The next City Council workshop is Monday, July 20 at 4pm at TechWorks. The livestream will continue to be available at cityofbelmont.org/livemeetings.
 
During this meeting, we will be taking a look at our major development process for land use and zoning decisions. Staff will provide a presentation on our current state, and then Council will discuss potential improvements to the process. Some of the things we’ll be looking at are facilitating public input earlier in the process, use of conditional rezoning vs. by-right development, and residential building setbacks. This will be an important conversation and do a lot to inform how we approach new development for the next few years.
 
We will also be considering a utility repayment plan to help rehabilitate past-due water and sewer accounts once the Governor’s moratorium on utility disconnections expires on July 29. There is currently about $100k in outstanding balances due to the city and, the proposed plan will allow customers with past-due accounts up to 6 months to pay off their balances, balancing the needs of our customers while ensuring that we continue to manage our utility fund in a fiscally responsible manner.
 
The Catawba Riverkeepers have also approached the city about operating a kayak rental program at Kevin Loftin Park. The city owns several kayaks that were purchased with the intent of operating our own program, however staffing and other costs associated with such a program have complicated its roll-out. The agreement with the Riverkeepers would allow them to operate their own program (as a fundraiser) with the city responsible for providing the kayaks (which we already own) and the Riverkeepers responsible for the operating expenses and liability. City residents would be eligible for a discount on the hourly rental rates. This seems like a good way to get a kayaking program started and creates a win-win for the city and the Riverkeepers.
 
The final item on the agenda is a contract that would rehabilitate the sidewalk along South Main Street between Oak Street and Eagle Road and then extend it from Belmont Reserve to Dogwood Lane.
 
You can find the full agenda here: https://cityofbelmont.civicweb.net/Portal/MeetingInformation.aspx?Org=Cal&Id=430

We had a very productive meeting on Monday/Wednesday. Here are some of the highlights:

-We received an update from the county health director on COVID-19 response. Overall, we appear to be headed in the right direction, but he stressed the importance of basic safety precautions – washing your hands, avoiding large crowds, etc.

-We also had a very productive conversation around the Trolley project. I raised some concerns that I had about the project in light of the additional complications stemming from the COVID crisis. So, the Council talked through those, and we made some changes to the MOU that I think will better protect the city (and taxpayers) in the event that these complications become insurmountable. Belmont Trolley will also be making annual presentations to Council so that we can check-in on the project and review goals prior to making each annual support payment.

-We concluded the public hearing and passed the 2020-21 Budget on Wednesday. No additional changes were made to the budget, although we did receive some public comment.

-The ordinance closing Centerview Street and Jade Circle in North Belmont also passed. I asked the developer’s attorney about the timeline for the project (as I have received several questions about that), and he indicated that the actual demolition of the road would likely start by the end of the month.

-We also approved a change to the Rail Trail. The new route will now follow Main Street to Woodrow Ave, and then pick up the rail line again at the intersection with Woodrow. You can see a map here: https://cityofbelmont.civicweb.net/document/21705/3760D662CDE24927A7DFC67F59599AB5-.pdf?handle=7CF687D031104674966E2676C867F1DA

-We also approved resolutions supporting a virtual Juneteenth celebration and continued Powell Bill funding from the General Assembly.

-At the end of the meeting, our police chief also spoke to some of the national issues surrounding policing. I remain very confident in the professionalism, integrity, and training of the Belmont PD. I believe that our police department is one that all residents of our city can rightly be proud of.

If you have any questions – feel free to leave a comment below or email me at mseelinger@cityofbelmont.org!

The next city council meeting will be on June 1 at 6:45pm. This meeting will once again be virtual, so if you are interested in participating in the public comment portion of the meeting, be sure to submit your comments to the city clerk so they can be read aloud at the meeting.

We have a very full agenda, but here are a few of the highlights:

-We will be receiving an update on the county’s response to COVID-19 from Gaston County Health and Human Services Director Chris Dobbins.

-We will also be conducting the public hearing on the budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

-There will be an update and a proposed change to the path of the Rail Trail due to some complications with that project.

-We will also be considering the closure of Jade Circle and Centerview Street in North Belmont to facilitate the development of the River West Business Park.-There will also be an update on the Belmont Trolley project, where we will consider a proposed Memorandum of Understanding.

-NCDOT is currently in the midst of a significant cash crunch and has stopped work on many projects and is also planning to significantly scale back maintenance of state roads. City Council will be considering a resolution asking NCDOT and the General Assembly to continue funding for the Powell Bill program (which funds maintenance of city-maintained streets) and to continue necessary maintenance of state roads (including things like patching pot holes and mowing grass along state roads).

You can find a copy of the meeting agenda and a link to the livestream here: https://cityofbelmont.civicweb.net/Portal/MeetingInformation.aspx?Id=332

An update from our budget workshop/special meeting on Monday:

-We didn’t make any substantive changes to the budget proposal, so the next step will be the public hearing on June 1. This will be a virtual meeting, so if you would like to participate in the public comment portion of the hearing, be sure to send your comments to the city clerk so that they can be read aloud at the meeting. The legislature recently made some changes to how public hearings are to be conducted in a virtual setting, with the new rules allowing public comments to be submitted up to 24 hours after the virtual meeting is held. So, the final vote on the budget will be held on June 3.

-We also had a great discussion about the new “Al Fresco” outdoor dining program. This program is set to start on Friday to coincide with the new Phase II restrictions from the governor. The next two weekends will act as something of a pilot for the program, and Council is planning to review its progress at our June 1 meeting so that we can make changes as needed. So, if you decide to take advantage of this dining option, let me know what you think – what’s working well and what could work better. To my knowledge, the City has never attempted anything like this before, so it’s likely to be a learning process for everyone.

-We also received an update from the Montcross Chamber on their office space needs and how soon-to-be-vacant space at City Hall might fill that need. We gave the go-ahead to staff to begin working out the details of an actual contract with the Chamber, and that will come back to Council once they have something worked out.

The next budget workshop will be on Monday at 4pm. You can find the agenda and a link to the livestream here: https://cityofbelmont.civicweb.net/Portal/MeetingInformation.aspx?Org=Cal&Id=428

This will be the final workshop before the public hearing on the budget on June 1. It doesn’t sound like there have been any substantive changes to the budget proposal from what was presented in the initial workshop – but if you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below.

We will also be considering the creation of a Downtown “Al Fresco” Program. You may have seen other cities/towns (especially in other states) allow their restaurants the use of public streets for temporary seating as a way to enable the restaurants to reopen while also maintaining appropriate distancing. This would effectively be our version of that. We will learn more about the proposal on Monday, but the general idea is to allow downtown restaurants to set up tables on Main Street for the Friday and Saturday dinner hours (assuming that the governor proceeds with allowing outdoor dining next week). I think this is a great idea, and I am very interested in learning more about it.

We will also be hearing an update on the potential partnership between the City and the Montcross Chamber that would allow the Chamber to lease space in City Hall (for their offices) that will become vacant once the new public works building is complete.

We will also be reviewing a plan to construct a sidewalk from the new Belmont Middle School up to the current high school. The City, Gaston County Schools, and the developer of the McKee Farms retail project are building different sections of the sidewalk, and the project should greatly enhance the walkability of that area, which will be particularly important when the new middle school opens.

The next City Council meeting will be Monday (5/4) at 6:45pm. This will be another virtual meeting, so we will be following the same process that we used last month for public comment. If you’d like to make a public comment, you may email your comments to the city clerk, and they will be read aloud at the meeting. You can access the livestream at cityofbelmont.org/livemeetings

-We will be receiving an update on the Rocky Branch Park Enhancement Project

-We will also be considering several technical changes to our land use ordinance to make it consistent with recent changes in state law.

-There will also be a public hearing on the Small Business Emergency Loan Program. This is part of the formal ratification process for this program. It was initially established under the temporary authorities invoked by our local state of emergency, but this process will ratify the program under the economic developments statutes, which avoids some legal complications once the state of emergency ends. If you would like to submit a comment for this hearing, simply email it to the city clerk.

-We will also be receiving an update on the status of the code enforcement case for the property at 951 Cason Street in North Belmont

-We will also be considering a plan that involves the construction of bike lanes and sidewalks along Woodlawn Street as part of NCDOT’s next funding cycle.

The agenda for the meeting (along with all supporting information) can be found here: https://cityofbelmont.civicweb.net/Portal/MeetingInformation.aspx?Org=Cal&Id=331

City Council will be holding a special meeting on Monday at 4:30 to consider a Small Business Emergency Loan Program. The meeting will be virtual (i.e. a conference call), and I will post call-in information for anyone who wants to listen once that is available.

This emergency loan program is the result of an idea that I pitched to our city manager as a way to address the cash flow issues that many of our small businesses are now facing as a result of the shutdown orders that have forced many of them to severely curtail or, in many cases, completely reinvent their businesses. After a lot of collaboration with Adrian and his team, I think we have come up with a very workable solution.

The Montcross Area Chamber of Commerce recently did a survey of local businesses following the initial round of shut-down orders. Of those that responded, 80% indicated that they were concerned with cash flow issues, and 63% said that they needed resources for recovery funding for business operations and revenue disruption. This program is designed to address these short-term cash flow needs (allowing them to pay rent, utilities, payroll, etc.) and allow these businesses to remain open and solvent until they are able to tap more long-term state and federal assistance that is slowly working its way through the system but is still likely weeks away.

This is the general outline of the program:

-Funding will be available for up to 40 loans of $10,000 each for small businesses in Belmont-The loans will be unsecured with a term of 36-months and an interest rate of 7%

-No payments will be required within the first 12 months of the loan-

A three-person staff committee will review and approve loan applications with oversight by the city manager and city council

-Funding for this program will come from the $400,000 budgeted surplus that was scheduled to go into the city savings account at the end of the fiscal year. So, there will be no impact to other areas of the budget.

You can find a more complete outline of the program here: https://cityofbelmont.civicweb.net/document/20709/AAC650ABBB874BC69D523F1A3065EBC5-.pdf?handle=3936F9BDE52049B8BDE96CF729AF770A

The idea is that these loans will address the immediate cash needs of our small businesses now and, then when they have been able to tap into SBA assistance, etc. later, they can roll these loans over into that assistance.

I am, of course, interested to hear your feedback on this (especially from our small business owners). Belmont has spent many years building up what I think is a very vibrant small businesses environment that is an integral part of our community. So, I want to make sure that we are doing what we can to help them weather a storm that no one could have predicted or planned for.