Eye on Dare

"Blogging the Bog of Outer Banks Politics"

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Public vs. Sand Fencing

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When the rights of oceanfront property owners and the beach going public begin to clash, sparks can fly. And, that's because Mother Nature does not recognize a line drawn in the sand that is supposed to separate the two.
Wellington By The Sea

Numerous times in the past few years, the ocean has encroached way too close to private properties along the beach between First and Third Street in Kill Devil Hills. As recently as three weeks ago the ocean was tearing away the last few feet of sand that separated it and the Wellington By The Sea condominiums at Second Street.


Recent erosion behind Wellington
 By The Sea
Kill Devil Hills, NC.
Before long, in came the dump trucks, with loads of sand, dropped along the shoreline in hopes of protecting the private property. This was followed by long stretches of sand fencing, running to and fro and parallel to the beach. The sand fencing, running parallel to the beach is illegal, say some beach goers, and makes it impossible to walk the beach at high tide and escape waves that roll onto the beach and against the wire and wooden barriers.

The planning office of the Town of Kill Devil Hills and state CAMA officials seem to agree with the beach walkers about parallel sand fencing. Both told EyeonDare that sand fencing can only be placed on the beach at "short, 45% angles" spaced in such a way as to leave openings. Parallel fencing is allowed in rare cases if it is atop a dune and not at the base of a dune and not on the flat beach. And, such, may to be the case with the new sand and fencing currently behind the Wellington condominiums. Following complaints, CAMA officials say they will look into the matter.

File photo - Mariner Motel - Kill Devil Hills, NC
Several months ago, another oceanfront property owner, The Mariner Motel, adjacent to Third Street also installed a long run of parallel sand fencing on the flat beach, and within weeks the ocean washed it away. Town officials said they received complaints in that matter also, but Mother Nature acted before they got to the scene.

And, then there is the question of buried and exposed sandbags along this same stretch of beach in Kill Devil Hills.  It remains to be seen whether the town, like Nags Head, will require the bags to be removed before beach nourishment begins.

Aerial photo showing parallel sand fencing behind Mariner
Motel, Kill Devil Hills. Fencing was washed away by
ocean.  (photo: Dare County GIS)
In the case of Nags Head, CAMA regulations required all bags to be removed unless they were permanently covered with established vegetation. However, this is not the case with the Mariner Motel, which has covered sandbags, dating back many years, or the Wellington By The Sea, with newer bags.

Without a doubt, the battle of private versus public property rights will get testy in the months ahead as Kill Devil Hills' beach nourishment project becomes closer to reality.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

County Travel Accounts Need Scrutiny

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Isn't it time the county commissioners took a hard look at departmental travel expenditures in the county budget? For the current fiscal year, ending June 30th, the budget contains no less than 93 departmental "Travel Accounts", totaling allowances of over $331,000.  Why hasn't someone on the county board asked how this huge amount of money is being expended? Is all of it necessary?

Does our commissioners understand that these departments also have county vehicles and county gas cards at their disposal. Do they understand, that, in addition to the above travel accounts, each employee is able and required to use fuel obtained from $1,882,950 in gasoline and diesel fuel purchases? Do they understand that each department is also assigned an additional Fuel Expense line item?

Why does the county finance department need an annual Travel Expense allowance of $9,750?
County manager, $15,000? Emergency Management, $4,500?, Fire Marshal $4,200?, EMS, $15,000?, EMS helicopter, $14,125? Health Dept.$69,000?, Social Services $44,000? And, the list goes on, for departments with county supplied vehicles full of taxpayer supplied fuel?

The county commissioners need to ask WHAT, EXACTLY is all this money being used for?

It is unfortunate that the modus operandi of the commissioners has always been to focus on and perhaps scale down new financial requests, and pay no attention to the details on how well the prior year's budget was handled. Once certain items of expenditures get into the county budget, all too often, they become base amounts that are never reduced, and usually increase over time. And, often, they are moved over and merged with other expenditures during the year.

Currently, the commissioners are less than 60 days away from establishing a public hearing on next year's county budget, but they have yet to have a serious workshop on the matter. A March 26th special meeting was billed as a budget workshop, however the vast majority of that meeting focused on how the county come up with $3.8 million to help fund Oregon Inlet dredging.  Meanwhile, every department head in county government, who were required to be present, with their lists of wants and wishes in hand, sat silent and was totally ignored by the board.

A second workshop has not been announced, despite a statement by Chairman Bob Woodard that more would be held. Let's hope that's true, because the departmental 'want list', ignored by the board, contained no less than $3.2 million in additional funding requests for the new year.

The next 60 days will show Dare County voters just how well our new GOP controlled board will do in keeping taxes down and cost of services at an acceptable level. 

Friday, April 3, 2015

Follow the Visitors Bureau Money

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Outer Banks Visitors Bureau
Aycock Brown Welcome Center
The Dare County Commissioners should think, seven times, before they agree to grant permission to the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau and allow them to dole out $87,000 in public funds to two local nonprofit organizations.  The Roanoke Island Historical Association (RIHA) and the Outer Banks Conservationists (OBC) have applied for grants from the visitors bureau in the amounts of $57,000 and $30,000 respectively.

The visitors bureau is funded through the proceeds of a countywide 1% occupancy tax and a 1% food/beverage tax, and the people of Dare County have a right to expect those funds to be used wisely.

Here is why EyeonDare believes the Dare commissioners should veto these grant requests during their Monday, April 6th meeting

Roanoke Island Historical Association (RIHA) - $57,000
Fourteen years ago, the RIHA, the producer of The Lost Colony, came before the board of commissioners claiming they were having financial problems. They said that if the county would grant them $50,000 per year for five years, they could get back on their feet. The county agreed to their wish. A year or so later, the treasurer of the RIHA, a 26 year employee, was indicted for embezzling tens of thousands of dollars from the association. The missing funds were covered by insurance, yet the grant funding was never completely removed from the county budget. However, following public outcry, the amount has been reduced to $12,500 for the current budget year.

The RIHA has now turned to the visitors bureau, asking for $57,000 to pay for renovations to its theater sound stage, while the most recent tax return, available for public inspection on Guidestar.org, shows the organization with approximately $225,000 in cash, savings and grants/pledges receivables.

EyeonDare believes this grant be denied and that commissioner Warren Judge, who's wife serves on the RIHA's board of directors, and commissioner Bob Woodard who, himself, serves on the RIHA's board of directors should recuse themselves from voting on the request.
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Outer Banks Conservationists (OBC) - $30,000
The OBC is a very closely held non-profit organization that owns and operates the Corolla Beach Lighthouse in Currituck County and the Island Farm in Manteo, NC. It has asked for $30,000 to refurbish an old windmill on the farm. However, the most recent tax return available for public inspection on Guidestar.org (2013) indicates the organization has cash and savings investments in excess of $300,000.  In addition, during that tax year, the OBC, itself, was able to dole out grants totaling  $22,892 and $10,000 to the Whalehead Club and a charter school in Currituck County, while investing $50,000 for stock in a private LLC under the name of MotherVine Nutraceuticals which, according to public record,  is owned wholly, or in part by close associates of the principal officers of OBC. In addition, a major founder of the charter school is also an employee of OBC.

EyeonDare does not believe this donation to be a wise use of public funds, and urges that the grant be denied.

However, if history repeats itself, the county board of commissioners will rubber stamp these two requests, with no questions asked, while the Outer Banks Visitor's Bureau will continue to spread its excess revenues around like a fairy sprinkling pixie dust. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Dare Commissioners Playing Stinky Politics

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The Dare County Commissioners are playing "stinky" with the people's money and they think no one's smart enough to smell it.

Stinky Item #1 -   When it was pointed out to board chairman Bob Woodard today that House Bill 388 that calls for an additional 1/4 cent sales tax, and amended for the third time yesterday, only refers to approving the "USE" of the tax as for "dredging purposes", not "inlet dredging", or "dredging of Oregon Inlet and Hatteras Inlet".   Woodard's response was "Errh...well, I guess it can be tweaked in the Senate." The commissioners, upon the request of board member
Allen Burrus, had voted to specifically include "dredging of Oregon
Inlet and Hatteras Inlet" in their resolution asking for the tax.

The bill was then introduced in the House of Representatives by Paul Tine, after Senator Bill Cook refused to intervene for the county and introduce a bill in the Senate for a 1/2 cent sales tax increase.  And, why should he?  The commissioners had kicked him in the groin the week before when he had worked with them and offered a bill to use occupancy taxes for dredging instead of sales taxes. The special business interests on the beach pushed the commissioners to squash that bill. Cook, who had consulted with the board on the bill, was left scratching his head.

Back to Tine's dredging bill. EyeonDare pointed out to Woodard, that, according to the language in the current version of the bill, if the Dare Commissioners decided they wanted to dredge the pond in front of the Taj Mahal Justice Center, the sales tax bill would not prohibit it. And, if they wanted to dredge canals or dredge sand from out in the ocean for beach nourishment, there was nothing in the bill to stop that either.

So, who's looking out for the fishermen and taxpayer's dollars here? Certainly, not Woodard.  And, certainly not Commissioner Margarette Umphlett.  EyeonDare called her today, and she didn't appear to have a clue. "I haven't read the bill," she said.

Meanwhile, dredging in Oregon Inlet is scheduled to start tomorrow, April 2nd, to be paid for with approximately $2 million in federal funds. That money is not expected to last long, and, at best it will open the inlet temporarily, until Mother Nature decides to shoal it again.

Stinky Item  #2 - Flash back two weeks, when Senator Cook, after consulting with the commissioners, emailed a copy of his bill to Chairman Woodard on a Thursday night, three days before the board was to hold its bimonthly meeting. Woodard told EyeonDare the next day, that he immediately forwarded a copy of the bill to all members of his board. He further stated that he had no prior knowledge that the bill would contain language proposing the use of occupancy taxes to fund inlet dredging, until he got the email. This was when commissioner Warren Judge jumped into action and emailed his long list of special business interests and rallied them to the Monday meeting. Later, Commissioner Wally Overman, in the board meeting,  would say, "We were blindsided" by the bill.

And, when Woodard was asked again today, (April 1st) if he had discussed the occupancy tax bill with Cook prior to receiving the printed version, he said "No, I did not talk with Cook about it".  And, here is where it begins to smell. Seconds later, EyeonDare asked how any Senator would write a local bill without talking with local government officials, to which Woodard replied.  "Well, I talked with Cook's legislative aide (Jordan Hennessy)".  To put it bluntly, Woodard had tried to side step the original question. Finally, in an email, written by Cook to a Dare County constituent, he acknowledges the obvious, as he writes, "I had spoken with several of the county commissioners on this policy decision".

In short, the problem with Stinky Item #2, wasn't Senator Cook's handling of the matter. It was the Dare commissioners' caving in to the special business interest, and kicking the Senate bill back at Cook while acting like they didn't know what was going on.

Dare taxpayers deserve better.





Plumbers Unite !

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Isn't it time every plumber and plumbing company on the Outer Banks got together and formed their own special interest group? Are they less important than our REALTORS, restaurant owners, motel owners, wedding photographers, fishermen, etc.?  Of course not.

To be recognized as  a special business and gain the attention of their county commissioners and get financial backing, they should form a strong Outer Banks Plumbers Association. Next, they should pay a few hundred dollars for a study that will surely show that without them, the entire OBX economy would go down the drain. Or, even worse it won't go down the drain. The recent study that came out from the Oregon Inlet Task Force put a $500 million tag on the importance of  the inlet to the county.  Arguably, a study on behalf of our area plumbers can top that figure.

No doubt, our local plumbers have suffered greatly since the bottom fell out of the real estate boom on the Outer Banks.  Shouldn't the county help them get back on their feet too?  Plumbers unite!

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Outer Banks Visitors Bureau - A Fat Cat?

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Is it too much to expect to ask the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau to stick to its mission of promoting tourism in Dare County and not indulge itself in local politics? This month, the bureau mailed a letter, under the signature of its director,Lee Nettles, asking business interests on the Outer Banks to lobby the Dare commissioners and ask them to adopt additional county sales taxes, instead of using occupancy taxes to help fund dredging for the shoaling problems in the Oregon Inlet channel. Not only does this kind of political shenanigans fly in the face of the taxpayers who fund this organization, it is, at best, not proper, if not illegal for a publicly funded organization.  The letter was co-signed by Tim Cafferty on behalf of the Outer Banks Association of REALTORS. Cafferty is also the 2015 visitors bureau's steering committee chairman.
It is unfortunate that the bureau, with its deep pockets, would lean so hard on our local governments and the local business community.  Almost entirely funded through the proceeds of a 1% county occupancy tax and a 1% food/beverage tax, its annual general and restricted fund budgets exceeds that of at least four of the county’s six municipalities. 

Inside the budget: (fiscal year ending 6/30/14)
  • $3.9 million revenue from occupancy taxes
  • $2.1 million revenue from food/beverage taxes
  • $1.2 million in salaries and related benefits
  • $2.6 million budgeted this year for Internet and printed advertising and related expenses
  • $12.5 million general fund/restricted fund budget for current year, backed by taxes, advertising revenues and designated fund balances.
  • Current pledges of $5.4 million to long term local projects, of which $3.7 million is pledged to the Nags Head Event Site.
  • Current pledges of $1.7 million to various short term local projects
The bureau's four visitor centers attracted 116,757 people at the following locations last year.
  1.  Aycock Brown Center  -  63,466
  2.  Roanoke Island Center-  32,640
  3.  Whalebone Center – 15,593
  4.  Hatteras Center – 5,058
VIEWPOINT:

While local municipalities on the Outer Banks struggle to balance their budgets every year without raising taxes, the visitors bureau simply zips through its annual budget and spreads money around like a fairy sprinkles pixie dust. It is, without a doubt, one of the most financially well heeled organizations in the county.  In fact, many locals are beginning to call the bureau a “fat cat” that needs to be put on a diet. They say the organization is grossly over funded.

The visitors bureau's board of directors is made up of one member each, from the board of REALTORS, Restaurant Association, Hotel/Motel Association, Chamber of Commerce, and one at-large community member from Hatteras Island, one county commissioner, and one council member from each town, the latter of which often seem to serve with indifference to what happens within the bureau.

Three questions come to mind regarding the bureau.

(1)  Is $2,600,000 per year too much to spend on Internet and printed advertising at a time when almost 100% of our local businesses now have their own websites, most of which also tout the amenities of the Outer Banks. In addition, there is a growing number of local advertising agencies on the Outer Banks that publish more pamphlets and brochures than most visitors can handle. Throw in all the rental company brochures, which are mailed all over the country and placed throughout the county, and it seems that the Outer Banks is advertised to the hilt. Can this $2.6 million be cut without hurting visitation? To many, the answer would be "Yes!".

(2) The bureau spends about $400,000 per year in part-time salaries, cleaning and seasonal maintenance on its four visitor centers, yet, combined, the centers attracted only 116,757 walk-ins all of last year. Was this because they already knew most of what they needed to know about the Outer Banks when they arrived? Or, was it because the two largest centers appear to be hid away in their locations where the traveling public can barely notice they are there. Most likely, it is because people, with their home computers, have already educated themselves about the Outer Banks before they get here.

(3) Should the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau be funded with so many tax dollars that they have to give large amounts of it away, in the form of grants, that arguably have nothing to do with their primary purpose, which is to draw visitors to the area? Would the excess tax revenues now flowing into the bureau's bank accounts be better spent by our local governments to help offset the demand for extra services due to our high summer population?  Again, many people in the county are starting to say, "Yes".

So, isn't it time to cut the budget of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau?

STRONG POINT:

Senate Bill 160 was filed in the legislature on March 18th, with a provision that would have given the Dare County commissioners complete control over all of the 6% occupancy taxes that are currently being collected in the county. With strong opposition from the special interests business groups and backed by the chamber of commerce and the visitors bureau, the commissioners caved to the pressure and asked Senator Bill Cook to remove that provision from the bill.

EyeonDare encourages Senator Cook not to remove the provision, but to leave it intact. By doing this he would reserve the right of the county board to move parts of the occupancy tax revenues around, as needed. And, certainly, an intelligent move would be to remove a large portion of that tax from the budget of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau and put it where it is more needed.
 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Oregon Inlet Closed Due to Shoaling

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(Oregon Inlet - file photo)

U.S. Coast Guard, Oregon Inlet has announced today that the inlet has been closed due to shoaling. They say it is passable only to boats drawing 2 feet or less of water. Notifications to mariners are currently being broadcast on VHS channels 22 & 16. Official USCG notification will soon be on the main USCG website.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

No "Work" at Budget Workshop

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There was very little work done on the "real county budget" during the commissioners' announced Budget Workshop tonight (Thursday 5:00/7:00 pm).

In less than a few minutes, county manager Bobby Outten told the commissioners that "we have the next year's budget covered", "just trust us".  The remaining of the two hour meeting was dedicated to the commissioners, with the help of Outten, laying the groundwork for how they will tell the public tomorrow that they can't cut the budget, but want to raise county sales taxes to help fund the dredging of Oregon Inlet.

The standing room crowd, consisting of department heads and special business interests from around the county, had to sit in a small conference room, because the commissioners refused to utilize their $2+ million board room. So the crowd breathed stale air for two hours, while, Commissioner Allen Burrus, who rarely attends any meetings these days, told jokes and the rest of the board yelled "No!" and"Hell No!" to any proposed cuts they could make in spending in order to raise the $3.7 million they committed to the inlet at the last meeting.

So, Dare taxpayers, if the board of commissioners gets their way, they will soon be digging into your pockets, pulling out pennies/dollars, because they don't have the intestinal fortitude to look for and/or cut waste from the county budget.  And, the beat goes on in Dare County.

Who Will We Blame?

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Whose hide will be nailed to the wall if the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge crashes into Oregon Inlet and kills someone. Given what everyone knows about the condition of the bridge, will we blame the county commissioners, the governor, the state legislature, Congress, the environmentalists? It doesn't matter, a terrible tragedy will have occurred and people will die.


Shortly before 6:40 am on Sunday morning (March 22nd) two fishing boats slammed into the side of the bridge as they attempted to go under the bridge 16 spans south of the designated channel which has been shoaled up for months. At 6:40 am, an email went out from another fisherman which read "Just wanted to let you know that 2 boats hit the bridge this morning and did massive damage to their boats! Please help us with expediting the dredging!"

The fisherman received a reply at 8:32 am from Dare commissioner chairman, Bob Woodard.
"I am so sorry to hear this. I hope and pray everyone is safe and the boats got back to port safely. Conversations are taking place with the corps and user groups now to address when to attempt the dredging. Stay safe"

However, it was after 8:00 pm that evening before the U.S. Coast Guard heard about the incidents and was able to get a NCDOT inspector out to the bridge to survey any possible damage. Personnel at the USCG station, Oregon Inlet, said "we heard about it through hearsay". How could this happen?

One member of the Oregon Inlet Task Force told EyeonDare that boats hitting the bridge is not uncommon, given the severe shoaling of the main channel, and boat captains often avoid reporting incidents because they don't want to get caught up in government red tape. This is a serious matter. It only worsens a bad situation and puts innocent people's lives at risk.

The Herbert C. Bonner bridge is a state treasure. It should not meet its demise from a horrific accident that will surely become a national disgrace for the State of North Carolina. Everyone, from the governor to the dock master knows that a tragedy could occur at any hour of any day.

The people of Dare County should not be forced to scrap up pennies in sales taxes in an attempt to fix the inlet or replace the bridge. If the federal government will not remedy this situation, the North Carolina legislature may well have blood on its hands one day, for its failure to come to the relief of the people of this state who travel over that bridge every day. Oregon Inlet must be maintained and the people of Dare County cannot do it by themselves.

(Information source:  Dare County emails, USCG station Oregon Inlet, OITF members).


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Will Dare Commissioners Eat Crow?

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The Dare County Commissioners are headed to Raleigh tomorrow, March 25th to lobby the legislature for the purpose of two matters that will affect the pocketbooks of every citizen in the county. They may have other business, but these two are extremely important.

(1) They hope to convince as many legislators as they can not to support Senator Harry Brown's (R) bill which would change the way sales tax is distributed among counties in NC. If the bill passes, which is likely, Dare County would lose as much as $10 million per year in revenues for its General Fund Budget.  This amounts to about 10% of the total budget.

(2) They also hope to convince  legislators to allow them to increase our local sales tax by another 1/2 cent in order to raise money to be dedicated to dredging Oregon Inlet.

As important as the inlet is to our fishermen, the timing for this taxation is poor, and in fact, not equitable for the average working man in the county. Senator Bill Cook offered to submit a bill to the legislature which would have had almost 100% chance of passing, to let the county use some of the occupancy tax to help Oregon Inlet, but the special business interest rebelled and the commissioners caved in to their wishes.  Now, the commissioners want to take the money from the average working family instead of using funds collected from vacation rentals (occupancy tax).  This is wrong.

By 5:00 pm., tomorrow, March 25th, the Dare Commissioners will be eating fresh seafood on the grounds of the state legislature, supplied by local fishermen and cooked by county employees.
When they return back home to Dare County, they may be forced to eat crow, because they have a lot of people in this county upset.

Here is one letter to the commissioners.
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March 24, 2015
Dare Commissioners,

How on earth can you justify going to the state legislature tomorrow and asking for help to raise the local sales tax in Dare County in order to use the
money for a cause that will not benefit everyone in the county equally, when, at the same time you are staring down the barrel of legislation that will
take $10 million per year out of the pocketbooks of everyone in Dare County?

To attempt such action without a voter referendum, which you know would not pass, flies in the face of every one of your constituents in the same manner as the  earlier 1% sand tax that the voters repealed. 

Enjoy your fish tomorrow, because, as Overman said...you will probably be eating a lot of crow before this year is over.

Ray Midgett