Troutman council to consider changes to noise ordinance, public records policy on Thursday night
BY DEBBIE PAGE
During its preagenda meeting on Monday afternoon, the Troutman Town Council voted on three agenda items and had preliminary discussions on a revised noise ordinance and a new public records request policy after an influx of recent requests.
Both the noise and public records issues are expected to have significant public comment at Thursday’s meeting, based on community members’ reactions after the pre-agenda meeting concluded.
The board voted 4-0 -- Mayor Pro Tem Paul Henkel was absent -- to reappoint Layton Getsinger to a three-year term on the ABC Board. Under his leadership as chairperson, the Troutman ABC Store has demonstrated phenomenal success. It is on track for $1.5 million in sales for this fiscal year, almost doubling initial projections.
The board also voted unanimously to approve a budget amendment of $131,012 to purchase the building at 151 Wagner Street as part of an economic development initiative to improve the downtown area.
The council voted after a closed session last month to purchase the building, the sale of which closed this week. In an interview after the meeting, Town Manager Justin Longino said that the town has no definite plan for the property, which is now being used as residential rental property.
“The goal in purchasing it is to revitalize downtown, to spur some up-fit and some new businesses to come in there,” said Longino.
“We don’t have a formalized plan. We talked about ideas, such as redoing the facade so it is a little more vibrant. We also talked about for a while to paint a mural on the one side of it that faces down Perth and Wagner.”
“In terms of the inside, we bounced around putting offices in there. We may just gut it and try to attract someone who would up-fit it the way they want to or to up-fit it and try to find something to go in there.”
The council also approved a contract with the MAPS group to update the town’s personnel policy and position plan as well as an associated pay study. The $6,439 contract will cover services, with estimated additional additional charges of $500 to cover travel, meals, and office expenses for MAPS consultant Cheryl Brown, the former Human Resources director for the City of Charlotte.
“I feel confident that this is our best option,” said Longino, “an outside firm that will come in and review current policies as well as talk to stakeholders to develop a plan that is current and best for all involved.”
Longino said each department will contribute funds to cover the cost of the study, which Brown will begin in January.
Last month, the council members acknowledged a need to revisit the town’s noise ordinance, which was appropriate nearly 40 years ago but hardly adequate for a rapidly growing town with hundreds of homes being built in multiple developments.
Residents complained at the November pre-agenda meeting of construction noise at the Troutman Industrial Park project on the Murdock Road that lasted sometimes as late as 2 a.m., disturbing their families’ sleep, and as many as six bright lighting units that disrupted their evenings.
However, council members wanted time to properly research and craft regulations that will protect citizens from noise issues while reasonably accommodating business owners, residents, businesses, churches, and builders.
After several discussions last month between Longino, Mayor Teross Young, and developer Kathy Godley, the three crafted a temporary document that limited loud and unreasonable construction noise related to grading to the hours of 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
The council plans to revisit the noise policy on Thursday night, with Longino suggesting three possible courses of action: leaving the ordinance as is, adding a section to the current ordinance that would prohibit construction in an industrial area from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., or to form a committee to discuss a further rewrite of the ordinance.
Longino also noted a change in the penalty section that revises the penalty from a misdemeanor, which is harder to enforce, to a civil penalty at the suggestion of Town Council Attorney Gary Thomas and Police Chief Matthew Selves.
Thomas said the current vague and outdated Troutman noise ordinance, passed in 1979, would likely not be enforced by the district attorney and needed strengthening.
Council member Sally Williams suggested that the proposal be expanded to include commercial and residential areas in addition to industrial, which garnered support. Paul Bryant then suggested moving the start time to 6 a.m. to accommodate the summer months’ longer days and heat, which also drew council consensus.
However, community members are already protesting the suggestion to allow construction time be moved back to 6 a.m. In an email obtained on Tuesday by Statesville Free News to council members, Alison Stroud noted that Falls Cove HOA limits all construction activities to 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Saturday.
Stroud questioned why Bryant, who is protected by this HOA, advocated for further extending the already expansive construction hours of 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
“Why are in-town residents (who this noise ordinance applies to) that live outside of the protections of an HOA expected to tolerate longer construction hours, noise, traffic than he is? I find this very disturbing. Please reconsider the hours to be included in the policy adopted on Thursday and model it closer to the Falls Cove HOA hours for construction,” asked Stroud.
Stroud also questioned whether office/institutional areas would be covered by any restrictions the council imposes.
PUBLIC RECORDS POLICY
Longino also presented council members with a proposed public records policy to be considered on Thursday night. Public records requests have increased in the last year, increasing costs and personnel time to fulfill these requests.
The policy changes the current 10 cents per copy charge to 25 cents and adds a $5 charge for CDs. If passed, the new policy also allows the town to charge $35 per hour for “custom” services, which council members asked Longino to further define as opposed to non-custom requests. The policy also creates an official form that requestors complete to get the public information.
The policy references North Carolina General Statute 132-6.2, which states, “Nothing in this section shall be construed to require a public agency to respond to a request for a copy of a public record by creating or compiling a record that does not exist. . . . Nothing in this section shall be construed to require a public agency to put into electronic medium a record that is not kept in electronic medium.”
The proposed policy notes that “requestors should be aware that the public records policy does not require the Town to do research, analyze data or answer written questions.”
Local governments are limited in what they can charge by state law. The statute limits the cost to the “direct chargeable costs related to the reproduction of a public record … [not including ] costs that would have been incurred by the public agency if a request to reproduce a public record had not been made.” This language seems to prohibit the costs of including employee time in making copies in most cases.
However, that statutes states that if the request requires extensive use of information technology resources or extensive clerical or supervisory assistance by agency personnel or if producing the information in the requested format “results in a greater use of information technology resources than that established by the agency for reproduction of the volume of information requested, then the agency may charge, in addition to the actual cost of duplication, a special service charge, which shall be reasonable and shall be based on the actual cost incurred for such extensive use of information technology resources or the labor costs of the personnel providing the services, or for a greater use of information technology resources that is actually incurred by the agency or attributable to the agency.”
In her email, Stroud also questioned the new public records policy proposal, saying that “raising prices in hopes of discouraging public records requests hardly equates to an updated public records policy. Public records requests are not to be a source of revenue for the town nor are they to be "weaponized" against the public. They are to be a source of transparency.”
Stroud advocated for proper archival of many public records that can be accessed by the public online. “I might suggest that exploration into proper archival may be an area of much greater importance to the town than the prospect of increasing fees. There are several private companies that do this, and the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources appear to offer assistance as well.”
“It would be unfortunate to act in a manner to discourage inquiry and public records requests by raising prices of copies, perhaps above what is legally allowed, and by trying to add additional administrative fees when not appropriate/allowable,” said Stroud.
“Personnel time is expected to be spent fulfilling public records requests. That is a part of government function,” Stroud added.
OTHER THURSDAY NIGHT AGENDA ITEMS
At its regular Thursday night meeting, the Town Council will also consider adoption of the Town of Troutman Strategic Master Plan Adoption of Public Records Request Policy (Policy #52) after a presentation by Scott Lane of Stantec, who created the plan with staff and community input.
The council will also consider approval of the Town Council’s 2019 meeting schedule, a joint economic development agreement with C.R. Onsrud Inc., an alternative facade request for One Up Customs 9old gnome factory location), and a Property Management Agreement with Royal Properties for 151 Wagner Street
The council will also address an appointment to the Planning and Zoning Board of ETJ alternate Barry General for the resigning ETJ member Layton Getsinger (expiring 6/7/19), effective January 1, and an appointment of an ETJ Alternate to fill the unexpired term of Barry General (expiring 6/30/20). Three applicants are under consideration for this post.
The council will also hear an Education Spotlight presentation by South Iredell High School staff, an Iredell County Fitness Center update by Iredell County Parks and Recreation Director Michelle Hepler, and the Troutman Fire Department Quarterly Report from Wesley Morris, Fire Chief.
Kelli Goodwin, library branch manager, will present the J. Hoyt Hayes Memorial Troutman Library Monthly Report, and Coordinator Emily Watson will give the Troutman Parks and Recreation monthly report.