July 16, 2013

New and increased ferry tolls still a possibility for Ocracoke


The specter of new tolls on the Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry and increased tolls on the ferries between the island and the mainland are still an issue for Ocracoke residents and visitors.

This week and possibly next, the North Carolina General Assembly is continuing to hammer out a budget for 2013-2014, and ferry tolling is still in the mix.

“We have at least two weeks to go,” said Paul Tine, a Democrat who represents Hyde County in the state legislature, about the current negotiations to finish the budget by July 30.

As of now, the state is operating under a continuing resolution, noted S. Henri McClees, part of a two-member lobby team hired by Hyde, Beaufort, and Pamlico counties to fight ferry tolls.

Tine said that the House’s version of the budget contains language to keep the ferry tolls status quo, while exploring other means of revenues, such as naming rights and selling advertising on them. 

The Senate’s version of the budget calls for tolls on all ferries in North Carolina and increases tolls on the ferries between Swan Quarter and Cedar Island and Ocracoke.

McClees explained that the first part of the budget negotiations is determining the tax package, or the revenue side. The spending budget is devised after the income is determined.

“The House is standing firm on our issue of not tolling ferries that haven’t been tolled,” she said, but the Senate has not changed its philosophy of “user fees” for the ferries.

There are six Senate members and 23 House members on the negotiation committee.

One of those House members is John A. Torbett, a Republican from Gaston County, who in April, along with Tine and Rep. Charles Jeter, a Republican from Mecklenberg, visited Ocracoke to understand first-hand the island’s issues.

The roster of budget negotiation conferees can be found at www.ncleg.net.

“It’s a very serious time,” McClees continued. “People are just sitting around waiting.”

That includes lobbyists.

“They don’t want to talk to lobbyists (now),” she said, and “writing to them would just irritate them.”

Tine, who has an e-mail newsletter, said he would send information out as soon as he has it.

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