June 8, 2010

Ocracoke Real Estate:  It’s déjà vu on the fire tax


We’ve been here before -- in the place of having the opportunity to take the bull by the horns and make hard choices for the benefit of our community, only to choose inaction rather than taking the positive steps to harness the power of the village.

In the 1980s, the people of Ocracoke had the chance to design the plan for the development of their village. In conjunction with the environmental land use plans of CAMA and The Army Corps of Engineers and the adoption of the federal flood insurance plan by Hyde County, the government was providing resource people to help towns outline the process of change and what it would look like for the community of Ocracoke.

I remember the posters in the post office decrying the evils of zoning. Out of fear, the community chose to vote down the option to create some order for the changing face of Ocracoke. We gave up our power to guide the unfolding of the village. Within months of the choice to reject any kind of zoning, construction was started which scared the pants off the population.

With nothing but the North Carolina building code in place, choices were being made for the community that no one had anticipated with regards to height and setback.

The Ocracoke Planning Advisory Board was born out of an effort to take back some of the control which had been forfeited. The Ocracoke Building Ordinance was produced to rein in the development. We’ve been backpeddling ever since, trying to put a lid on the change that the village finds distasteful.

History repeats itself. Ocracoke had the opportunity to stand behind our fire department and show them financial, moral, and community support through the enactment of a fire tax by The Ocracoke Sanitary District Board.

After a year of discussions between the fire department and the board, extensive research by the firemen, and the results of a fire department sponsored landowner survey, it became painfully apparent that the present board would never levy the fire tax. The fire department withdrew its request for the tax.

The interesting twist is that the survey of landowners produced an 85 percent response in favor of levying the tax. Out of the 927 surveys that went out, 40 percent were returned, and 370 people responded to the survey. Of that number,  315 were in favor of the tax and 55 were opposed.

A fire tax, enacted by The Sanitary District, was meant to enable the following:

•    Create a guaranteed USDA loan repayment source.
•    Build the new firehouse to protect the much needed ladder truck and accommodate all fire equipment.
•    Provide operating funds beyond what can now be afforded by the fire department.
•    Meet future N.C. state  requirements
•    Maintain the current 6 fire rating, which reduces fire insurance premiums.
•    Keep the tax revenue in the control of the Ocracoke community.
•    Maintain the ability to reduce or exempt fire tax rates for those who meet age or financial requirements.
•    Reserve the right to discontinue the tax once the debt has been paid.
•    Be flexible enough to reduce the levy amount by donations, grants, and fundraisers.

The fire department will continue its quest for the funds to construct the building and to purchase the equipment necessary to protect the lives of our firefighters and the property and lives of those living in this community. The source of the tax revenue will be the same, but the control over the process will belong to someone else.

Why are we giving away the power in this community again? Why are we allowing fear to cloud our vision?

We should resurrect the energy that roared through the village when it looked like the county was about to enact a tourist occupancy tax to fund their black hole of a budget. Our citizens reversed the direction of that revenue source. Look at what we have accomplished with those proceeds!

Rather than submit to the fear of another tax, it is essential to bring a positive attitude to the table, for this public cause. This is for the good of the community. We all have a stake in fire protection, especially on this island.

If we each do our small part, it benefits the whole. We have the brain capacity in this village to find a way to fund the fire department so they can better protect this group of people with a common background and shared interests called Ocracoke.

(B.J. Oelschlegel has lived on Ocracoke Island for more than 30 years and has worked in the real estate business for 26 years.  She is a broker with Ocracoke’s Lightship Realty and a real estate columnist for The Ocracoke Observer. You can reach her by e-mail at [email protected])

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