By Carol Vaughn —
The Chincoteague Town Council Monday approved salary increases for police officers to bring police department salaries more into line with other localities, including the Accomack County Sheriff’s Office and several town police departments.
After research, “We found that we had the absolute lowest starting salary of any of those,” Town Manager Mike Tolbert said.
Four officers with an average of 3.5 years service have not yet reached the salary for a second year Accomack County Sheriff’s deputy, according to the findings.
The recommendation made to the budget and personnel committee was to immediately raise the starting salary for an untrained officer from $31,408 to $40,081, Tolbert said.
The salary for a trained officer increases to $41,288 under the plan.
“That still doesn’t make us the highest. It puts about in the middle, comfortably,” Tolbert said.
Additionally, the four officers should get immediate pay raises, according to the recommendation, which affects the budget by less than $20,000 for the rest of fiscal year 2022.
Tolbert also recommended the entire salary structure for the police department be looked at again during preparation for the fiscal year 2023 budget.
The budget and personnel committee approved the recommendation and brought it to the council, which unanimously approved the raises.
David Landsberger spoke during the public comment period about the issue of whether. To allow detached living quarters for family members in certain zoning districts, calling it “a problem that exists here in the town.”
“Simply ignoring and the problem…does not make it go away,” he said.
He asked the council to reject the planning commission’s recommendation not to approve an ordinance to allow for detached living quarters. He asked the council to approve the ordinance, which he called “well written and…pretty complete,” or at least to send it back to the commission for further consideration.
Landsberger said looking into the issue has brought up “discriminatory” zoning rules. He questioned why the R-1 zoning district is limited to four subdivisions, saying that “is not based on any logic that anybody has been able to explain to me.”
“I am not giving up on this issue and intend to pursue it to the fullest extent that I can,” he said, adding he intends to seek a permit to attach the currently detached living quarters on his property to the main building.
“This is legal and can be done but the construction of it and the publicity I intend to pursue will demonstrate the wastefulness of the current zoning and the reason why it should be dealt with now instead of being swept under the rug,” he said.
The planning commission at its Sept. 14 meeting heard Landsberger’s proposal to allow detached living quarters in all four residental zoning districts. The commission voted unanimously to recommend no changes to the current zoning ordinance regarding detached quarters; to monitor applications for such uses for the purpose of possible inclusion in the next revision of the town’s comprehensive plan, due in around three years; and to waive application fees for a conditional use permit for detached living quarters in cases of medical hardship.
The Town Council approved waiving the application fee as recommended by the planning commission. No changes to the zoning ordinance were included in the motion.
Town Manager’s Report
Tolbert reported a barber has signed a lease for a space upstairs in the former firehouse on Main Street.
The highway department has installed signs the town requested on the causeway, including signs warning drivers to maintain a safe speed, no passing zone signs, and signs identifying emergency pull off areas.
However, VDOT informed the town that edgeline reflectors, which the town council had requested, likely will not be approved for the causeway.
Still, centerline rumblestrips on the causeway have been approved as an exception to VDOT regulations and will be installed soon, according to Tolbert.
The town is advertising for a trolley director after the current director announced his retirement. No applications have been received yet, Tolbert said.
A new fuel system for Curtis Merritt Harbor has been ordered. The new system will be more reliable and will use cellular phone signal instead of wifi, which has not proved as reliable in the harbor area.
A chip reader for the fuel pumps should be available in the first quarter of 2022, which will be an improvement at no cost to the town, Tolbert said.
Meals and transient occupancy taxes continue to set records, according to Tolbert.
Even adjusted for the 1% increase in the transient occupancy tax rate enacted this year, revenue is 7% over last year, Tolbert said.
Over 90% of budgeted revenue for the year in that category already have been collected.
The council voted to use revenue from the 1% rate hike for public safety.
The money will be accounted for in a separate fund and be used exclusively for public safety improvements, according to the resolution.
Expenditures will have to be approved by the council unless they are part of the annual budget.
Forty-six building permits were issued in September, with a total construction cost of around $1 million, Tolbert said.
New construction in Chincotegue includes the Iron Pony Adventure Park, an aerial adventure course on Pension Street slated to open this fall.
The Chincoteague Police Department grossed just over $20,000 from its annual Poker Run for the Kids, held Sept. 11, according to Chief R. K. Fisher. Proceeds go to scholarships for local high school seniors, feeding less fortunate families year around, and helping families with toys, clothing, and food at Christmas.
The department has been sponsoring the event since 2005.
The police department will hold its second annual flag football tournament Nov. 27.
Chincoteague’s seven-day positivity rate for COVID-19 as of Monday was 8.5%, down from 10% in early September, according to Emergency Services Director Bryan Rush. There have been 12 additional cases on Chincoteague since the September council meeting.
Julie Brommer, of Chincoteague Island Community Cats, announced the organization will hold its fall trap-neuter-release clinic Thursday, Oct. 14 through Sunday, Oct. 17.
The group has been in contact with people reporting cats needing the services at 10 locations, totally around 65 cats.
The cats will be held and monitored during recovery in the bay of the former firehouse on Main Street.
The group since it started has partnered with just over 50 residents who care for outdoor, or community, cats to get cats spayed or neutered.
There is still a waiting list for the group’s services, she said, noting people seeking those services for cats now can go to cicommunitycats.org and fill out a form.