at its Jan. 8 workshop was updates on drafting a Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) from Chantae Gooby, Greenville's chief city planner. The UDO will be a sweeping update to the city's development ordinances, specifically zoning and subdivision ordinances. According to Gooby, the city has not comprehensively updated its development ordinances since 1990. The goal is to modernize and consolidate the city's ordinances and to bring the code in line with the city's Horizons 2026 plan. The council will establish a task force that will draft the UDO, which will then go through public meetings and need approval by the planning commission and city council. The process is expected to take up to two years, with a tentative completion date by Winter of 2025.

The last item heard by the council heard was progress in recruitment efforts at the Greenville Police Department. Nationally, police departments have struggled to fill vacancies, and City Manager Michael Cowin says Greenville, too, has felt this trend.

Chief of Police Ted Sauls delivered the presentation. He said the city's competitive advantage in hiring has dropped compared to peer cities, like Cary, Wilson, and High Point. According to Sauls, the average salary for GPD officers is $48,672, below the average of the city's 10 closest peers, which is $50,430.

Since 2022, the city has averaged 26 vacancies within the 200-person department. In the year prior, the average was 14 vacancies.

The pressure to fill vacancies has ramped up recruitment efforts across the state. Sauls said efforts at his department are never ending and that he frequently visits training camps to recruit candidates as soon as they're qualified. As for departures, Sauls told the council it's mostly because of better pay and benefits.

Currently starting pay at GPD is $48,672 with a 5% increase after a 6-month probation period, totaling $51,106. Chief Sauls recommended the city increase starting pay to $51,106 and continue the 5% increase to total $53,600.

"If I had my druthers, we'd be the highest paid in the state," Sauls said after being asked by Councilmember Les Robinson why he did not offer a larger proposal. "We want to present something palatable, and we can do with currently available funds."

At its formal council meeting later in the day, the council began a process to update ordinances on data processing centers to ban crypto mining facilities. Crypto mining is the process of minting new coins. It requires significant computing power and energy.

In 2022, the city council passed an ordinance that regulated the industry when a crypto mining firm was looking to set up shop in Greenville. The company later bowed out due to financial struggles and push back from the community over intense energy usage, environmental effects and noise.

The city council voted to assemble a task force that will review that ordinance and propose changes to ban crypto mining.

"The problems with cryptocurrency mining are legion: gobbling energy like a ravenous alien and spitting out roaring, unending, deafening mechanical noise; unpaid energy bills; power grid nightmares; and environmental devastation from dirty energy are only a few," Marion Blackburn, who requested the review, said, citing crypto mining facilities in the Western part of the state.

The task force will be made up of city employees who'll present to the council later this year. The goal is to remove crypto mining from the city without scrapping the entire ordinance, which also regulates data processing of all types.

ADDITIONAL READS: Regular participation in kid's sports activities has dropped by 5% nationally over the last 4 years, according to Project Play, but household spending has increased according to Time. Kids sports has become a $15 billion industry.


The City of Jacksonville looks to be better shape to receive state funding for an affordable housing project. That's because of a change in how the state's Housing Finance Agency (HFA) selects projects.

Last year, the city partnered with Carolina Statewide Development LLC to seek HFA funding, but the project was passed over. The HFA awards points to projects that are in proximity to critical sites and businesses, like pharmacies, banks, and recreation centers. A change to the point system now awards points to recreation centers as their own category, benefiting the proposed project in the Jacksonville Commons area.

If approved, a 70-80 apartment complex could begin construction in Spring 2025. The council approved at its Jan. 9 workshop meeting an extension of the purchasing agreement with Carolina Statewide Development and agreed to resubmit an application.

In other news, a pared-down License Plate Agency opened in Jacksonville, after two months without one. In November, the LPA was shut down by the DMV over alleged contract violations. Now, an LPA has opened at the city's Driver's License office.


Goldsboro is looking to start a multi-million-dollar sewer expansion this year. In 2021, the state imposed a temporary moratorium on adding new residents to the city's wastewater system due to capacity limitations. According to the state's 80/90 rule, in order to avoid a moratorium, the plant cannot exceed more than 80% of its capacity without the city first beginning plans to expand the system. The city must begin construction on the plan before capacity reaches 90%.

The engineering firms tasked with developing plans repeatedly cited the city's wastewater treatment plant as a barrier to the county's growth. Half of Wayne County's population is on Goldsboro sewer. The project, totaling between $80 and $140 million, is set to begin this year with selecting the design and building companies. The city will also send out grant applications early this year to help pay for the project. The whole process is expected to take several years. According to the engineers from CDM Smith and WithersRavenal who presented to the council, it could take 7 years to go from initial designs to the end of construction.


The Kinston City Council heard final updates to a years-long survey of several abandoned properties along Queen Street for health hazards and potential redevelopment. More than 80 properties lie vacant on Queen Street and the city has been pursuing revitalization efforts. Using EPA funding, the survey analyzed buildings' history for asbestos, lead paint, and other hazardous materials, and used to determine if in-person inspection was required. The surveys eliminate some hurdles for those looking to purchase the property. Coming out of the project, so far, roughly 14 acres of land redeveloped and another 11 acres ready for reuse.

Onslow County

Recent reports by the Jacksonville Daily News find an Onslow County Sheriff's deputy misreported a domestic incident regarding county Board of Education member Melissa Oakley. Oakley called 911 on Jan. 8 around 2 a.m. to report a domestic disturbance between her and her husband. The responding deputy Shaun Pallo incorrectly listed in his report that the husband placed the call and that a child was the victim. No child was present. Oakley released a statement shortly after the incident came to light.

"Unfortunately, due to his (deputy Pallo’s) eagerness to report a tragic moment about me to his friend, I believe this was nothing less than malicious.”

On Thursday, the BOE Chair Ken Reddic released a statement condemning a fellow board member's "misinformation" regarding the selection process for a security consultant. The board member Louis Rogers has alleged the board violated state laws and its own policies while selecting companies to conduct a security assessment of the county's schools. Rogers sent letters to the state attorney general on Jan. 6 and again on Jan. 17 urging investigations into the board.

“Despite Mr. Rogers false statements, the district followed all relevant Board policies, procedures, and laws in choosing a service provider,” Reddic’s letter said. “It is important to note that his preferred vendor did not provide references or testimonials for ‘free’ services.”

Reddic added the selected vendor had been vetted by the NC Center for Safer Schools.

Carteret County

The county is providing free photo IDs for residents ahead of the March primary, the first primary requiring photo ID.

The Board of Commissioners is urging residents to take part in a public comment forum on a proposed 42% average statewide increase on homeowner's insurance. That is an average across the entire state. Folks in coastal areas are facing steeper increases, with beach area property owners seeing a proposed doubling of premiums. The forum is scheduled for Monday at 4:30 in Raleigh. People can participate in-person, online, through emailed comments or written letters. PRE reported no the Commissioner of Insurance Mike Causey's visit to Harkers Island this week.

The County Parks & Rec Department is hosting a blood drive with the American Red Cross. It's set for Friday, Jan. 26 at Fort Benjamin Park Recreation Center in Newport.

Other news from around Eastern North Carolina

Another wastewater spill in Havelock. The 500,000 gallon spill was found in the marsh behind the city's plant near the East Prong of Slocum Creek.

A third tornado was confirmed from storm's last week, this timein Ernul. Two had touched down on Harkers Island. One family was displaced and no injuries reported.

"Bring them in!" says Craven County Sheriff Chip Hughes about outside animals ahead of this weekend's cold snap.

Ryan is an Arkansas native and podcast junkie. He was first introduced to public radio during an internship with his hometown NPR station, KUAF. Ryan is a graduate of Tufts University in Somerville, Mass., where he studied political science and led the Tufts Daily, the nation’s smallest independent daily college newspaper. In his spare time, Ryan likes to embroider, attend musicals, and spend time with his fiancée.