Report: Despite hires, town is short 2 staffers in each department; more from Town Council

Karrigan Monk
Black Mountain News
Members of the council talk before Black Mountain's Sept. 12 town council meeting.

The Black Mountain Town Council met Sept. 12 for its regular monthly meeting. On the agenda were topics ranging from reports on streets and parks and stormwater to policy updates. 

The meeting began with Mayor Larry Harris proclaiming the town of Black Mountain will join the United Nations in recognizing the International Day of Peace Sept. 21.  

Several residents used the citizen comments period to talk to the council about their concerns regarding what Black Mountain is doing to fight the climate crisis. 

Public Works Director Jamey Matthews presented the council with the annual streets and parks report for 2021. 

"I did this sort of different because 2021 was a different year based on staffing shortages, supply chain shortages and basically the pandemic of COVID," Matthews said. 

Matthews said supply chain issues paired with rising costs caused delays in several developments, including an acquisition of a new Ford F-150 truck for the town to use. 

For the year 2021, the department spent half a million dollars paving 13 roads around town. This year, Matthews said they are looking to pave more roads, but because of rising costs, as of right now, they will only be able to pave nine roads for $600,000. 

Matthews said public works did a lot of general maintenance throughout the town. 

Though this is only the second year Black Mountain has taken care of its own sanitation, the town collected 2,920.87 tons of trash this year. Matthews said the town also collected 541.58 tons of recycling. 

Another struggle for the town last year was staffing. Matthews said he often had to pull staff from public works for sanitation, despite advertising online and attending job fairs. Though he recently hired three new employees, Matthews said he is still short two employees in each department. 

"We still had a busy year even though we had staffing shortages," Matthews said. "Things are looking up, I hope."

Following Matthews' presentation, the council moved to approve to resolutions. The first to apply for grant funding for stormwater and infrastructure and the second to support an application for safe streets with funding from USDOT. The resolutions passed with no opposition. 

Town manager Josh Harrold then introduced Jake McLean, a project manager with Wildlands Engineering. McLean presented the council with the stormwater master plan, which he said was "extensive" and took several months to create. 

The plan involved reviewing concerns from staff and residents about both isolated and repetitive challenges. McLean said he combed through data and looked at permit compliance and issues of natural resource protections. 

"This type of information is important because when you're looking at future proposed projects and trying to rank them against each other, it's really important to know what kind of shape all that infrastructure is in," McLean said. "If you don't know what shape it's in and you're planning a project in one part of the system, but another part of the system is failing, you could be setting yourself up for putting a lot of effort over here and having it fail over there."

Council member Pam King thanked McLean for his work before moving to adopt the plan with no opposition. 

Harrold then presented the council with a new public parking space closure policy that came about after a local business owner asked the town close a parking spot to ease access to his business. The town manager said this is the first time he had ever been asked this. Council passed the policy with no opposition with the understanding that requests will be submitted in writing or by email and will be evaluated on the criteria outlined in Harrold's policy. 

With a need to update the comprehensive recreation master plan, Harrold recommended Asheville's McGill and Associates for the job, which he hopes to be completed by the end of the calendar year. The council passed the recommendation with no opposition. 

The final item on the agenda was the public hearing to amend residential uses in the central business district. Planning director Jessica Trotman presented, saying the amendment came about because the Tressel Building applied to be a short-term rental.

The planning board reviewed the amendment and recommended that single family and two-family residential uses not be allowed at street level, while continuing to allow multifamily uses above street level. 

Trotman said around 10 dwellings would become nonconforming, but they could remain that way until they choose to become commercial. 

"When we talk about nonconformities, they are a protected legal use of a property," Trotman said. "The deal is, you can't just make it more nonconforming. It can be nonconforming as long as you want it to be. It's up to the property owner for such change to happen."

Trotman said the board could not legally do anything about these nonconformities, nor where they interested in doing so. 

All council members except Bill Christy voted to adopt the amendment. 

Harris ended the meeting by sending the council into closed session to discuss the acquisition of property.