Road ordinance approved

Published 3:53 pm Sunday, May 12, 2019

WINDSOR – Lacking none of the bombast of its previous reading and discussion, the Bertie County Road Safety and Maintenance Ordinance passed at Monday night’s Commissioner’s meeting with barely a whimper.

Voting along the same lines as with the first reading, the measure passed by a split 3-2 vote with Commissioners John Trent, Greg Atkins, and Ron Wesson voting in favor, while Ernestine Bazemore and Tammy Lee voted against.

With the ruling, the ordinance goes into effect. It penalizes property owners who have roads deemed “a public nuisance” or “safety hazard” if said roads are not repaired within 45 days of receiving a written notice to remedy the road condition. Owners would then be subject to penalties ranging from a fine of $100 per day to a lien against the property by the county to recover the costs of the county making the repairs.

During public comments prior to the vote, Merry Hill resident Jerry Cowand got in some final comments in opposition, saying the ordinance could potentially produce strife.

“Let’s put more government into your business on your private property,” Cowand warned. “You’re creating a monster.”

Quoting Scripture, he said there’s confusion in the ordinance’s interpretation. He then made an appeal for transparency.

“You all could do a lot before enforcing the ordinance if you would develop some sort of policy – maybe a flow-chart – on how this thing works,” he stated. “I think you’re setting yourselves up as an appeal panel. You need to make sure you’re going to apply this fairly across the board, because if you don’t, you’re setting this county up for legal action.”

Prior to the vote, Bertie County Manager Scott Sauer reminded the Commissioners that revisions and updates to the ordinance had been made over the years, and especially following the last two readings.

“The step-by-step process starts with a complaint by a citizen or other party, the Sheriff’s Department or EMS and then it is investigated,” Sauer explained. “I really like the idea of a flow-chart and I’m thankful for the suggestion … that would be an excellent graphic to put on the (county’s) website because people respond better if they’re actually seeing something.”

The County Manager said there had been no further adjustments, revisions or amendments to the ordinance, and that the Commissioners would be voting on the ordinance as presented in the second reading from their April 1 meeting.

Before making a motion to bring up a vote, Wesson said he too could endorse the idea of a flow-chart, but he also addressed the idea of strife, mentioned in the earlier public comments.

“For the almost two years we’ve been looking at this, the real strife is the citizens who’ve had to live under conditions that have made their lives miserable in terms of safety,” he remarked. “They have the right to be taken care of in terms of their safety, and this ordinance will eliminate that strife.”

Trent concurred with Wesson and said every fire chief in every municipality in the county that he had spoken with indicated they were in favor of the ordinance.

“The safety ordinance will allow emergency services, fire, and sheriff to get down to those houses when and where they’re needed,” Trent added. “They’re paying taxes, and they have every right to have this. People who have not maintained the roads that own them should be accountable.”

Bazemore said the owners should be the ones responsible for maintenance and repairs, not the citizens.

“I don’t believe we should take their money and apply it to private ownership,” she maintained. “Let the record show my vote was against this,” Bazemore said.

Lee said she still believes there is no state statute that allows counties to do what Bertie would be doing if it enacted the ordinance.

“If there’s not a general statute that says you can, then that means you can’t,” she emphasized.

Wesson then made a motion to vote on either adoption or rejection of the ordinance, seconded by Atkins, and then the vote was cast, resulting in the 3-2 majority for approval.