Southport has agreed to work with Up Your Arts (UYA) to determine whether it’s feasible to turn the old city hall into an arts-focused community center.

The aldermen unanimously accepted the proposal at their meeting last Thursday pending a city review of a memorandum of understanding. The agreement is for an initial six-month study. Any further action would require a formal contract.

As drafted, the agreement states that over the next six months, Up Your Arts will: conduct several engineering, architectural and historical surveys; research the building’s code and usage requirements; review the city’s leases with other nonprofits; draft budgets and pinpoint funding; and address environmental mitigation so the public may walk through the building.

All information collected will be relayed back to city officials. Southport’s role, simply put, is to allow it to happen while continuing maintenance of the building.

The project, if approved, is estimated to take two-and-a-half years and $2 million. It would be funded through grants, sponsors and donations.

UYA envisions converting the grand hall upstairs into a venue and public meeting chamber. It would be surrounded by dressing rooms, a catering area, a ticket and reception foyer, a conference room, and a cafe.

Downstairs, visitors could watch creators at work in studios open to public viewing. The central hallway would become a gallery. There would also be a welcome foyer, an organization resource center, a management office, and a gift shop with art created by Brunswick Community College students.

CPI USA permits

Southport officials will be representing the city at a hearing on the CPI USA draft permits that would allow for continued discharge of wastewater and stormwater off Caswell Beach.

The Southport power plant is seeking renewal from the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), but several environmental groups are advocating for more stringent requirements in the permits.

“This is just making sure they’re doing the best practices possible and are being held to a high standard because it impacts our health and well being,” said alderman Lora Sharkey.

Sharkey is acting as the city’s liaison at the hearing and in communications with the DEQ. Alderman Karen Mosteller is also attending.

The hearing is Thursday, November 21 at 6 p.m. in Building A at Brunswick Community College in Bolivia. The sign up to speak begins at 5 p.m.

Overhead lines

The city will pay a $300 fee Brunswick Electric is beginning to charge customers to retire their overhead electric lines.

Southport offers to split the $1,250 cost to install underground facilities with homeowners who have existing overhead lines. At Thursday’s meeting, the city agreed to now pay $925 per household to include the $300 fee starting January 1. Customers will continue to pay $625.

The board also approved adjustments to commercial demand rates for electricity. The base rate increased to $75 to match the price of a meter and the coincidental peak kilowatt rates were lowered to $32.72.

Finance director Melanie Trexler explained the effects will “hardly be noticeable,” for the approximate 25 demand customers.

Pay classification changes

The aldermen approved several changes to city employee pay classifications to address some inequities.

City manager Bruce Oakley explained the fire chief is several grades below other positions but has a greater area of coverage, and the tourism director recently took on additional public information officer duties.

The changes include: increasing the fire chief pay classification from a 23 grade to a 26 grade, which has a midpoint salary of $79,197; the parks and recreation director from a 22 to 24, a midpoint of $71,834; the police lieutenant from a 21 to 22, or $65,155; and the tourism director and public information officer from a 21 to 23, which has a midpoint of $68,413.

Mosteller argued that Southport should hire specialists in human resources to consult the city as it did when the classifications were adopted in 2017. Sharkey disagreed, stating it was preferable to do in-house in this instance. The board approved the changes in a 4-1 vote, Mosteller opposed. Alderman Rick Pukenas was absent.

The adjustments do not result in any immediate raises.

The city will likely consider another salary study in one to two years.

In other business, the aldermen:

n Extended Oakley’s contract for another year, until August 2021. The contract was amended to offer a six-month severance package, instead of three months, if terminated without cause and require the city manager to provide 45 days’ notice, instead of 30, if he decides to resign.

n Approved Christmas bonuses of $465 for full-time employees and $350 for part-time staff.

n Awarded Thompson, Price, Scott, Adams and Co. a three-year contract for auditing services.

n Approved a budget amendment for the two ambulances it previously approved. The city transferred $100,000 to put toward the purchase and appropriated a $200,000 loan for the $300,000 purchase.

n Reappointed Frederick “Flick” Guerrina as the city’s representative on the Brunswick County Airport Commission.

n Recognized city public works employees — Mike Spicer, Mark Caban, Andrew May, Shawn Pendegrass and Al Cochran — for their repairs to the city gym restrooms. Sharkey explained the project was supposed to be done by a contractor until Hurricane Florence shifted funding priorities. Oakley added that their in-house work saved taxpayers more than $4,000.

n Some of the aldermen and the city manager expressed gratitude to mayor Dove and outgoing aldermen Pukenas, Jim Powell and Robert Tucker. At the next meeting, their seats will be filled by mayor-elect Dr. Joe Pat Hatem and newcomers John Allen, Lowe Davis and Tom Lombardi.