May 25, 2011

UPDATE: State Senate pushing for ferry toll at Hatteras Inlet

By CONNIE LEINBACH


Ocracoke islanders have geared up for a continued fight with the state legislature.

The North Carolina Senate on Tuesday released its version of the budget, which has the tolls on all ferry routes re-inserted.

Earlier in May, the state House passed its version of the budget, which included an amendment by Rep. Timothy Spear to exclude the Ocracoke-Hatteras ferry from being tolled.

The Senate’s budget did not include the amendment and included tolls on all ferry routes in the state.

An ad hoc committee on the island is planning a trip for early June to visit legislators to educate them on the unique nature of the island, which is not accessible by any highway but only by boat or airplane.

“It’s not time to despair,” noted Tom Pahl, a member of the committee which has been strategizing to fight the tolls. 

But islanders must continue contacting legislators, he said, as this is part of the give-and-take that goes on with these budget negotiations.

According to Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause, a lobby group, the Senate will spend the week debating the proposal and aim to take a final vote by Tuesday of next week.  

“Then the Senate budget bill will be sent to the House for concurrence,” Phillips explained.  “The House will vote not to concur, and the whole thing will go to a joint legislative conference committee where the differences in the two budgets are worked out.”

Phillips spoke as a friend of the island.

Usually, that conference committee is composed of three senior leaders of both houses, noted Pahl.

New amendments must be introduced by noon today, according to Darlene Styron, a Hyde County commissioner from Ocracoke, who has been in contact with Sen. Stan White, who represents Hyde County.

No action had been confirmed as of late this morning.

Interested persons can stay current on the “Say No to Ferry Tolls” Facebook page, which was set up and is regularly updated by islander Mary Haggerty.  Facebook and other social media have been instrumental in mustering supporters to contact legislators about this issue.

As to the issue of ferry tolls, business owners on Ocracoke believe enacting tolls on the Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry and raising rates on the tolled routes will be devastating to the island.

“All those (sales) tax dollars will go down,” noted Tommy Hutcherson, owner of The Variety Store, one of two small groceries on the island.

“Their business model of reducing service and increasing prices will not increase our sales tax base,” said Rufus Keel, owner of the Sunglass Shop. “It didn’t work for the U.S. Postal Service and it’s not gonna work for the NC Department of Transportation.”

Bob Ray, co-owner of The Secret Garden gift shop, was more dire.

“We’ll die,” he said. “The whole island will die.”
 
The Senate Budget proposal language establishing tolls on all ferry routes is as follows:

 
“TRANSPORTATION/FERRY DIVISION TOLLING ON ALL ROUTES  
 
SECTION 31.30.(a) Effective April 1, 2012, G.S. 136-82 reads as rewritten:  
"ยง 136-82. Department of Transportation to establish and maintain ferries.
The Department of Transportation is vested with authority to provide for the establishment and maintenance of ferries connecting the parts of the state highway system, whenever in its discretion the public good may so require, and to prescribe and collect such tolls therefore as may, in the discretion of the Department of Transportation, be expedient. The Board of Transportation shall establish tolls for all ferry routes.”


Other noteworthy action in both House and Senate budget bills is the de-funding of the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching (NCCAT).  The plan is to provide a one-time appropriation for the upkeep of the building until it can be “conveyed to other entities.”

The language in the Senate bill “eliminates State support for the ongoing operations of this NR teacher professional development provider. $500,000 in nonrecurring support is provided for the upkeep of the two NCCAT facilities until they are conveyed to other entities.”
Ocracoke has an NCCAT building near the ferry docks. Teachers come to the island from all over the state to participate in programs with the concurrent bonus of teaching them about this furthermost barrier island on the Outer Banks.



FOR MORE INFORMATION

Click here to read the text of the Senate budget bill (ferry tolls on page 362): Proposed Senate Committee Substitute for House Bill 200, Appropriations Act of 2011, Distributed to Senate Appropriations subcommittees on 05/24/2011

Previous Stories on ferry tolls

Amendment excluding the Ocracoke-Hatteras Ferry from a toll is threatened
House committee passes budget proposal that excludes tolls on Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry

Charging a toll on Ocracoke-Hatteras ferry continues to move forward in Raleigh

Outer Bankers are uniting to oppose tolls on Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry

Charging a toll for Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry under discussion in Raleigh



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