LUMBERTON — A gift from a colleague during Lumberton City Council’s regular monthly meeting on Monday sobered the mood, reminding officials of the October hurricane from which the city is still trying to recover.
Several steps in that direction were taken by the council during the meeting, including efforts to make it easier for people to return to their homes.
Councilman Erich Hackney presented council members, Mayor Bruce Davis, City Attorney Holt Moore and City Manager Wayne Horne with name plates affixed to pieces of wood taken from trees felled by Hurricane Matthew in their district.
Hackney traveled throughout the districts after the storm passed and used a chainsaw to cut the pieces of wood from down trees to fashion the plates. The plates for Davis, Horne and Moore were from Hackney’s District 8.
“Not that you will ever forget what happened, but I wanted to do it for you, to thank you individually for what each one of y’all did and to tell you that it is an honor and a privilege to sit with every one of you,” Hackney said before unveiling his gift.
The councilman went around the semi-circular dais highlighting each members contributions and experiences during the storm. Afterwards each received their name plate and a handshake from Hackney.
“I think the first time I saw him, the mayor and the manager, were right at the tracks on MLK … I hugged him. I know it freaked him out, but I hugged him,” Hackney said of the day after the storm hit. “It had a huge emotional impact, as it is now as I’m reliving it.”
The council, in making official action it took at last week’s policy meeting, took two steps to help displaced residents find more permanent housing. It waived for 15 months setback restrictions for the placement of emergency FEMA housing units on a property, and it voted to drop non-metered utility fees for FEMA-approved hurricane victims for four months. City staffers cited concerns that fees mounting on homes that were destroyed or severely damaged by Matthew may be a barrier for residents trying to return to their properties.
After Hackney’s presentation, six city employees received gifts of their own upon their retirement. Senior Fire Capt. Frank Dickerson received an award for 28 years service, Administrative Assistant Candace Nobles for 30 years of service, and maintenance worker Robert Lewis, Clementeen Howell of communications, meter technician John McQueen and lab officer Steven West for 20 years service.
In other business:
— Mayor Davis issued a proclamation declaring Monday as Mickey Meekins Day in Lumberton. The mayor presented Meekins with a proclamation thanking him for his work helping the city during Hurricane Matthew. The Lumberton businessman lobbied construction equipment manufacturer Caterpillar to provide the city $200,000 of heavy equipment to help with relief efforts.
— The council voted unanimously to reroof the Public Works Department. The $60,000 cost of the roof will come from $50,000 budgeted and $10,000 from the water and sewer capital reserve fund.
— The council passed a measure to allow for collection of storm debris from private property and to demolish dangerous homes, with FEMA approval.
— The council formally adopted a fiscal policy regarding city purchasing. The policy contains local, state and federal purchasing guidelines, which the city has been using for some time. The new policy frames those in one document.
— The council voted to consider several hazard mitigation projects. Since Hurricane Matthew, city staff have met with FEMA and state representatives to discus projects. The programs and funding are designed to reduce or eliminate the long-term risk to people and property from natural hazards and their effects. Such projects include the buyout of homes destroyed by the hurricane, elevation of homes and rebuilding homes.
— Councilwoman Karen Higley designated $500 from Community Revitalization Funds toward the Community Watch in District 4.
— The council designated $1,000 of Community Revitalization Funds toward McCormick Chapel for the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. program.
Reach Mike Gellatly at 910-816-1989 or via Twitter @MikeGellatly