Eye on Dare

"Blogging the Bog of Outer Banks Politics"

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Endless County Snafu

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Snafu #4 raises the question: "WHO'S TENDING SHOP FOR THE DARE COUNTY TAXPAYERS"

It doesn't matter who's to blame. Well, perhaps it does. Dare County has the highest paid county manager in the State of North Carolina, who also happens to be an attorney. It has a new, GOP controlled board, backed with high hopes by the county electorate. And, it has a state senator who is working his butt off trying to help the county get funding for dredging Oregon Inlet.

And, in spite of all of the above, one snafu after another continues to pop up from this entire group.

Snafu #4 is currently sitting in the State House of Representatives in Raleigh under the guise of Senate Bill 160, which, among other things, authorizes the county to use $3 million per year of occupancy tax collections to help keep the inlet dredged.  The problem/snafu is that the bill, already passed by the Senate, authorizes the county to "use (the) proceeds collected on or after July 1, 2016".

In other words, as the bill is now written, it would be the end of 2016 before Dare County could touch any of the intended funds. The wording in the bill should have read 2015, not 2016, said Jordan Hennessy, the legislative aide for Senator Bill Cook. However, Hennessy said the problem should be worked out (corrected) before the House of Representatives votes on it...or it will be taken care of in the final version of the state budget bill.

Either way, the question has to be asked, "Who the heck is minding the shop these days?"  This is dredging matter -snafu #4, folks ! Do the county commissioners read their mail? Does the county manager read his mail?  Do we have a county attorney looking out for anyone?

Snafu #1 -   Senator Cook submits the original S160 bill and attempts to give the commissioners full authority over all occupancy tax proceeds. The business community erupts and forces the commissioners' hands, and they ask Cook to pull the bill.

Snafu #2 -  Commissioner Judge convinces the board to ask Cook to get legislative approval for using the old "sand(sales)tax" proceeds to do the dredging. Cook complies and that idea is determined to be an illegal use of the funds.

Snafu #3 - The board of commissioners (excluding Commissioner Boswell) votes to ask Cook to get an additional county sales tax imposed to help raise the money. That idea doesn't fly with the GOP controlled legislature. Foiled again.

Snafu#4 - Currently, the board of commissioners is about to vote on a new budget that contains a provision to use $1 million this year and $3 million in occupancy tax funds in the next five years for dredging, when they don't have a legal standing to do anything.

Finally, the saddest part of all this is that since January, the Oregon Inlet dredging matter has virtually consumed the entire county board, with very little comparative time given to other county matters, such as studying the budget and/or finding a way to improve its dwindling bank account. And now, up pops the problem of how to find funding for the upcoming state mandate to raise teacher salaries in the coming year.

One sources tells EOD that board chairman Bob Woodard is working behind the scenes with the board of education and "hopes to cut a deal".  Perhaps, someone should tell Woodard that the county doesn't need any "deals" or "snafu's".  It just needs good government.

And, if things don't begin to change soon, it could be another 100 years before Dare County gets another Grand Old Party (GOP) controlled board of commissioners.  So, how long will the public stand for their local government being run by endless "snafu's" and over paid county servants?  A good guess is, "not long".

Dare County Board of Commissioners

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Dare County is governed by a seven-member Board of Commissioners who conduct public meetings on a regularly scheduled basis. Citizen participation at Board of Commissioner meetings is encouraged. Meetings are generally held on the first Monday of the month at 9:00 AM and the third Monday of each month at 5:00 PM. Meetings are held in the Board of Commissioners meeting room in the Dare County Administrative Building, 954 Marshall C. Collins Drive in Manteo. For more information about the Dare County Board of Commissioners visit http://www.darenc.com/BOC/

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Dare County - A Financial Crisis?

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”We’re sort of at the end of the rope” ...Dare County Manager, Bobby Outten
 

Commissioners Wally Overman
and Bob Woodard discuss budget
The Dare commissioners showed stubbornness and a lack of interest in solving  the county’s growing financial problems this week when they listened  to the county manager’s 2016 budget presentation and offered very little feedback.  Instead they proceeded to set a public hearing on the budget for the next meeting on June 1st, when they should have planned another workshop and try to iron out some of the serious problems facing the county’s bank accounts, which are getting seriously low.
During their May 13th budget workshop, school superintendent  Sue Burgess  told the board they could expect an unfunded state mandate in the coming months  to provide funds of approximately $600,000 for locally paid teachers due to a state plan to increase minimum teacher pay. However, Burgess’s remarks fell on deaf ears, with no response coming back from the board. And there was no suggestion by anyone to include or find funds in the current budget for that increase.

In addition, the board is showing no significant plans for the coming fiscal year to help solve the county's growing employee medical insurance fund deficit, currently at a minus $4+ million, or the decreasing “unassigned” general fund balance, which now stands at 4-5% lower than the recommended rate of 19-20% of each year’s operating expenses.  In short, the county is in danger of running out of money. Next year, the only solution will probably be to raise property taxes again.

Unfortunately, the county board appears to have been dedicating the majority of its time and brain power  in the past few months, in an attempt to find funding for dredging Oregon Inlet,  while knowing there isn't enough available money to get that job done. Suggestions such as mortgaging the county jail and another county building, raising the sales tax rate, and opening up the occupancy tax coffers have all stalled, while the normal budget problems are being kicked down the road.


"We're sort of at the end of our rope", said Outten,
For example, at the close of the March 13 budget meeting, Outten laid the matter out and told the board….”we’re sort of at the end of the rope”.  He told the board that it could not continue to let the medical insurance and general  fund balances go unrepaired,  and that going forward if the county encounters another crisis, even such as another undeclared storm disaster or a major hit on the medical insurance fund, the board will “have to find a funding source other than taking from those fund balances”.   “We can’t keep postponing those fixes,” said Outten.  He closed his comments by saying the board had “exasperated’” potential problems by not getting the fund balances up to acceptable levels.  When Outten was finished, not a single commissioner offer any public  comment.
So,  Outten’s 2016 budget proposal, which the board appears ready to rubber stamp, is likely to go forward and include major items such as,  (1) COLA raises of $1,000 per year, plus related costs, for each of the county’s  726 employees, (2) Oregon Inlet dredging costs of $3 million, with $1.2 million of that amount further depleting the general fund,  $750,000 from the sale of the county helicopter, and $1 million from the occupancy tax fund. 

Meanwhile, along with the school’s  $600,000 funding mandate which  has not been addressed, another “crisis” may be looming on the horizon. The House version of the state’s budget, which was passed this week also includes a 2% increase pay raise for all state employees.  If approved by the Senate, that action will greatly affect the county budget because approximately 26% of the school’s teachers are locally funded.

It's time our Dare commissioners  proved they can tackle more than one problem at a time. And they have until June 30th to show us they can.  Fiscal year 2016 begins on July 1st.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Spotlight on Former Dare County Political Figures

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(Carolina Journal photo)
A May 4th news story, written by Carolina Journal Online  (CJ) investigative journalist Don Carrington has cast two former Dare County political figures into the limelight for their connection to what the CJ describes as "clouds" hanging over their title to a sand island located two miles west of the Oregon Inlet bridge.

According to the article, entitled "Island Awash in Title Questions, Irregularities", (quote).. two men who built the houses — former Dare County Commissioner Michael Johnson and politically active Manteo businessman R.V. Owens III, a former member of the UNC Board of Governors and nephew of longtime Democratic Senate leader Marc Basnight — acquired the island from a convicted felon and registered sex offender who had acquired the island from Boykin’s ex-wife.." (unquote)

The CJ article can be read here.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Commissioners Turn Deaf Ear To School Board.

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County manager Bobby Outten and finance officers David Clawson and
Sally Defosse are seen here presenting their proposed 2016 budget to the
full board of commissioners during last weeks workshop. Few questions
were asked by the board, and the same budget was then formally presented
by Outten during Monday's meeting, while the board again sat, mostly silent.
Commissioner Jack Shea was absent, due to illness, as other board
members heard Outten say his budget will again dip into an already
heavily depleted general fund balance to help balance the new
$100,704,649 budget, which is up $1,166,350 over the current year
budget.

The Dare board of commissioners have turned a deaf ear to a $514,000 request from the board of education to help fund what is surely to become a state mandate to raise the starting pay for beginning teachers in North Carolina. Currently, about 26% of Dare County's teachers are locally funded, so any pay increases mandated by the state legislature greatly affects the schools and county government budgets.

In a letter to the entire county board, dated May 15th, school board chairman Ben Sproul said that the current proposed county budget presents a dilemma for the schools because it does not include an estimated $514,626 that will be needed if the state increases teacher's starting pay another $2,000 per year. The GOP controlled legislature pledged to increase beginning pay for teachers to $35,000 over a two year period, having upped it from $31,000 to $33,000 last year. The consensus among most leaders in the general assembly is that the additional $2,000 increase will be included in the final state budget.  Sproul says the local school system cannot absorb such a large increase without additional funding from the county.

Yesterday (May 18th), Sproul, along with school superintendent Sue Burgess, the schools finance officer and other board members sat in the commissioners meeting while the proposed 2016 county budget was presented to the commissioners by county manager Bobby Outten. Prior to the presentation, Sproul spoke in public comment and restated his plea. However, his comments seemed to fall on deaf ears.

Towards the end of the meeting, commissioner Beverly Boswell spoke and attempted to get the full board to recognize and discuss Sproul's request. However, not a single member of the board would respond. Instead, Outten stood and explained that he had been given no direction by the board to include such funding in his proposed budget, and further stated it was not known, for sure, if the state would take such action.

However, the House version of the state budget, which was presented in Raleigh yesterday, not only contained the $2,000 pay increase, but also proposed a 2% pay raise for state employees.

No doubt, both of the above would greatly affect local county budgets and it would be irresponsible for the county commissioners to not openingly discuss what Sproul correctly describes as a real "dilemma". Furthermore, the commissioners have been under a lot of public criticism lately for what many citizens believe has been important county business discussed outside of meeting agendas, as well as important matters discussed at scheduled meetings without having first been placed on the agenda. Dare citizens deserve better.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Burrus Battles Fishing Interests

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It was one of the most divisive public  meetings to occur in Dare County in quite a while.  On Wednesday night 19 residents, mostly from the local fishing industry, and three county commissioners met to discuss the possibility of combining two inlet/waterway related advisory groups into a single board or commission.  Unfortunately, most attendees left that meeting, seemingly, very unhappy with what was or was not accomplished.
 
At issue was a directive from county board chairman, Bob Woodard, instructing commissioners Beverly Boswell, Allen Burrus and Warren Judge to meet with members of the Oregon Inlet & Waterways Commission (OIWC) and the Oregon Inlet Task Force (OITF) and find a way to combine the two groups into a single advisory committee that would be reportable to the full county board. The reason: the old OIWC, formed in 1983 had become relatively inactive over the past few years, as a newer, OITF, had emerged and began making significant  progress with regards to solving, in part,  some of the age old problem of constant shoaling in Oregon Inlet.


Commissioner Allen Burrus
The groups were also instructed to make recommendations as to a new mission statement, committee membership and a name for the new committee or commission.
However, tension had built among various members of the two groups over the past few months as the OITF  began to push closer to a long time  goal of getting funding, and an agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE), to provide year round dredging for the beleaguered Oregon Inlet. Comprised mostly of fishermen and fishing industry personnel from north of the inlet, the OITF was recently given a promise from the county commissioners of $3.7 million per year as a 50% match for an estimated $7 million per year project with the ACE.
But problems began to rise when the commissioners made the commitment without having a definite funding source for the money and when fishing interests from Hatteras Island quickly emerged to remind the commissioners that Hatteras Inlet also has serious shoaling problems.
During a March board meeting, the Hatteras fishermen made it very clear they also wished to be included in any new legislation, funding and representation in fishing related matters, and that Hatteras Inlet be included with any future plans. The request appeared to be acceptable by the commissioners and all fishing interests.
Commissioner Beverly Boswell
So, the last two months have focused on attempts by the commissioners to find an acceptable funding source that would be acceptable to the special business interests on the beach, the general public and the state legislature. To date, nothing is definite, but it appears they will have to dip into the occupancy/beach nourishment funds.

However, sparks flew during Wednesday’s special meeting when only Burrus and Beth Midgett of Hatteras Island were present. The fishing boat captains from Hatteras who had spoken at an earlier meeting were no where to be seen and it was up to Burrus to do the talking. In the length of two hours, Burrus managed to disagree with and upset nearly everyone who spoke at the meeting.  It was not pretty.

Commissioner Warren Judge
Meanwhile, Judge sat mostly quiet, waiting until the end of the meeting when he expressed support for combining the two groups. Boswell indicated that she supported the idea presented by all of the OITF members present, that the two groups be keep in tact, with the Hatteras Island fishermen forming a Hatteras Island Task Force (HITF) group and begin working on problems there.

Mikey Daniels, Dewy Hemiright and others stressed to Burrus that OITF fishermen knew very  little about Hatteras inlet dynamics and its associated problems, but would work with a new HITF to get them going, in any way they could. Burrus would have no part of that idea, and the meeting continued in conflict for nearly two hours.
Currently, the regular, separate meetings of the OIWC and the OITF are scheduled for May 19th at 9:30 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. pending further notification.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Hotel/Motel Sand Fencing Violates CAMA Rules

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Sand fencing behind the Hilton Garden
Inn, Kitty Hawk, NC
The owners of two oceanfront hotels on the Outer Banks have been told that sand fencing placed behind their businesses does not conform to current CAMA regulations. A fencing project that was underway behind the Mariner Motel in Kill Devil Hills was temporarily shut down on Tuesday by town officials, and today, the owner of the Hilton Garden Inn Hotel in Kitty Hawk was told that its fencing must be removed and replaced properly.
Coastal Area Management Agency (CAMA) guidelines are strict, as to the placement of sand fencing along the ocean beaches and the oversight of those rules is aided by local CAMA designated officials in each beach town's planning and inspection department.

A Kill Devil Hills official visited a construction site behind the Mariner Motel yesterday and found that a portion of fencing was being run parallel to the oceanfront, instead of being placed in the required 10 foot sections, at 45 degree angles, with openings between each section.  That project was shut down for several hours, upon the condition that the owner  apply for a minor CAMA permit or change the scope of the project and obtain a “letter of approval" from the local CAMA office.  Kill Devil Hills official, Meredith Gun, said that until the project was stopped, the owner had not applied for any permits from CAMA to do the job. 
Sand fence project behind Mariner Motel, Kill Devil Hills..
photo source: webcam
http://visitob.com/webcams/sea-ranch-kill-devil-hills/
The owner/operator of the Mariner Motel is current county commissioner Warren Judge, who has been very active in promoting beach nourishment and the placement of sand fencing measures along the beaches for the past ten or more years.   Gun told EyeonDare  this morning that a “letter of approval” has now been issued and the project work will be altered to conform to regulation.
Also, today, Kitty Hawk CAMA officer, Ben Alexander, visited the site of nearly 300 feet of parallel sand fencing recently placed behind the Hilton Garden Inn and told the owner, Sterling Webster, Jr., that the fence would have to be removed.  “It did not meet  CAMA regulations”, said Alexander.  As with the Mariner Motel, Alexander said the fencing would have to be placed at the toe of the dune in 10 foot sections, at 45 degree angles, with openings.  Alexander said he was assured the violation would be corrected by the owner as quickly as possible.

The use of sand fencing has become more prolific in recent years along area beaches due to increased beach erosion.  In many cases, property owners will wait until spring to repair or replace fencing because winter storms will often destroy it as fast as it is erected.
The Dare County Shoreline Commission, which, oddly in this case, is chaired by Commissioner Warren Judge, allocates several hundred thousand dollars each year to the county’s beach towns to be used to place sand fencing behind oceanfront properties.  Property owners can apply to each town for a portion of funding assistance.  Both CAMA officials told EyeonDare that the fencing  behind the two motels was likely paid for,  in entirety,  by the business owners.

Former Mayor Critical of Town Nourishment Project

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Former Kitty Hawk mayor Bill Harris is a retired national
park service superintendent, having also served for a number
of years as head of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
"This is not a one and done program", says Harris.
(photo source: Outer Banks Voice)
Former Kitty Hawk mayor Bill Harris has gone on record by writing that, in its current form, the town’s scheduled   $23 million beach nourishment project has “virtually little or no chance of achieving its stated goals”  Harris further wrote that the manner in which the project was voted on and put upon the town’s citizens was a “sham”.

In an email, written yesterday to current mayor Gary Perry and copied to the town council and other community leaders, Harris said,..."if you were sincerely honest and truly wanted to hear from the Kitty Hawk citizens and registered voters you would have put this issue to a referendum". Harris ends by saying, "I for one do not wish to be taxed forever for a project that sounds good, feels good for those living on the beach, but where there is no record of accomplishment on a beach with the characteristics of Kitty Hawk."

Harris added…”the Kitty Hawk beach is too narrow, too steep and too close to deep water to accommodate the project envisioned”  by the town.  Furthermore, said Harris, “without modification of your project design… the 6-foot berm as shown on your plan will only reach the toe of the frontal dunes,(and) there is not a dune structure projected to be constructed above the new dune level, and the gaps in the existing dunes are not scheduled to be closed.  It appears that the over wash and storm surge flooding that currently exist will continue to exist in the future without modification of your project design…(and) the residents  between the highways will continue to be inundated and surrounded by flood waters and water polluted by failed septic tanks”.

"You need to go back and restudy the options!" said Harris.

The email can be read in its entirety here,

Footnote: To help fund the project, the Kitty Hawk Town Council has finalized a tax base assessment of 16 cents per $100 of assessed value of property in Municipal Service District “A”, and 4 cents per $100 in Municipal Service District “B” for beach nourishment. (click here to view the MSD)

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Burrus Owes Public Apology

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Actions displayed by Dare Commissioner Allen Burrus
 during the May 4th board meeting can only make it difficult
 for citizens to speak freely before the board. He should apologize
 to the public immediately. (click here to view incident)
 
Actions displayed by Commissioner Burrus during the May 4th board meeting can only make it difficult for citizens to speak freely before the board. He should apologize to the public immediately. (click on photo to view incident)