LUMBERTON — Hurricane Matthew dominated Wednesday’s Council Policy Committee meeting, with members discussing how to spend relief funds the city has received and ways to make things easier for homeowners rebuilding their lives.
Linda Oxendine, director of Public Services, asked city leaders and they agreed to waive certain utility services fees for residents re-entering homes that have sat empty for months. A fear was expressed that an accumulation of fees on long-vacant properties could be a barrier to residents moving back in.
The council voted unanimously to waive non-metered collection fees for garbage, $20.95 a month; storm water, $4.25 a month; and re-connection fees for residents returning to their homes.
“If the house is sitting unoccupied they would pay a fee of around $50 a month, this would cut it down to around $30 a month,” said City Manager Wayne Horne.
Councilman Erich Hackney said he wanted to expand the ways homeowners can notify the city of of their absence. Currently all applications must be in writing. Council members agreed to allow residents to call or write to the city and allow utility meter readers to advise city government if a property appears to be unoccupied.
The loss of revenue would not be recoverable through FEMA, but might be covered by the city’s insurance.
The fees will not be assessed for a period of 120 days. If after that time there has been no response from the owner, the fees would be assessed again. The council will revisit the policy after that initial 120-day period.
Lumberton has spent a small portion of the $82,000 collected through a GoFundMe.com campaign established shortly after the hurricane.
The council voted Wednesday to spend $4,600 on housewares packages for residents returning to their homes. The packages would include many of the most requested items for homes, including pots and pans, plates, sheets and towels.
Councilmen Burnis Wilkins and Leon Maynor advocated spending the money on an immediate bulk buy of construction materials such as Sheetrock and lumber.
“Something has to be done within the next month or so,” Councilman Chris Howard said. “We could go on until June.”
Some council members expressed an interest in using the money sooner to buy construction materials. Other ideas offered included using the money as matching funds for state grants or to replenish the coffers of aid organizations that have done good works in the city.
The council also voted to waive setback restrictions for 15 months on residential property so they can be used for emergency housing. Setbacks restrict how close to the edge of a person’s property a housing unit can be placed.
The specific time frame was added so mobile homes would not be parked at the edge of a property indefinitely.
“I don’t want to see them there eight years from now,” Hackney said of FEMA-owned mobile housing units.
In other business:
— Council members heard how city staffers have held meetings with state and FEMA officials regarding Hazard Mitigation programs. The programs and funding are designed to reduce or eliminate the long-term risk to people and property from natural hazards.
— The council approved Lumberton Public Works’ plan to upgrade the roof on its administrative, warehouse and garage building. The lowest bid for the project was $60,000 from Brit and Brit Roofing of Lumberton. The work would be paid for using $50,000 from the department’s capital budget and the rest from the water and sewer capital fund.
Reach Mike Gellatly at 910-816-1989 or via Twitter @MikeGellatly