the N.C. Senate’s favorable first vote Tuesday night on the 2016-17
budget, the toll threat on the Hatteras/Ocracoke ferry appears
to be over for now, and the NC Ferry Division will get much-needed
funding for its aging fleet.
$22.34 billion spending plan retains much of what the House had
sought in the way of relief for the NC DOT Ferry Division.
Senate Tuesday night passed the report 33 to 16 in its first vote,
according to information online at General Assembly’s
second Senate vote is scheduled for today (Wednesday), after which
the House will vote again and send the final spending plan of to
Gov. Pat McCrory by the end of the week.
to the document online, of the $10 million in
additional money for the Ferry Division, $6 million is in
nonrecurring funds for infrastructure and ferry refurbishment. Out of
that $6 million, $3.65 is to be used to activate a passenger ferry
trial. Then, $4 million will be provided each year for the Ferry
Division to replace boats on existing routes.
John Torbett, R-Gaston, who is co-chair of the House Transportation
Committee, was one of the transportation budget conferees along with
Rep. Paul Tine, U-Kitty Hawk, both of whom helped negotiated
the transportation section of the budget.
Ferry Division will have no excuse (about their budget needs),”
Torbett said. “They’ll have $10 million more a year now.”
bill also keeps the current tolled and untolled ferry routes
status quo. However, should the proposed passenger ferry come about,
that ferry may charge a toll. Also, any decisions to raise
rates on the tolled routes rests with the Board of Transportation.
is a huge step forward in stabilizing the ferry system,” Tine said
about these budget provisions.
County Manager Bill Rich Tuesday night noted that this compromise
spending plan between the two legislative chambers allows enough
money to replace aging ferries without having to take these funds out
of the Albemarle Regional Planning Organization’s pot of $32
million to fund all transportation needs in the 10-county eastern
North Carolina region.
I think it was a tremendous compromise,” Rich said. “Tine
and Torbett need a key to Ocracoke.”
contacted for comment, The N.C. Ferry Division’s spokesman Timothy
Hass said, “As a rule, we don’t comment on pending legislation.”
final budget was completed by conference committees after the budgets
proposed by each chamber did not agree.
both chambers earlier had agreed on the total amount to be spent,
they disagreed on how to spend it, said Henri McClees of McClees
Consulting, who is a lobbyist hired by Hyde County.
House’s initial version of the budget included a recurring $13
million appropriation from the Highway Fund to the Ferry Division for
the ferries, as well as elimination of all ferry tolls. But the
Senate’s budget version had no appropriation for the ferries,
retained all the tolls and also had reinstated a $150 priority
loading pass fee for the entire ferry system.
said that he and Tine took a pit bull-like approach during the
conferencing period to arguing that the ferries are part of the
and I have continued to push this issue,” he said. “The tactic we
used plus the input from the locals gave them the impetus to get this
addition to Tine and Torbett, the members of the transportation
conference committee included Reps. Philip Shepherd and Ihler, and
Sens. Bill Rabon, Wesley Meredith and Rick Gunn.
has been a vocal advocate for a toll on the Hatteras ferry, and last
year proposed enacting a $150 priority loading pass that anyone could
purchase for any ferry system-wide. Currently, Ocracoke Island
residents may obtain free priority loading passes for the Hatteras
Tine said conferees conceded to enacting this fee only for
vendors coming to the island. With this provision, companies
will have the option to purchase a yearly priority pass for $150, or
get in line with the rest.
said that other Republican members of the transportation conference
committee wanted to retain the $150 priority pass for anyone to buy.
was the one thing we refused to do,” Torbett said about his and
Tine’s negotiations. “We didn’t want residents to have to do
that because it would be a further imposition.”
said that he and Torbett kept focusing on the big picture of fixing
the ferries and having smooth operations.
other conferees were just tired of hearing about ferries, he said.
kept saying ‘let’s just fix this and move on,’” he said.
“It’s a really good deal.”
Hyde County Commissioner for Ocracoke Tom Pahl said overall, this is
not everything we’re asking for, but it’s a compromise.” he
said. “It shows the effectiveness of our citizens’ lobbying
the budget appropriates $200,000 to the Wildlife Resources Commission
to develop Mattamuskeet Lodge.
section says that “deobligated” Community Development Block Grant
funds may be used to assist in the development of commercial oyster
entrepreneurs in coastal communities.
million dollars is allocated to build oyster sanctuaries in Pamlico
Sound and $300,000 to build new rotational harvest oyster reefs
throughout the coast. The budget also includes $149,000 for two new
positions at the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries to accelerate
shellfish industry growth and increase shellfish production and
important aspects of the budget include the Senate’s plan to
raise the standard income tax deduction–the amount on which
taxpayers owe no taxes if they don’t itemize returns–to $17,500,
from $15,500, over two years for a married couple.
proposed spending plan also would boost the average salary for
teachers for the coming school year to $50,186, including
supplemental pay by counties.
state workers would receive a 1.5 percent raise, a one-time bonus
equal to 0.5 percent of their annual salary and targeted merit
retirees will receive a one-time 1.6 percent COLA.
see the budget released June 27, click here.
article is reprinted by permission from The Ocracoke Observer. For
more news and features on Ocracoke, go to www.ocracokeobserver.com.)