Hendersonville Council reviews COVID funds, new state police law, annexation agreement

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Hendersonville will hold public input meetings in January and February on how $4.5 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds should be spent.

City Council during a called meeting Monday heard an overview of how the money can be used and were updated on a new state law regarding law enforcement.

A public hearing was also held on a proposed annexation and sewer service agreement between the city and the town of Laurel Park.

The purpose of the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds is to "help turn the tide on the pandemic, address its economic fallout and lay the foundation for a strong and equitable recovery," according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury's website.

Hendersonville City Attorney Angela Beeker noted the following uses, according to the Treasury's interim final rule:

  • Address negative economic impact – food assistance; rent, mortgage, or utility assistance; emergency burial, weatherization or home repairs and job training.

  • Address public health disparities – chronic condition detection and management, support for elderly adults, health education and COVID-19 mitigation efforts, medical expenses and staffing.

  • Replace lost public sector revenue.

  • Provide premium pay to essential workers.

  • Water, sewer and broadband internet infrastructure investments.

City staff spending recommendations previously discussed include:

  • $2.5 million replacement of the UV disinfection system at the wastewater treatment plant, which is 20 years old and has "aged out" in terms of efficiency and parts availability. The system is required to disinfect the treated wastewater before it's discharged.

  • $250,000 to help fund a broadband internet fiber infrastructure project across the city including connections to the new police department, the future parking deck and Fire Station No. 3 as well as for public WiFi in parks and at the Historic Train Depot for the Farmers Market.

  • $100,000 for future stormwater infrastructure improvements.

  • $400,000 to Interfaith Assistance Ministry to cover all delinquent water bills incurred throughout the pandemic.

  • $1,000,000 for nonprofits to apply for.

  • $100,000 for Connection Center, which will offer services for the homeless.

  • $150,000 to give to organizations to purchase land for affordable and workforce housing projects.

Twenty-two nonprofits have submitted applications at a total of nearly $2 million. Nonprofits will be able to re-apply in the spring, according to City Manager John Connet.

Connet said he'd like council to consider using some of the money to hire someone who specializes in grant administration to handle the ARP funds to alleviate the "administrative burden" that would be put on existing staff.

After the public input meetings are held, a draft of spending goals and objectives will be presented to council at its Feb. 23 meeting.

Criminal Reform Bill

New state law N.C. Senate Bill 300, known as the Criminal Reform Bill, will require certain actions by police officers be reported to the state beginning Dec. 1 including serious use of force incidents, any discharge of a firearm, all citizen complaints and vehicle crashes.

Among a long list of goals of the new law is to increase protections, training and oversight for state and local law enforcement officers and to create a decertification database, according to the law.

Chief of Police Blair Myhand said examples of what the state considers serious use of force are those that lead to serious bodily injury or death, neither of which has happened since he became chief in February.

"The idea is that we monitor officer behavior so if there is a pattern of troubling behavior, we identify it and we address it before it turns into some catastrophic event," Myhand said.

The HPD already tracks use of force incidents and other "indicators" of concern, such as a certain number of complaints within a period of time, then reviews them internally, Myhand said.

The bill also limits what city ordinances can be charged criminally, including all Chapter 160D land use violations as well as public intoxication and urinating or defecating in public, Beeker said.

Civil citations can still be issued. Most can be enforced under state law, like possession of a firearm by a felon, Myhand said.

Public hearing

A public hearing was also held regarding an annexation and sewer service agreement with the town of Laurel Park.

The agreement states a boundary can be established under the new land use law Chapter 160D for Laurel Park to annex properties and Hendersonville not to annex properties or provide sewer service during the term of the agreement.

Sewer service would only be allowed to Laurel Park properties within the primary or satellite corporate limits of the town.

Beeker and Laurel Park Mayor Carey O'Cain said the agreement won't forcefully annex existing residential properties. If approved, the agreement would only allow voluntary annexations.

"The intent is to maintain a mutually beneficial and friendly, cooperative attitude with the city so that we, the town of Laurel Park, and the city of Hendersonville don't squabble over potential properties," O'Cain said.

He added that the proposed agreement isn't a "land grab" and he isn't aware of any properties that will be effected by it.

Two Hendersonville residents commented during the public hearing via Zoom against the agreement, citing concerns about annexation negatively affecting residents' properties.

Two Hendersonville residents submitted written comments before the meeting, which Mayor Barbara Volk read aloud. Both were against the agreement.

After having no discussion on the topic, council voted 4-1 to continue the public hearing at its Dec. 2 meeting.

Grant approval

Council unanimously approved the receipt of a $1.5 million Dogwood Health Trust grant for the future Hendersonville Connections Center – a crisis intervention center that Hendersonville proposes to create in partnership with Henderson County, Laurel Park and other municipalities to fund.

Council's full agenda packet is available at hendersonville-nc.municodemeetings.com. Video of the meeting can be viewed on the city's Facebook page.

Lurah Lowery is the education and city government watchdog reporter for the Hendersonville Times-News, part of the USA Today Network. Email her at llowery@gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter @lurahlowery and Facebook.com/lurahjournalist.

This article originally appeared on Hendersonville Times-News: Hendersonville Council discusses COVID funds, criminal reform and more

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