It's clear to EOD, after attending last night's Dare Shoreline Commission meeting that Dare County Commissioner Chairman Warren Judge wants only one thing from that nine-member group.
He wants an affirmative vote from all of the representatives of the county's six towns, saying "yes", increase the county's occupancy tax by another 1% and help finance Nags Head's proposed $36 million beach nourishment project. Short of a "yes" vote, Judge is hoping the towns will not vote at all.
We believe that Judge and a majority of the county board is ready to raise the tax and commit no less than $18 million in county tax funds to the Town of Nags Head and then give them all of a new 1% occupancy tax for the next five years. We think Judge and Commissioner Richard Johnson are raring to go on this, and likely, with the help of commissioners Jack Shea, Mike Johnson and Max Dutton. In short, they are ready to max out this county's ability to collect occupancy taxes for whatever purpose they may choose. Dare already collects a 5% occupancy tax and the State of North Carolina allows counties a maximum of 6%.
Of the 5% now collected by Dare, 3% is divided between- the county and six municipalities; the tourist bureau gets 1% , and the beach nourishment fund gets 1%. Currently 1% on the occupancy tax amounts to about $3.4 million per year; hardly enough to keep pace with the rising costs of any beach nourishment project, must less periodic re-nourishment.
EOD believes that Manteo, Nags Head, Kill Devil Hills, Kitty Hawk, Southern Shores and Duck should poll their residents very carefully to determine whether they want the last funding source available to them, in the form of occupancy taxation, to be used for what many consider to be a very risky cause.
If our county commissioners do play our last occupancy tax card for the benefit of a Nags Head beach project, where will they go for revenue the next time they can't balance the budget, or when a hurricane hits and disaster funds are needed? They have already depleted the county's unappropriated fund balance to a level unheard of ten years ago. Meal taxes aren't likely to be increased, as Dare is already one of only four counties in the State using that funding source.
So folks, the next time you hear one of your elected officials say our visitors are paying those taxes for you; don't believe it. Any time a tax option is used for one purpose, good or questionable, its no longer available for another purpose. So, what's next? Your ad valorem taxes. You bet.
Every resident of Dare County needs to call their town mayor or county commissioner and say..."no way" to increasing our county's occupancy tax so Nags Head can "toss the money into the ocean."
We rest our case.