Montreat Board of Commissioners begins budget discussions for next fiscal year

Karrigan Monk
Black Mountain News
Montreat Town Manager Jason Burrell discussed the possibility of purchasing or leasing new town vehicles in an April 20 special meeting.

Montreat’s Board of Commissioners met April 20 for a special budget workshop meeting. Town Manager Jason Burrell said he was looking for direction from the board on what they would like to see in the upcoming budget.

Burrell began the meeting by telling the board that the town’s revenue input was “good” and that health insurance would go up 5%, which he described as “not terrible.”

Burrell said Montreat still has $83,000 of American Rescue Plan Act funds to allocate. The town needs to decide what is being done with these funds by 2024 and have the funds spent by 2026.

Much of the conversation focused on the Texas Road Bridge project. Burrell said the town needed to be “unified in one direction” and “make a decision and stick with it” regarding the bridge that was first closed in 2008.

Montreat received a grant of $191,000 from the Metropolitan Planning Organization to work on the bridge, but these funds are only applicable to Phase 1 of the project.

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Burrell said the town could look into bringing in a pre-fabricated bridge for the area.

Mayor Tim Helms asked if the bridge could be made to support cars to help expedite the leaving of residents in the case of an emergency. Burrell said he would need to check with the North Carolina Department of Transportation.

“My goal for this upcoming year is just purely to get this project done once and for all,” Burrell said. “Then we can put it behind us and move forward.”

Moving past the Texas Road Bridge project, Burrell said he was entertaining the idea of new vehicles for the public works and police departments. He said, in his experience, leasing vehicles, namely a backhoe for the public works department, would be the town’s best bet. He said the town needs to “train (their) brains” that leasing is the best option.

The town would not be getting rid of the current backhoe but would be adding a second vehicle.

Burrell said there is one police vehicle that is nearing replacement based on the board’s previous decisions on when a vehicle should be replaced. Past boards had decided that vehicles should be replaces when they reach either 10 years of age of 100,000 miles.

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“These are not necessary,” Burrell said. “We don’t need a new backhoe if we can get by with what we have. We don’t need a new police vehicle if we don’t have to. Just food for thought.”

Burrell said the town should be looking at applying for more grants, particularly with the public works and police departments.

Commissioner Jane Alexander said applying for grants should be one the town’s goals for the upcoming fiscal year.

“If we don’t knock, they can’t answer,” Alexander said.

Burrell said he would like feedback from the board on increasing water rates for consumption, which Commissioner Tom Widmer said had not been updated from $4.95 since 2011.

Conversation turned to which entities in town are paying what and how the town can get closer to breaking even on water.

“We’re not going to get rich off of it,” Helms said. “But I don’t want us to lose money.”

The Montreat Board of Commissioners met at Town Hall for a special budget meeting April 20.

Burrell said it was “definitely time” to make an increase and would recommend it.

Helms said Montreat as a municipality needs to be run “more like a business” than it has been in the past.

Other topics included hiring an intern to update the website, which Widmer said had many pages that are out of date, as well as how to deal with stormwater issues. The topic of legal fees was also discussed, as the town is currently involved in a lawsuit regarding a proposed Mountain Retreat Association lodge. There is a May 3 court date, and Burrell said he would speak to the town’s lawyer on what the town can expect for legal fees.

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No final decision or votes were made at the meeting, and conversations will continue as Montreat enters the budget season for the 2023-24 fiscal year.