Some good questions about ferry tolls need answers
By Sandy Semans Ross
to a story posted on the website of the News & Observer in
on Jan. 13, the North Carolina Board of Transportation has voted to
increase fees on ferries currently charging vehicles and to add tolls
to several routes that have been free. These new taxes become effective
on July 1.
only ferries not to come under the new toll rates on July 1, are the
Hatteras-Ocracoke route and the Currituck-Knotts Island route. Some
board members, states the story, objected to not charging tolls on the
two exempted routes because the Hatteras-Ocracoke route is the most
heavily used in the state. If it also was taxed, it would allow
reducing the tolls on the other ferries, they argued.
Island is accessible only by ferry -- either the taxed ferry from Cedar
Island and Swan Quarter on the mainland or via Hatteras Island ferry,
which is free. If the Hatteras-Ocracoke route is tolled, there will be
no free way to access the island. Ocracoke residents would have to pay
to access any other part of the state.
The ferry trip from
Ocracoke to Swan Quarter -- the county seat for Hyde County that
includes the island -- takes about 2.5 hours one way. The only "free"
transportation corridor is via Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry, then Highway 12
north to Whalebone Junction, west on U.S. 64 to U.S. 264 in Manns
Harbor, and then approximately two hours to the county courthouse for a
total of about 6 hours.
An interesting story about this issue would answer the following
state law and/or the North Carolina Constitution guarantee that the
public can move freely throughout the state? If so, how would that
apply to Ocracoke islanders if use of the Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry was
taxed, thus removing the only free access to the island?
Is there any location in the state
that can be accessed only by paying a tax? Where?
on the Ocracoke-Swan Quarter and Ocracoke-Cedar Island ferries will be
more than doubled beginning on July 1. How will that affect the cost of
supplies and services provided to the island from the mainland? Who
will be the hardest hit by this increase?
the increased tax pull money out of the local economy? If so, will this
impact small businesses, particularly those that remain open in the
winter when there is little tourism?
island's economy is negatively impacted, will there be a secondary
impact on other state agencies' budgets? If a resident has to go to the
mainland for medical services on a regular basis, will the increased
cost discourage them from seeking the health care they need?
the added cost of transportation equate to a larger number of residents
getting increased financial help and food stamps from Social Services
and higher reimbursements from Medicaid? Will other government agencies
have a direct cost by having to pay the tax for their
The stated goal of
raising the taxes is to collect an additional $5 million with which to
partially fund the ferry division. Other taxes already in place -- such
as the gas tax -- are used to fund the Department of Transportation of
which the Ferry Division is a part. Is there a goal of tolling all
transportation corridors across the state to offset the cost of
maintaining roads, highways and bridges?
If not, why are these water
transportation routes that are part of the state system being taxed?
passage of the increased and new taxes, was there an economic impact
study done to identify potential unintended consequences?
at a later date, the Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry route is taxed, how will
that affect businesses that rely on employees who use the ferry to
travel from home to work?
Will the General
Assembly take up this issue when it convenes? How do these
fit into the promise of less taxes so that there can be more economic
Frequently, the fact that the
depends on tourism is used to try to argue that not all those being
taxed are residents. But, in this case, all the residents are being
taxed regardless of how many tourists use the ferries. Does who pays
really make a difference tax?
Please let me know if you find this story. I'm eager to get the answers.
Semans Ross, former managing editor of The Outer Banks Sentinel, is a
freelance writer who lives in Stumpy Point. You can read more
her blogs at www.sunshineobx.blogspot.com.)