By Carol Vaughn —
The Parksley Town Council Monday approved a $780,000 budget for fiscal year 2022, including $516,400 in the general fund and $263,600 in the water and sewage department budget.
The budget includes no tax or rate increases. The only rate change is a decrease of 35 cents per month in the residential trash pickup fee.
Among potential uses for around $606,000 in federal funds coming to the town as result of the American Rescue Plan Act are automated water meters, a new coat of paint for the water tower, and setting aside money to replace water lines, according to Mayor Frank Russell, who said the funds’ use was discussed at an earlier workshop meeting.
No firm decision has been made yet as to how to allocate the funds.
The town has received the first of two payments, $303,000, according to Russell. The second payment is to be sent in 12 months.
Councilman Dan Matthews reported on mini-park renovations and alleyway and facade improvements that are part of a grant-funded downtown improvement project.
Construction has started on the mini-park and on alleyway (also called thoroughfare) improvements next to the Club Car Cafe.
Work on a second thoroughfare, next to Russell’s Bridal, has not yet begun.
A final bid was received from RH Contracting for facade improvements, after an initial bid submitted was significantly over budget.
The contract has not yet been awarded, meaning no start date for the work has been set yet.
The contract has to be signed by each property owner as well as the contractor.
Project management team meetings happen the first Monday of each month via Zoom and are open to the public, Matthews said.
Councilman Henry Nicholson said a smoke test will be conducted on the municipal sewer system.
Smoke testing is a method used to identify sections of the sanitary sewer collection system that have defects such as cracks, leaks or faulty connections that allow rainwater to enter the system.
The test will be a two-day process and the alleyways will be closed during it, according to Nicholson.
He said 20,000 gallons of water infiltrated the system after a recent rainstorm.
“We are progressing with the sewage….We have got everything straight on this treatment plant, everything except the nitrogen. We can’t get that because of the water infiltration,” Nicholson said, adding, “Once we get that, ladies and gentlemen, then we get the good numbers, we’re all good. Then businesses can start coming into this town — and that’s what we need.”
Nicholson said he and town staff have heard from people interested in establishing a business in town, including an ice cream shop and a laundromat, among others.
Town Office in Poor Condition
Councilman Mark Layne said a recent evaluation of the town office building’s foundation, done by a private company, “came back not good.”
Layne said the town needs to come up with a contingency plan for the town office.
Nicholson suggested two options for a temporary alternative until a new building can be built: either putting temporary trailers in the parking lot or looking into temporarily moving the office to another building in town that is ADA compliant.
“We need to put the building back the way it is. It is a railroad town. It is a railroad building and we have to think about the railroad museum that inside of there,” he said.
Officials will look into prices of the two options, according to Russell.
An email exchange concerning a homeless man “caused a stir…because I guess people are assuming I just want to kick somebody out of town — that’s not the case,” Layne said.
Layne said the mayor asked him to look into an ordinance prohibiting loitering and to share it with council members.
“There was a lot of disturbing remarks made back to me,” Layne said.
Customers of vendors who set up at the pavilion in town have complained about a man hanging out there.
Layne said he apologized to the man Sunday “because he has been there every Sunday … and I’ve just ignored him because he is homeless.”
After talking with the man, Layne found out details about the man’s past life and present needs.
“The accusations are we don’t want to bother him. Well, the problem is, we need to be bothering people like that to find out what they need in their lives,” he said.
Still, Layne said he agrees that the town does need an ordinance to stop people from loitering, “but it doesn’t mean we kick a homeless person out. We try to make the situation better for them.”
Layne said to his knowledge at least three people have stayed in the pavilion shelter overnight.
Nicholson read sections of the email exchange among council members.
“This council agreed to leave him alone and you and the mayor both decided you were going to do different,” Nicholson said.
Layne said, “No. I asked for an ordinance.”
Russell said last year he gave the person money and a bus ticket to Baltimore.
“But now I still say we don’t want this town full of homeless people,” Russell said.
“We don’t have that problem,” Nicholson said.
“Not yet, but we need to have something in place if it gets to be a problem,” Russell said.
Speakers Talk About Water Odor, Yard Debris, Trash Collection
Several speakers during the public comment period expressed concern about a foul odor in their water and others wanted to know when the town will resume picking up yard debris such as limbs. Others said they did not know the trash pickup day had changed.
Russell said all tests of the town water “come back good” and the odor problem “seems to be in certain areas of town.”
“The water guy said it happens because of hot spots in the system where it will just bleed off the chlorine faster,” Russell said.
The water is tested daily, he said.
Flushing of fire hydrants, which could help alleviate the odor problem, was to be done starting Tuesday.
Councilman Ricky Taylor said eventually the water lines will need to be replaced.
“Once we get done with this downtown grant, the next thing we need to look at is an infrastructure grant to replace water lines … because this town can’t afford to go in here and replace every water line — we’ve got to have a grant to do that,” he said.
Cara Burton, Eastern Shore Public Library director, said she has concerns about the water and sewer systems’ condition related to the new, $5 million library currently under construction in Parksley.
“That’s a concern I have,” she said.
“That’s why we are planning on spending this $600,000 (from the ARPA) on just that. That’s our plan — to get our water system up and running like it should be,” Russell said.
About the change in the trash pickup day to Mondays, Russell said it was publicized via Facebook, on WESR radio, and on residents’ water bill; he said a notice will be sent to residents.
Anyone having problems with trash pickup or needing additional cans should contact the town office, not Davis Disposal, Taylor said. The company contracted with the town, not individual residents, he said.
After the town recently enacted an anti-blight ordinance, several people have contacted Russell to say they intend to fix up their property, he said.
The town is looking into purchasing a chipper to dispose of limbs, rather than continuing the past practice of burning debris, according to Nicholson, who said there have been numerous complaints about burning the debris.
Nicholson recently used his own equipment and labor to pick up limbs from yards in town, but he asked residents to refrain from piling up debris in their yards for now.
“We are trying to let everyone know that, please bear with us — don’t pile your front yards up with limbs,” he said.
“It’s a process here and we have to check on things like insurance … to make sure that we don’t spend the money on a chipper that we can’t use,” Nicholson said.
“After reading our insurance policy, which apparently hadn’t been done in a while, we should have never been burning,” Russell said.