Dare residents share concerns with
commissioners at special meeting
By CATHERINE KOZAK
what was the first town-hall meeting of Dare County’s new Board of
Commissioners, citizens filled every seat and stood along the wall in
the board meeting room in Manteo Wednesday night to listen or tell
commissioners what was on their minds.
About 20 or so people came to the microphone to specify their concerns, with members of the board often offering a response.
Woodard, the board’s newly elected chairman, told the audience that he
organized the meeting as a way to reach out to people and involve
citizens in their government.
“As we move into 2015, we need to put our arms around the needs in Dare County,” Woodard said, “and set aside the wants.
“We want new ideas,” he continued. “We want solutions. We want suggestions. That’s why I asked y’all to be here tonight.”
Allen Burrus was derailed by an electrical problem at his Hatteras
business and did not make the meeting. Commissioner Margarette Umphlett
could not attend because she was ill.
During the 2.5-hour
session, people maintained their civility and clapped agreeably most of
the time after speakers were done. Nearly everyone who spoke was
polite and relatively concise, considering the unstructured nature of
Here are the highlights:
of Colington, read several letters to the board that he had earlier
written to the tax assessor, complaining that the county had no
right to dictate the sale price of his property. He said that with the
property tax hike and insurance increases, it is no longer affordable
to own investment property. “Real estate here has gone from an asset to
a liability,” he said.
Montague, Room in the Inn operations director, said that the nonprofit
service has seven churches that cover 10 weeks of shelter for homeless
people in the county. Last year, the group served 30
people. There are also 14 churches that serve three meals a day
to the homeless folks.
Referencing recent cuts in county
transportation, Montague asked the county to renew its assistance for
transportation for these people in desperate need.
“I’m paid for five hours a day. I work five,” she said, choking back tears. “They have no voice and they’re homeless.”
Fletcher of Manns Harbor asked the board to work with Currituck County
to get a road built from Back Bay in Corolla rather than building the
Mid-Currituck bridge. He also said that the county should manage oyster
bed leases rather than the state.
“I know those are off-the-wall
suggestions,” he said, encouraging the board to keep an open mind.
“What would we have if the Indians had the same regulations we have in
Dare County today?”
Williams said that the flashing lights and concrete divide at the
little bridge on the Nags Head-Manteo causeway have created a hazard
that needs to be addressed by the state Department of Transportation.
She also said that she is concerned about the lack of a dog park in the
county. Up to 20 or so dogs use the field across from the N.C.
Aquarium, she said, but there’s talk that even that may be taken away.
people asked the board to try to save the Old Fort Raleigh hotel, which
was last used as the administrative building for the county. A recent
assessment revealed costs in excess of $2 million would be required to
repair and renovate the building, which in addition to its overall poor
condition is ridden with mold and mildew.
Woodard assured the
speakers that the county is not planning to raze the building without
listening to any ideas that could lead to its preservation.
Murphy, of Rodanthe, asked the board to not be dogmatic with budget
cuts. “You five Republicans in the majority, you scare me because I
don’t understand your talk about needs not wants,” he said. “I urge you
to do everything you can not to reduce services. Just don’t come at the
county budget with a butcher knife.”
For the first time in years, the board is now majority Republican.
directly in front of Murphy, who had returned to his seat,
Woodard said that the board values the services of the county employees
and no board member had said anything about cutting services and taxes.
He added that “this is not going to be a political issue.”
Republicans -- Vice-Chairman Wally Overman and Commissioners Beverly
Boswell and Jack Shea -- also said that their intention was to
represent the interest of the Dare citizens, not any party.
Republican side may tend to look at things more conservatively,”
Overman said, “but there are very few issues that come down to party
lines, thank goodness.”
Semans, of Stumpy Point, told the board about a series of major issues
the small mainland community is dealing with, including a failing
“Stumpy Point is drowning,” she said “The canal is so clogged it cannot drain back out.”
problem, she said, is that the Point Peter Bridge has a metal plate
that sticks up from the decking and nearly catches the underside of
crossing vehicles. It also has deep potholes on either end of it. And
the culvert in front of the firehouse has collapsed, making it a matter
of time before it completely gives out under the weight of a fire
Finally, she said, the harbor – from
where the emergency ferries back and forth to Rodanthe operate –
is clogged with sand and is threatened by a sunken boat that could
start leaking fuel.
Semans suggested that the county could find some funds to help Stumpy Point in the commissioners’ travel budget.
*Bob Muller said that the county needs to start thinking about long-term solutions for wastewater management.
Harris had a gripe about Charter Cable. Since the company’s recent
switch to new cable boxes, Harris said that his DVR player freezes up
constantly. The problem has been brought to the attention of Charter,
he said, but nothing has improved.
Keene, representing the N.C. Beach Buggy Association, thanked the
county for its help getting the recent ORV bill passed in Congress. But
he said that much discussion still has to happen with the National Park
Service about beach driving corridors and peer-reviewed science.
just want to remind everybody,” he said. “After this was signed, there
were big sighs, ‘It’s done!’ Well, it’s not done. We’ve got 12 hard
months of work to do.”
Culpepper said that the county will never attract anything but low-wage
jobs unless it corrects an unfair tax advantage that out-of-town
workers have. Between county taxes and high housing costs, he said,
residents with jobs in the service industry have a difficult time
paying their bills.
“It costs more to live here,” he said. “We
don’t need any more jobs here on the Outer Banks that pay $10 an hour.
I’m sorry, we don’t. We can’t live here for $10 an hour.”
Culpepper suggested that an income tax on non-resident wages would help even the playing field.
Sjoerdsma, co-chair of The Alliance to Preserve Southern Shores, said
that the group is looking for support from the county in preserving the
town’s maritime forest and its ecosystem. She also asked for Dare
County to “step up” and address the worsening heavy traffic in Southern
Shores from tourists heading to Corolla.
in your face at every hour of every day,” she told the board. “But it’s
abominable in the summer . . . Frankly, it’s shocking that the Outer
Banks evolved this way – that we have such a problem with
Not only do residents feel
trapped in their homes by the crawling traffic on Duck Road, but also
vehicles looking for shortcuts now clog neighborhood streets.
Commissioners were sympathetic, but stopped short of offering possible remedies for the long-standing problem.
“It’s not easy and there are great limitations,” said Commissioner Warren Judge. “We’re aware and we’re going to stay on it.”
Burns, owner of Blowkite in Buxton, said that numerous outside
kiteboard businesses have been setting up shop in rental houses in the
villages, selling gear and lessons and sub-letting rooms without paying
any of the taxes other businesses have to pay.
“It’s out of control and there’s more and more of them every year,” he said “They’re stealing our business.”
County Manager Bobby Outten said that the county is limited in what it
can control with a property leased by a private company, although the
county is entitled to the taxes on the subletting.
“A lot of things that are a problem for you,” he said to Burns, “are things we can’t regulate.”
Sonnesso, who works with families coping with dementia, told the board
that the county desperately needs a licensed adult day care center.
“We’re approaching a crisis,” she said.
Woodard’s earlier statement, Georgeanne Dunn said that EMS needs more
vehicles to be able to respond to calls in a timely manner on the
mainland and Hatteras Island.
“Having an ambulance respond to your house because you’re having a heart attack is not a want,” she said. “It’s a need.”
•Lilias Morrison said that the county’s business community needs more worker housing that is decent and affordable.
Sawyer of Manteo told the board that Dare County should improve its
airport facility and broaden the educational offerings at the Dare
campus of College of The Albemarle to attract more young folk to the
“It seems like in the last 15 years, Dare County
has not had a vision,” he said. “It’s been reactive, rather than
proactive. I urge all of you to look at education as a business. If our
kids won’t stay here, let’s go there and recruit those kids to come
In addressing numerous Facebook postings about high gas
prices in Dare County, Woodard asked if anyone was there to talk about
gas. He appeared surprised that only a smattering of hands were raised.
“Well, that is good,” he said, adding that the issue will be addressed at the next board meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 20.
“It’s high on our radar screen.”