Oak Island Town Council made few firm decisions but delved into the details of the proposed budgets for the development services, fire and police departments during a meeting, held Tuesday, which is one of at least seven meetings set to parse numbers and work on thornier details, such as what to charge in sand benefits districts (see related story in this issue).
Staff reminded council it had prepared a three-year capital improvement plan for the departments, which generally includes items such as vehicles.
Development Services Director Steve Edwards said he planned for 200 new housing starts in fiscal 2021. With three months to go, the number is at 217. He asked that council re-install an inspections position that had been requested last year and said he also wanted to combine the responsibilities of the floodplain coordinator with those of the state Coastal Area Management Act permit agent, who handles minor permits at the local level.
Edwards said his department’s budget was slightly more than $1-million; it is expected to collect $820,000 in fees. Some of the work done by the department benefits other parts of the town, including zoning and code enforcement. The department also needs a second vehicle; one was already part of the plan, he said.
Fire Chief Chris Anselmo stated he needed a used 90- to 100-foot aerial ladder truck to replace one that is 30 years old and breaks down constantly. He estimated the cost to be $450,000. He also proposed phasing in the costs of a new station to cover the Pine Forest/Midway Commons area.
Council discussed the possibility of working with St. James and Brunswick County to cover the needs but avoiding building another fire station. Oak Island is moving toward converting the station at South Harbour (Station 3) toward another use and putting equipment and personnel at Station 2 (formerly Yaupon Beach).
Anselmo proposed adding three new full-time firefighters, which would provide a total of four per shift, instead of the current three per shift. This, he said, would allow better response to “split” calls, when there is more than one request for response to a medical or fire emergency. Generally, the department needs to send two or more responders to calls, especially fire calls.
“We need to put another truck on the road,” Anselmo said. He said the call volume has decreased average response time from two to five minutes to nearly seven minutes.
Council agreed to member Jeff Winecoff’s motion to hire an outside consultant to study the fire districts and make recommendations.
Mayor Ken Thomas said he wanted to see Oak Island work something out with Brunswick County and St. James. St. James has a fire station almost directly across the street from Pine Forest. “Let’s work with our neighbors and give them the fire fees,” Thomas said. He suggested the town could save millions of dollars.
Assistant Police Chief Chris Franks said the department had two vacancies and would like to hire three part-time officers for peak periods, like for beach patrols and community events.
Franks said finding and keeping officers was a national issue. There are fewer sworn police officers now than when Yaupon Beach and Oak Island merged in 1999, yet growth has been significant, he said.