Local government officials are incorporating new requirements for facilitating public comments in connection with public hearings held during virtual meetings.

The state legislature passed a law on May 4 establishing requirements for public hearings and public comments as part of remote meetings while North Carolina is in a declared state of emergency. The action was taken to comply with the N.C. Open Meetings Law.

The new requirements include allowing people 24 hours to make comments before and 24 hours to comment after a public hearing is held as part of a virtual meeting.

According to legal notices for two public hearings before the Wilkes County commissioners on June 2, prepared by County Attorney Tony Triplett and published on Page A11 in this issue, the public comments must be in writing and must be submitted by one of three methods: U. S. mail, email, or hand-delivered to the appropriate government office.

County public hearings

Triplett said that in conjunction with the June 2 public hearing on the county’s proposed fiscal 2020-21 budget, public comments will be accepted any of the three ways stated above. The hearing begins at 6 p.m.

Another legal notice from the county, also on Page A11 of this issue, provides similar instructions for a public hearing before the commissioners on a proposed increase in the Millers Creek Fire District tax rate at 5:45 p.m. June 2.

This hearing is for public comments on a proposed 3-cent increasing in the Millers Creek fire tax rate— from 7 cents to 10 cents per $100 property valuation.

More details, including how the public can hear the public hearings and the meeting that night live on a WebEx platform, are in a legal notice on Page A11 of this issue.

In North Wilkesboro

The North Wilkesboro commissioners on Tuesday approved a $30,000 allocation for the Wilkes Small Business Recovery Program, established by the Wilkes Economic Development Corp. (EDC) for small local businesses hurt by the coronavirus pandemic, after utilizing the new public hearing process.

The town board held a public hearing Monday on the matter via Zoom. Town Manager Wilson Hooper said the new state law governing virtual meetings required that the public comment period continue for 24 hours after the hearing ended. No public comments were submitted before the board reconvened Tuesday at 6 p.m.

The $30,000 brings the program’s fundraising total to $210,500. Other contributions are $50,000 from the Leonard G. Herring Family Foundation Inc., $50,000 from LEAP (EDC’s Local Expansion & Attraction Program), $25,000 from Lowe’s Companies Inc., $20,000 from the Town of Wilkesboro, $20,000 from Wilkes County and $15,500 from undisclosed donors.

EDC President LeeAnn Nixon said that as of Tuesday morning, 18 grants of $2,000 apiece, for a total of $36,000, had been distributed to Wilkes businesses. The program primarily is for retail and service establishments, including businesses serving food, with one to 15 employees.

Nixon said the grants have been a shot in the arm for the recipients, who have expressed sincere gratitude. “They’re just so grateful, and it’s helping some folks hang on a little longer and hear some good news.”

The grants help pay rent, utilities or other fixed expenses and will be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, said Nixon. Eligibility requirements and other information on the program are at www.WilkesEDC.com. Completed applications can be submitted online there or dropped off at the North Wilkesboro Town Hall’s payment window.

Additionally, Nixon said the EDC has approved three marketing grants worth $1,500 for website development and other technical assistance.

Nine more Wilkes businesses had applied for the recovery program as of Tuesday morning, said Nixon, and five more marketing applications had been received. “We expect more applications based on phone conversations. Those that are in by Thursday morning will be reviewed for approval.

“We promise to be an diligent as we can in our efforts to try to reach as many businesses as we can and make good decisions on awarding the grants and getting the funds into the hands that need it.”

Commissioner Andrew Palmer canvassed businesses within town limits on Tuesday and taped recovery program flyers onto the doors of about 75 locally-owned establishments.

Nixon noted that if a business includes contractors, such as salon workers and barbers who rent booths, they should be noted and listed in the application. “We realize your operations create employment for many.”

The program guidelines are currently being translated into Spanish, said Nixon, and utility statements are now being accepted in lieu of bank statements to establish that a business has been in operation at least six months.

Businesses that do not qualify for the programs include home-based firms, chain restaurants and nonprofits, she said.

Hooper previously said the $30,000 would come from North Wilkesboro’s current fiscal year contingency funds if approved, leaving $219,157 in that fund.

In Wilkesboro

Wilkesboro Town Manager Ken Noland said the Wilkesboro Town Council has been delaying public hearings on rezoning requests and others matters—and therefore action on them—to hopefully hold them at a time when interested citizens can attend the meetings in person.

Noland said it has reached the point where they can’t be delayed any longer and hearings on these matters, as well as a public hearing on Wilkesboro’s proposed fiscal 2020-21 budget, will be held virtually in early June.

He said the hearings will be advertised to allow written public comments in the 24 hours before and after the hearings. Noland said a period longer than 24 hours after the hearings likely will be allowed.

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