Sunday, May 1, 2016

Tourism Money Safe

New NCDOT ferry division dredge Manteo was
christened last week by Governor Pat McCrory
Dare County manager Bobby Outten confirmed last week that the $1,000,000 "strings-attached" grant which the visitors bureau offered  Dare County last year to assist with inlet dredging costs will never see the light of day. Under the grant agreement, the county could get the money only if it spent all other available dredging money by June 30th. And, Outten says that isn't likely to happen.

So, who's surprised at this development?  Surely, not EyeonDare. It was 100% predictable, and nothing but a political ploy from day one.

Related blog post:

(excerpts)...."Data obtained by EyeonDare indicates that the Dare County Tourism Board (DCTB) is set to approve a one time grant of $1,000,000 towards helping to pay for dredging in Oregon Inlet. The DCTB’s steering committee voted, unanimously  on June 9th to recommend the grant....the
bureau has been under fire in recent months from members of the public and EyeonDare who charge that the organization has become too rich, too political, and has drifted too far away from it legislated mission of promoting tourism by spending too much money and time on event  grants and local politics.  An independent audit of the bureau for the year ending June 30, 2014 showed it had in excess of $12,000,000 in unexpended funds. The bureau is funded by a 1% occupancy tax and a 1% food/ beverage tax..."

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Southern Shores Dumping County Trash Department

The town of Southern Shores says it can no longer afford to pay the rising costs of contracting with the Dare County Public Works department for its residential and commercial garbage collection. The town is expected cancel its contract after the county commissioners get the official notice at their Monday board meeting and enter into a five year contract with Bay Disposal.  "I am confident they can do the job as well as Dare County," said town manager Peter Rascoe during a recent town budget workshop.  The county has been citing increased labor costs due to inexperienced drivers who run the town's routes, and those costs have been increasing, quarter by quarter, said Rascoe, adding that "Dare County's contract is a total pass through contract, so we are stuck with whatever it cost the county by the hour, no matter what."

The county/town contract has a 60 day out-clause, so the town will begin contracting with Bay, effective July 1st at a per household pickup rate of $5.48 per month. Rascoe says the Bay contract, which calls for 2,600 units of pickup is expected to save the town $56,500 for residential collection and $5,220 for commercial collection in the coming year.  The past policy of town citizens owning and paying for their receptacles will not change.

In making the switch, the town is hoping all garbage collections will continue to be transported to Bertie County's Republic landfill.  However, Bay is expected to use the Currituck County Maple transfer station rather than moving the garbage through Dare's mainland station. In addition to pickup costs, the town also pays tipping fees based on the tonnage of all waste collected. Rascoe forecasts the town's estimated costs of residential and commercial pickup, recycling pickup and tipping fees is expected to be $525,400 for fiscal year 2016-17. This does not include the town's limb and branch removal program which is estimated to cost $118,500 next year, and is contracted with a separate local company.

Rascoe told the town board that county manager Bobby Outten has stated that he "may or may not" have to lay off workers and the county is "sad" to lose the town as a customer, adding that it had been a big challenge for the county to stay on top of the matter.

The town is expected to continue to contract with Waste Management & Recycling for its residential recycling pickup. Dare County also contracts with the town of Kitty Hawk for its garbage collection. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Voice puts slant on Outer Banks Catch Story

The slant being put on the Outer Banks Catch/Seafood Festival story right now by the Outer Banks Voice is not surprising. Money talks and fishermen can sail their boat alone, if they think the local restaurants or the local, so called, news media on the beach are going to roll over for them.
Likewise for the comments made by Lee Nettles of the visitors bureau. Nettles put his foot in his mouth when he said "the festival is balancing a lot of different interests and business realities", or, in so many words, the bureau had bigger (business) interests to deal with and can pander to local fishermen only so much.
Actually, the fact that the restaurant association currently chose to appoint the manager of Capt'n George's Restaurant as its representative on the board of directors of the visitors bureau, is quite interesting, not to mention that Sugar Creek owner, Ervin Bateman also sits on the bureau's board for the town of Kitty Hawk. And, Bateman definitely uses his seat as much for business as his own local government. In closing, fishermen, don't look for much help from the Voice or the visitors bureau on this one.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Your County at Work for You ?

Why has Dare County sat on this money for over ten years?  Why didn't they get the matter straight with Commissioner Mike Johnson when he left office four years ago?  Why is there no written record of authorization or vote on this matter. Why didn't they contact Johnson for accurate addresses for the NCWA?  Why isn't the local press covering this?

Related story

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Unhappy With Dare County Commission

A former president of the North Carolina Waterfowl Association (NCWA) is upset that the Dare Commissioners have sat on a $10,289 donation it made to the county over ten years ago without using the money for its original intent. John R. Georgius of Charlotte, NC emailed the board and county manager Bobby Outten last week stating that if the county wasn't going to use the money, it should have been turned over to the Eastern North Carolina 4-H Camp Canvasback in Columbia, NC long ago.

The $10,289 donation was made to Dare County in April of 2006, and the NCWA corporation was later dissolved in October of 2010. Dissolution documents filed with the secretary of state's office indicate that NCWA had turned over all of its available assets at that time to Camp Canvasback.

Georgius told EyeonDare last week he realized the NCWA no longer had control over the matter, but had not been aware that the county had done nothing with the money, as he fired off his email stating .."I am the former head of the NC Waterfowl Association and I am writing to inform you that there is a rat, perhaps several, in the Dare County Commission.  I don't know who the rat is but the rat knows!  The County has been holding a $10,000 contribution made to Dare County by the NC Waterfowl Association to build a waterfowl impoundment for children in Dare County.  Since that is not going to happen, we suggested that the money be distributed to Camp Canvasback, run by the 4-H.  What happened -nothing - you are still holding the money. The rat or rats are responsible for this unbelievable delay.  Only rats would deny children the use of this money.  This issue needs to be dealt with now.  Otherwise another rat may get a TV or newspaper reporter to investigate this abuse of power, which has been going on for over ten years. It’s shameful behavior and sad for our children."  Georgius told EyeonDare on Friday, he had received no reply from the county.

In 2006, a group of local Dare County hunters,  including Mike Johnson, who was a commissioner at the time, held several fund raising events under the auspices the NCWA, with the intention of getting Dare County to approve building a duck hunting impoundment for youth  on county land adjacent to the landfill. However, the project was never discussed, voted on or officially approved by the board of commissioners.  That year, Johnson and the NCWA turned a check over to the county finance office, along with another $350 check written for the same purpose by William Froehlich of Kill Devil Hill. Both payments have been held in the within the county's general fund since that time.

EyeonDare has been pressing the county for over five years for information on the above matter and what their intentions are about the fund. However, the county administration would never take any action, or bring the matter up before its board. Three months ago, EOD asked Outten for an update on the matter, but received no response. EOD, then wrote commissioner chairman Bob Woodard who said he would look into the matter.  Following this, on March 4, 2016, the county sent Froehlich his $350 back, along with a letter stating they would not be building the hunting compound.

Then, on March 10, 2016 the county wrote a letter to the NCWA at an address that Outten said was the only one they could find, being 2045A Eastgate Drive, Greenville, NC. The letter said, "the county no longer intends to build this project...therefore we would like to return these funds to the NCWA". It was not addressed to any individual and was returned by the post office as "Undeliverable". It should be noted that EOD had no trouble locating the former president and former secretary for the NCWA and other addresses are also available on the state corporation's website.

EyeonDare has previously provided county officials with contact information on the old NCWA, and more data is available on the state's corporation website. Apparently, all of it was ignored. Recently, EOD forwarded an email from the former secretary of the NCWA which, again, stated they would like to have the money turned over to the 4-H in Columbia, NC.

Last week, Outten told EyeonDare he does not think Camp Canvasback has any claims to the money and since the NCWA was dissolved, it, also, has no claims. He offered no explanation of why he had just written the NCWA and attempted to return the money back to them. It appears clear to EyeonDare that Outten knew the NCWA had been dissolved when the county sent the letter out.  Now, Outten told EyeonDare that he thinks the remaining $10,289 should be turned over to the State of North Carolina's Escheat Fund, and he is looking into how to get that done.

EyeonDare contacted one of the officials who operates Camp Canvasback at the Eastern North Carolina 4-H Center last week, and she said they knew nothing about the matter, but would be delighted to have the funds for their youth program.

The hard question that remains unanswered is, why did the county hold these funds for ten years without any kind of review or public disclosure?

Side Note:
In January, the county was in the mist of handling a bid for leasing the county farm, on which the duck compound was to be built, to a farming operation by the name of Sow & Reap Farming, LLC. Mike Johnson submitted the bid on their behalf and Sow & Reap which was given the lease on the condition that no hunting would be allowed on the property.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Good Advice - Bad Advice

Attorney Dwight Wheless
The board attorney for the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau gave advice on two controversial matters during yesterday's monthly meeting. In the opinion of EyeonDare, one advisement was good and one was not so good.

First, attorney Dwight Wheless told the board he thought it should stay the course in the way it spends money from its 25% restricted fund account and ignore strong advice given by the North Carolina State Auditors Office following a recent audit, and also a legal opinion given by two attorneys with the North Carolina State Legislature, all of which said the bureau could be violating the intent of the law under which it was established.  "You should get an updated opinion/ruling from the state legislature", said both groups.  However, it was Wheless' opinion that because the bureau had been operating the same way, without question, for 25 years, it made no difference. But, unfortunately, the recent audit by the state may have been the first one conducted since the bureau was set up in 1991. Perhaps, what Wheless should have told his board was that, "ignorance is no longer bliss".  Instead, he chose to tell them exactly what they wanted to hear.

Eyeondare believes the weight of the opinions from the two state groups is strong enough that a court ordered injunction against future expenditures from the multi-million dollar fund would not be out of the possibility, and certainly not something the visitors bureau would want to see.  Perhaps, they should get a second opinion. And, certainly, the county board of commissioners should not take this matter too lightly.  The public is watching.

Second, Wheless tried to calm down some excited board members, mostly business owners, who wanted the bureau to write a letter and go on record as opposing North Carolina's highly controversial HB2 or "bathroom bill".  Those board members said the bill was costing them money and giving the Outer Banks a bad reputation.  However, Wheless told the board they should keep collecting their visitation data and try to stay away from public comment because it was a "political matter". "Leave it up to the town governments," said Wheless.  He was able to settle the board down, and they eventually agreed.

Earlier in the meeting, national park service Superintendent David Hallac told the board that visitation at all area park sites were well ahead of recent years.  This led board member Wally Overman to say that if tax collections and visitations are up at the end of the year, what kind of grounds would we be on by saying that HB2 is killing tourism on the Outer Banks. Good point, Commissioner Overman.

Outer Banks Catch Pulls Away from Seafood Festival


The  5th Annual Outer Banks Seafood Festival, scheduled to be held on October 15th, has lost one of its original sponsors and a major supporter.  In a letter, dated April 15th, the Outer Banks Catch organization says it will no longer participate in the event.

"We are not going away mad, we're just going to other opportunities that don't conflict with our mission," wrote Sandy Semans Ross, executive director.  However, other parts of Ross 's letter, addressed to the Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce, the Outer Banks Tourism Authority and copied to the Dare County Restaurant Association hinted of a strong conflict between the local fishermen and restaurants, who have participated in prior events.

In the letter, Ross said that, "the public is being 'misled' by festival officials who say that 'local seafood is the fare of the day' at the event...and they allow the majority of the seafood served to come from out of the area, with "a very large majority being foreign imports". The event has not lived up to the festival's original mission, or the mission of the Outer Banks Catch, added Ross.

The Outer Banks Catch was organized in 2010 as a marketing program established by the Dare County Commission for Working Watermen. It was designed to promote and educate
consumers about the advantages of requesting locally caught seafood and to preserve the local commercial fishing heritage. It was placed under the auspices of Dare County government as a "county initiative," and initially funded through a $150,000 grant from the Golden Leaf Foundation. In addition, the county provided funding and manpower to help it and the annual seafood festival get up and running.

However last year, Dare County government broke all official ties with the seafood festival, and it is currently being managed by the Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce.

How much affect the withdrawal of the Outer Banks Catch organization may have on the future success of the festival is yet to be determined. Ross wrote, "in contracting to produce the event, the Chamber is in the unenviable position of putting together the event while not ending up in hot water with some of its own membership".

Ross closed her letter by saying, "if the festival should decide it is worth serving the very seafood it purports to celebrate, we would be glad to help your vendors make contact with local fish dealers to insure they have adequate product for the event."

A full copy of the letter can be found on the NC Waterman United Face Book page.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Emergency Operations/911 Center Under Way

Construction on Dare County's new $15 million Emergency Operations/911 Center
is well underway next to the Dare County Airport. It is expected to be completed
in spring of 2017.  For larger view, click here.