'This is sobering': Montreat Board of Commissioners approves 6 budget amendments

Ezra Maille
Black Mountain News
Montreat Mayor Tim Helms delivered information concerning the town's legal fees at the April 14 Board of Commissioners meeting.

The Montreat Board of Commissioners approved six budget amendments at its April 14 meeting, covering legal fees and reallocating funds to various departments. 

"This is sobering," commented Mayor Pro Tem Tom Widmer after all the amendments had been approved.

These amendments covered increased expenses incurred by the sanitation department, salaries and wages and additional legal fees pertaining to the Board of Adjustment hearings to grant the Mountain Retreat Association a special use permit for its new lodge.

Prior to the Board of Commissioners meeting, the town's bill for legal fees pertaining to the hearings was $74,000. Mayor Tim Helms announced the town just received another bill for $25,763, putting the total cost at more than $100,000. 

Pay for the town employees present throughout the hearing process totaled $14,792, according to Helms.

As the opponents of the new lodge file an appeal of the Board of Adjustment's decision with superior court, the town anticipates additional legal fees. Helms read an estimation, saying after superior court, the total legal fees could range from $121,555 to $124,555 of taxpayer money.

"We're trying to serve this community and not raise taxes," said Commissioner Kent Otto.

Darlene Carrasquillo, the town's finance officer, said after the town received this most recent bill for legal fees, more funds needed to be reallocated. She said the budget money comes from revenues that were underbudgeted. 

"While we underbudgeted expenses, fortunate for us, we also underbudgeted some of the revenues," Carrasquillo said. "We're now able to take some of the money we said we needed for revenues and move it in these expenses."

Carrasquillo informed the board the town required $80,000 to cover legal fees as the Board of Adjustment appeal moves to superior court. She said this amount will factor into the total estimation provided by Helms.

"We need an additional $80,000 just to get us through what we know is coming in legal fees," Carrasquillo said. "Anything over and above that we're going to have to also address but for now, $80,000 more is a given."

The board also approved two budget amendments to pay for increased expenses incurred by sanitation. According to Carrasquillo, by the end of February, 99% of the department's budget had been used. 

For the first amendment, Carrasquillo said the money would come out of the police department's budget. She said Chief David Arrant had been helpful in accommodating for funding to be moved from his department's budget to sanitation.

Due to increased gas prices, the sanitation department was hit especially hard. For expenses applied to gasoline and auto supplies, salaries and wages and a dumpster contract, $10,300.58 was required to be moved the police department's budget.

"These costs are fixed," Carrasquillo said. "We can't not have dumpster service; we can't not have gasoline."

For all the various budget amendments, Carrasquillo said the town would not have to dip into the general fund, the main operating fund for Montreat.

Carrasquillo expressed her appreciation to the various departments that had lent a hand in reallocating budgets. She said for the next fiscal year, after seeing how well staff worked together, things should go more smoothly. 

"These budget amendments may be confusing but it's putting money where it's supposed to be and can be payed out properly without the auditors going crazy," Helms said.

Ezra Maille covers the town of Black Mountain, Montreat and the Swannanoa Valley. Reach him at 828-230-3324 or emaille@blackmountainnews.com. Please support local journalism with access to more breaking news by subscribing.