Eye on Dare

"Blogging the Bog of Outer Banks Politics"

Thursday, March 26, 2015

No "Work" at Budget Workshop


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?

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?


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.
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

Monday, March 23, 2015

Dare Democrats Call Hurried Meeting

In what appears to be a hastily called meeting, a notice has suddenly appeared on the Face Book social media page, posted within the past few hours by the Dare County Democratic Party, calling for a meeting tonight of all party faithful to discuss political matters in the county. A copy of the notification is shown below. The meeting will be held in the Nags Head Town Hall at 7 pm.

Dare Democratic Party Meeting Notice
which shows photo of former
NC Governor Terry Sanford

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Boswell, A People's Commissioner - Do We Have More? - UPDATED


UPDATED - MARCH 22, 2015

To include responses from Commissioners Bob Woodard & Margaret Umphlett
Boswell,  A People's Commissioner - Do We Have More?
After learning that the Dare board of commissioners will meet next week and very likely vote to seek state authorization to increase the county's sales tax by 1/2 cent,  EyeonDare wrote each member of
the GOP voting majority.

Email....(quote) Commissioners Woodard, Umphlett, Shea, Boswell, Overman,
It appears that your board is now strongly considering raising Dare County's local option sales tax by 1/2 cent, per your call for a Special Meeting next week. It is my understanding the local GOP campaigned on "no new taxes". Would each of you tell me why you have changed your position this matter. (end quote)
Thank You,
Ray Midgett (for)
To date, only Commissioner Beverly Boswell has responded. She wrote:

"Dear Mr. Midgett, (EyeonDare)
 Thank you for the inquiry.  I am happy that Dare County's citizens are paying attention to their local government.  As you may know, I was very displeased with the BOC's decision to NOT support Senator Cook's proposed Senate Bill 160.  This was a perfect solution to a 40 year problem.

Beverly Boswell
The citizens of Dare did not get to hear the proposed bill.  The citizens got to hear complaints from the vocal minorities who monopolized the meeting.  The citizens didn't get to hear the fact that the Proposed bill was NOT designed to take away money from the beach nourishment projects.  The proposed bill was designed so the BOC could allocate funds to emergency situations such as our inlet situation.  
I am on the Oregon Inlet Task Force (OITF).  Dare County has some very smart and capable people on the OITF.  They have worked hard and are dedicated to doing the best that they can, not only for the fishermen, but for NC.   I want to not only open the inlets (Hatteras and Oregon), but I want to keep them open.  
I am NOT in favor of a sales tax...even for the inlets...it breaks my heart that this is the option that the BOC has chosen.  I do not support taxing people that are already having financial difficulties.  Have you ever had to count every penny?  I have.  This tax may be a small increase to most, but it will impact others greatly.
The "sand tax" failed miserably in the not so distant past.  Citizens were very angry.  Hence...the Occupancy Tax. The past BOC said the Occupancy Tax would pay for the BN projects.  This would do away with a future tax increase.  This was a play on words....no, DC did not raise taxes for beach nourishment.....the towns did....in other words, taxes were in fact increased to help fund beach nourishment.  We The People were misled.
I have no agenda Mr. Midgett.  I have no beachfront property to rent.    I do not own a beachfront business.  I do not own a charter boat either.  I am making the best decisions that I can for EVERY CITIZEN in Dare County.
Your Faithful Servant
Beverly (Boswell)
Commissioner Margarette Umphlett wrote:
" I think it is the desire of each and every commissioner to keep the tax burden as low as possible for all of our people.  I also think it is premature for me to take a positive stand until I have all of the information on all of  the NEEDS of the county, including  the issues we have with Hatteras Inlet and Oregon Inlet. To me it is foolish to say no new taxes under any circumstances. Just think of the many things that could necessitate a change in our tax structure, such as the reassignment of the amount of funds the county receives from state sales tax"
Commissioner Bob Woodard wrote:
 "I'm out of town.... I'll be glad to speak to your concern when I return home. I've always answered all my emails in a timely manner."

Friday, March 20, 2015

Is the Honeymoon Over?


While it's a given that the Democratic minority on the Dare County Board of Commissioners has never seen a tax hike they didn't like, it also appears that taxes may cause the honeymoon for the newly elected Republican majority to come to  an end sooner than expected.  How is this?

The county board has scheduled a Special Meeting on Friday, March 27th at 9:00 a.m. to consider and pass a resolution asking the General Assembly to allow them to raise Dare County's sales taxes by 1/2 cent, with the proceeds to be used to help offset some of the cost of dredging Oregon Inlet.

Democratic board members, Warren Judge and Allen Burrus first broached the idea during the March 2nd board meeting when they were trying to fend off local watermen who appeared and wanted a state bill presented that would give them a slice of the county's unassigned occupancy taxes.

However, Judge would have no part of that idea, and he was successful in convincing the GOP majority that the county should not touch the occupancy tax, but consider assessing a 1/4 cents additional sales tax, without voter approval.  However, Commissioner Beverly Boswell supported the watermen's proposal and said "No way", while the rest of the board fell, hook-line-and sinker for Judge's idea.

Later, with another by motion by Judge, the board voted 7-0 to add a new line item in the county budget for $3.7 million, to be used for inlet dredging, without offsetting it with any kind of revenue source. It now appears that source, depending on what action is taken next Friday, could be the 1/2 cents sales tax (instead of 1/4 cents), which would bring in about $7.4 million per year.

At the same time the county is considering the above, in order to raise $7+ million per year for Oregon Inlet dredging, it is also highly concerned about another bill that has just been filed in the legislature that would change the method of sales tax distribution among counties. If passed, the effect of that legislation would be a $10+ million loss for the county's budget, and spell disaster that would surely result in another tax increase, probably in the form of increase property taxes.

All new members of the GOP controlled board of commissioners campaigned last year on the theme of "no new taxes", in the county, and the established members, Bob Woodard and Jack Shea had also sang the same song during the past few years.

It will be interesting to see how all this plays out with the general public and with the special interest business groups in the county.  Stay tuned.  http://www.eyeondare.blogspot.com/2015/03/dare-commissioners-to-seek-sales-tax.html

Dare Commissioners to Seek Sales Tax Increase


Town of Kitty Hawk Digs Deeper Hole


The Town of Kitty Hawk and Mayor Gary Perry, in particular, continues to dig itself deeper into a hole with their refusal to take quick action to clean up a serious safety hazard and eyesore on their beach. The debris, located at the base of their newest beach crossover/access, has been exposed for over three weeks.  (see photos below).

When contacted by EyeonDare two weeks ago, both the town public works director and town manager said they had been instructed by the mayor to leave the debris alone, in hopes that the ocean would push sand over it before the tourist season begins.  Meanwhile, the town nailed a couple of 2x4's across the bottom step of the access in hope of keeping people off the debris, and after more complaints, put two more 2x4's at the top of the stairway. The only other action taken by the town was to go onto the adjoining beach front lot (privately owned) and saw off the top of some pilings that had become exposed. The head-high pilings were clearly less of a public hazard than the debris which the town opted to ignore.

The town manager also told EyeonDare that Kitty Hawk was a "small town" and it "could not afford" to pay a contractor to clean up the debris.

However, following more complaints, at the March 16th town council meeting, Perry changed his tune and stated that the town would look into cleaning up the mess in late April when it does its spring beach cleanup. Perry also said he had asked public works to give him a cost estimate on getting a contractor to clean up the concrete debris, which consists of large amounts of rusty rebar, heavy wiring, a bathtub, sink, pipes, etc.

Perry said the cost would be $2,000 to get an excavator onto the beach and $3,000 a day to operate it.
There is no doubt, the debris could be cleaned up in less than a day by anyone who knows how to operate an excavator.

So, in effect, the Town of Kitty Hawk (1) thinks that $5,000 is so much money that they cannot afford to pay it and instead hopes the ocean will save them the money,  and (2) has no idea that the loss of public trust and the poor image offered our visitors isn't worth $5,000 either.

What is the town waiting for?  No one is talking about picking up beer cans, bottle tops, plastic bags and paper off the beach. Some things call for immediate action, especially when public safety is involved.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Tillett Resigns As County Lobbyist


The lobbyist registration section of the Secretary of State's Office confirmed to EyeonDare this morning that former Dare County resident, Johnny Tillett, has resigned from representing the county as a lobbyist in the state legislature.  Tillett's registration came under fire immediately after the Dare Commissioners' March 2nd meeting which left everyone, including several commissioners with the understanding that the board was only hiring Frank Kaplan of Raleigh, NC as their single lobbyist, at a cost of $5,000 per month. However, the next day, Tillett's name, along with Kaplan was registered on behalf of Dare County. Tillett is the son of former Dare County commissioner, Virginia Tillett (D)

Following an outcry from some board members and members of the general public, commissioner chairman, Bob Woodard, said he would not sign the contract until Tillett's name was removed.

Tillett's resignation was effective March 9th.  Eyeondare is now seeking a copy of the county/lobbyist contract, which commits the county to a minimum expense of $25,000 through the month of July.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Could More Sales Tax Help Oregon Inlet?


Wanchese resident Micah Daniels urged the board to accept
Senator Cook's proposal, as a way to help struggling
watermen on the Outer Banks whose livelihood depends on
 keeping Oregon Inlet open and navigable year round.Jordan
 Hennessy, aide to Senator Bill Cook is sitting on front row.
Dare residents could soon have additional sales taxes added to their retail purchases if some county commissioners get their way. The staunchest proponent of this, not so novel idea, is former board chairman Warren Judge who sees an additional ¼ cents sales tax as a way to keep portions of the 2 cents occupancy tax, now dedicated to beach nourishment, out of the hands of local watermen who are desperately searching for funds to dredge and keep Oregon Inlet open.

Commissioner Warren Judge
The idea of an additional sales tax first surfaced, publicly, during the March 2nd commissioner meeting during a review of a proposed draft bill offered by state Senator Bill Cook.  The bill would have allowed the commissioners to use portions of the county's occupancy tax to help the watermen. And, if the board had called upon Cook’s legislative aide, Jordan Hennessy, who was sitting in the audience and waiting to speak for the senator, everyone would have found out immediately that it was never Cook’s or the watermen’s intention to strip away beach nourishment funds that had already been pledged to specific nourishment projects.
Kitty Hawk mayor Gary Perry
expressed concern the bill might cause
beach towns to lose nourishment funding.
Businessman Ralph Buxton spoke in
opposition to the proposed bill.
After much discussion and several hours of tumultuous public comment, Judge was able to convince the board to ask Cook to amend the proposed bill, thus protecting the (nourishment) occupancy tax. Then, Judge, who by this time had wrangled control of the meeting away from the current chairman, Bob Woodard, convinced the board to adopt a motion to add a line item in the county budget for a $3.7 million expenditure, dedicated to dredging Oregon Inlet.  The problem with Judge’s motion which passed 6-1 was that it offered no revenue source to offset the expense. Commissioner Beverly Boswell, who sits on the Oregon Inlet Waterways Commission, voted against the motion.

Before offering his motion, Judge stated that the county would have to (1) cut expenses,  (3) take the money from the already low unassigned general fund balance, or (2) raise taxes to come up with the $3.7 million.
After getting his motion passed, Judge suggested that county should seek an additional ¼ cents local sales tax, which coincidentally, would equate to about $3.7 million per year. Acknowledging that the county already had statutory authority from the state to levy a ¼ cents tax, with voter approval, Judge said the county should, instead, seek state approval to raise the taxes without a voter referendum.  (History: In 2006 Dare County residents voted to repeal a 1 cents sales tax that had been imposed by a Judge led board).

Within minutes after approving Judge’s motion, the board of commissioners unanimously approved the hiring of a state lobbyist, whose instructions, among other things, is to test the waters in Raleigh to see if the legislature is prone to allow the county to increase the sales tax without allowing a provision for repeal by local voters. 
Meanwhile, the commissioners will have to decide how to fund the $3.7 million commitment during their March 26th budget workshop.

Footnote: County officials are trying to convince the Army Corps of Engineers to place a dredge at Oregon Inlet year round. The estimated costs are $7 million annually, and the commissioners are hoping the State of North Carolina will pay one-half if the county can find revenues to fund the other half.