Board votes to move ahead with Buxton
service district to pay for beach sand
By IRENE NOLAN
Dare County Board of Commissioners voted 4-2 on Monday night, Feb. 15,
to move forward with the creation of a service tax district that would
include 34 oceanfront properties in Buxton to help pay for beach
nourishment that is planned for this summer.
The motion was made by Commissioner Jack Shea and seconded by
Commissioner Wally Overman. Commissioners Bob Woodard and Beverly
Boswell voted in favor with Commissioners Warren Judge and Allen Burrus
voting against. Commissioner Margarette Umphlett was absent from the
meeting because of illness in her family.
Tonight's vote allows county staff to prepare a report and map on the service district and set a public hearing.
No tax rate was included in the motion, and commissioners made it clear
in discussion before the vote that they did not expect the small number
of Buxton oceanfront properties to pay the approximately 25 percent of
the cost that has been paid by Nags Head property owners and will be
paid by property owners in Duck, Kitty Hawk, and Kill Devil Hills for
their planned projects.
Dare County's planned beach nourishment project in north Buxton is expected to cost between $20 to $27 million.
"Nobody is suggesting that we have (35) property owners come up with $5 million," Overman said.
In the long discussion about creating the special tax district, it was
clear that the majority of the board members felt that it was only fair
that Hatteras islanders be asked to pay something for the project.
"The intention is put a little bit of fairness into the game," said Boswell.
Judge, who was chairman of the board when the decision was made to
pursue beach nourishment said, "When we started out, the fund would
carry it." Meaning, that in the beginning of the project, the
commissioners intended to pay for it all from the beach nourishment
fund, which is, in turn, funded by a 2 percent countywide occupancy tax.
However, even though most commissioners favored taxing some on Hatteras, deciding whom to tax proved much more difficult.
Perhaps one reason for that is because in applying for a special use
permit from the National Park Service, the county said the reason for
the nourishment project was to protect Highway 12 from the encroaching
At a town hall meeting with the commissioners last week, many of the 28
speakers opposed the creation of the tax district. They felt, as
many other Hatteras islanders do, that protecting the highway is a job
for the North Carolina Department of Transportation, not Hatteras
At last night's board meeting county manager Robert Outten gave the
board a hand-out that outlines the process for establishing a special
tax district for beach nourishment and some options that are available
to them. It's the same hand-out he gave them at the board's Nov. 16
meeting when the tax district was first discussed and at the board
retreat last Thursday.
Outten said that to begin, the commissioners had to decide if they are
going to create a special service district for Buxton beach
nourishment. In doing this, they must consider population,
property values, tax rates, ability of district to pay, and any other
matters that have a bearing.
Based on the information the board receives, it must then find that
there is a need for a special district, that it is impossible or
impracticable to provide the service countywide, that it is
economically feasible, and that there is a demand by those who will be
If the board decides to create the special district, it must prepare a
report with a map of the properties that would be available four weeks
before a required public hearing. Notice of the public hearing must
also be mailed to all property owners in the district four weeks before
After the hearing, the board may adopt a resolution creating the
service district and setting the tax rate, which can be effective in
the next fiscal year after the adoption of the resolution. Or, after
the hearing, Outten said, the board can make adjustments to the special
tax district, which would trigger a second hearing.
Outten advised the commissioners that there are many different
combinations of land areas they can consider in the service district.
However, the county must show that the taxpayers in the service
district will receive a benefit that other county taxpayers -- who are
not included in the district -- will not receive.
That requirement, he said, would make it difficult to include all of
unincorporated Dare County since it would be hard to argue that
taxpayers in unincorporated Dare -- for example, Stumpy Point -- would
receive more benefit than those in incorporated areas of the county,
such as Southern Shores.
One of the options is to tax Buxton, Frisco, and Hatteras since they
all directly profit from having a highway that is open. However, the
commissioners discussed including all of Hatteras in a tax district and
adding Avon to the Buxton, Frisco, and Hatteras option.
The longer the discussion continued, the more difficult it seemed to
become to decide on which taxpayers will be included in the
special district. It was noted during discussion that all of
Hatteras would benefit from the nourishment, but then so would all of
the county in an indirect way.
Outten repeatedly told the commissioners during the discussion that the
more narrowly they define the district, the easier it is to defend it
in court, if necessary.
"Narrower will be easier," he said.
"I get nervous when you get too big," he said at another point.
The commissioners then began to focus on the Buxton oceanfront with
some discussion of whether the service district should include all of
the property owners in a triangle defined by Highway 12, the
oceanfront, and Old Lighthouse Road -- all properties prone to overwash
Outten and county staff will prepare a report and map on the service
district for the commissioners, and a public hearing could be set for
as soon as the first board meeting in April -- on April 4.
In the discussion, several commissioners noted that changes could be
made after a public hearing, so the motion approved last night is not
necessarily "the final word."
He also said in an e-mail that the rate for the service district would
be decided when the county budget is set. Like a fire district
tax, he said, it would be set annually and go into effect with the
Just before the discussion of how to pay for beach nourishment in north
Buxton, Dr. Tim Kana, of Coastal Science and Engineering, the company
the commissioners hired to plan the project and get it permitted, gave
the board an update on the project.
The plan for the project is to nourish 2.9 miles of beach between the
Haulover area north of Buxton and the old site of the Cape Hatteras
Lighthouse with 2.6 million cubic yards of sand that would be pumped
from a borrow pit about 1.8 miles offshore from the old site of the
Kana said that the project is still on schedule for pumping sand late spring or early summer.
The project is waiting on a special use permit from the National Park
Service, which is expected to be issued in late February or early
March. After it has the Park Service's permit, the U.S. Army
Corps of Engineers can issue its permit -- the last one needed.
That is expected to happen in March or early April.
After that, the schedule gets really ambitious. Assuming all permits
are received, projects would be put out for bids in early April with
bids due April 28. The commissioners would be scheduled to approve the
contract at its May 2 meeting with a construction agreement and other
documents also finished in May, so sand can be pumped by Sept. 2016.
The project cannot be done after September for reasons of safety and
economy. During the stormy season, the dredging days would be
limited by weather and the project would take twice as long, Kana said.
Kana made reference to the fact that when bids were opened last
Tuesday, Feb.9, for three projects on the northern beaches, all were
considerable over budget and none could be done in the summer months
because of the high demand for dredges. Those three projects are going
to be put out for bid again soon.
Kana offered hope that the Buxton project would be small enough for
some dredge company to "fit it in" among its other summer projects or
that the combination of the three town projects plus Buxton would be
large enough to get the attention of a company that would be willing to
do it in the summer.
"I know there will be a lot of people disappointed if we can't do it
this summer," Kana said, "but as you found out last Tuesday when bids
were opened...it may be beyond our control."
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Click here to see the hand-out that the county manager prepared for the board on creating a service district.
Click here to read an update on Buxton Beach Nourishment by Coastal Science & Engineering.