May 17, 2016

Commissioners hear comments on Buxton tax district, take no action

By IRENE NOLAN

Eight Buxton property owners spoke during a public hearing on a proposed special tax district to help pay for beach nourishment at the Dare County Board of Commissioners meeting on Monday evening, May 16.

In addition, two Buxton property owners addressed the timing of the beach nourishment project during the general public comment portion of the meeting.

The board took no action at the meeting on the proposal that would require the owners of 147 parcels of land in the triangle bordered by Old Lighthouse Road, Highway 12 (and a few properties west), and the ocean to help pay for the $25 million project to nourish about 2.9 miles of beach from about the Canadian Hole/Haulover area to the former site of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.  The value of the properties is $41.4 million.

The board members and county staff members came to the Fessenden Center in Buxton for the meeting, which was attended by about 100 people -- most of them there to show support for four Hatteras islanders who were honored with the Governor's Volunteer Service Awards. (Click here to read an article on the award winners.)

The county had hoped that sand would be pumped on the beach this summer, but only two companies bid on the work this summer and both bids were over the budget by about $12 million.  The county has contracted with Weeks Marine of Covington, La., to do the work in 2017 at a cost of $22.15 million.

The delay has disappointed many property owners in north Buxton and others who have to use Highway 12, which is often overwashed during storms in the area  of the motels.  Protecting the highway from the ocean is the stated goal of the project, though in the process, the beach will be restored in front of about 38 private properties.

Carol Leigh Dillon of Buxton spoke at the general public comment period about the delays.

First, she spoke of her concerns that the dredging of the navigation channel in Oregon Inlet is "the number one cause of erosion on Hatteras Island."  She referred to a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers report that she said backs up her belief.

"I know the federal government promised to keep the inlet open, but Hatteras Island has had promises, too," Dillon said. "We have been left out while dredging has had a major impact on Hatteras Island."

The business community, she said, has been devastated as "we were told to wait our turn."  Waiting another year, she said, is not an option.

Dillon asked for the resignation of all board members who "asked for the delay."

Next, her mother, Carol Dillon, owner of the Outer Banks Motel on the oceanfront in north Buxton, referred to an April Board of Commissioners meeting at which she made public comment to the board about the 2016 over-budget bids.

At that meeting, she demanded that the board find the $12 million need to proceed this summer.

"You promised me you would go to (Washington,) D.C.," she said.  "You lied to me....Why did you lie to me?

"I don't think you people are representing Hatteras Island," Dillon added. "I think all of you who are not should resign."

The public hearing on the proposal to create a special tax district came shortly after the public comment session.

Cynthia Morgan, who lives in Maryland but owns property on the Buxton oceanfront, led off the hearing.

"We're very disappointed that it's not going to happen in 2016," she said.  "I'm concerned but I don't have much control...We need it done soon."

Catherine James, who lives in Buxton but not in the proposed special district, said she thinks "more people should share in the burden."

"More people use this road than are being taxed," she said.

Others agreed with her.

"I don't think we have gone quite far enough," Fevre Pace said of the proposed district.

Pace said she lives in the triangle that would pay the tax and noted that there are other "hotspots" on Highway 12 that will also need nourishment.  Therefore, she thinks, the service district should include all of Hatteras Island.

"We are one island and we function as one island," she said.

"I am willing to pay that tax," said Linda Meyer, whose family owns property on North Tower Circle Road, but she added that she think all of Hatteras Island should also participate since all folks use the highway.

"Why is the district so exclusive when everyone benefits?" asked Jerry Van Severen, who said his wife owns oceanfront property in north Buxton.

"We don't mind paying a little more," he said, asking the commissioners if they could delay revaluating the properties in the district while the owners are paying the special tax.

Dave Dawson, who owns the Cape Hatteras Motel in north Buxton, said he didn't have a problem paying the tax, which he figures will be about $5,000 a year for his property.

"That's a drop in the bucket compared to what I have paid," he said, referring to having to clear sand and water off his property and repair damaged buildings.

However, Dawson said he hoped the contractors would not rebuild the oceanfront dune when the project is completed.  He thinks the flat beach is better protection from erosion.

Meanwhile, James Hartshorne, who lives in Frisco but owns an oceanfront house in Buxton, asked the commissioners to please rebuild the dune, which he thinks is the best protection against damage.

"If you don't have a dune, you have overwash," he said. 

"The dune constructed by the North Carolina Department of Transportation north of Buxton has done well, he said.  "We need one all the way down to the jetties."

Dewey Parr, who lives in Buxton but not in the proposed district, was the last speaker.

"I am in total disagreement to expanding the tax district," he said.  "This is a road project.  I think it's totally wrong to tax the people for a road project."

The board did not take any action during the meeting on the proposal.  However, if they are going to start taxing property owners in the special district in the next fiscal year, they will have to approve the special district by June 30.

The proposed county budget for fiscal year 2017, which is effective July 1, currently calls for a 25 cents per $100 of valuation tax in the proposed district.  However, county manager Bobby Outten notes that the 25 cents is not a figure that the board has agreed on but a "place holder" he included during the budget deliberation process.  It is, he said, about the average of what oceanfront property owners in northern Dare towns are paying for their nourishment projects.

The board has set a public hearing on the 2017 budget for Monday, June 6, at 10 a.m. during its regularly scheduled meeting at the Dare County Administrative Building in Manteo.

At the end of last evening's meeting, board Chairman Bob Woodard asked the county manager and attorney to address the request to delay revaluation for the special tax district. 

Outten said the county is legally required to revaluate property every eight years, and could not make exceptions. 

Woodard generally addressed the comments.

"I truly understand (the speakers') frustrations....It's taken way too long," he said.

However, he said "every person you see sitting at this table tonight" is totally committed to the project.

"No board," he said, "and I repeat -- no board -- has done what this board has done in the past 18 months," he said about how the county worked with agencies involved to speed up the approval process for the nourishment project.

"No one is more disappointed than I am," he added.

"I also take offense to being told that I told a lie," he said.  "My reputation is everything to me."

He said that the board had agreed to make the trip to Washington to see if the congressional delegation could help come up with the extra $12 million needed to complete the project in 2016.  However, he said, phone calls the next morning to the offices of the two senators and U.S. Rep. Walter Jones convinced the board that a trip would be futile. 

"We working really hard for Hatteras Island, and no one is working harder than Bob Woodard," he said.

In other business:

  • At the request of Steve House of Southern Shores, who spoke during public comment, the commissioners agreed to send a letter of opposition to a bill introduced in the General Assembly last week by an inland legislator to ban gill nets in the state's waters.  "When you take net fishing out of our waters, it really hurts us," said Commissioner Allen Burrus of Hatteras Island.  Commissioner Warren Judge said he couldn't believe that the bill was introduced on the same day last week that fishermen hosted a special dinner of fresh local seafood for all legislators. The event is sponsored annually by North Carolina Watermen United and is attended by Dare County fishermen and officials.
  • The board approved an application from Keith Moul for a bed and breakfast establishment at a house he owns on Rocky Rollinson Road in Buxton. The request had been previously approved by the county's planning board. The bed and breakfast will include three guest bedrooms.
  • Commissioners approved a National Hurricane Week -- May 15 - 21 -- resolution and approved the annual storm debris removal contract with N.C. DOT.
  • The board also approved several actions involving capital project ordinances and paying for the Buxton Beach nourishment project and a new chiller for the Cape Hatteras Secondary School of Coastal Studies. 

A video of the board meeting is available on the Dare County website, usually a day or two later.  Go to www.darenc.com.  Scroll down on the home page and look on the left hand side for "view archived meetings" tab under the Board of Commissioners.






            
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