April 6, 2017

“Local” Legislation Dominates the
Conversation at April BOC Meeting


Several bills that are being considered on the state level by the General Assembly were seemingly the primary topic of conversation at the April 3 meeting of the Dare County Board of Commissioners.

More than a dozen local residents took to the podium during the public comments section, and the majority of these comments were focused on three new bills that have a direct effect on Dare County.

Specifically, these bills included the state’s House Bill 531, which focuses on how the occupancy tax funds should be used, House Bill 265 and Senate Bill 94, which proposes partisan school board elections, and House Bill 271 and Senate Bill 539, which repeals the current ban on plastic bags for the majority of Dare County.

Speakers during the public comment section included the Chair of the Dare County Tourism Board and pro-tem Nags Head mayor Susie Walters, the Chair of the Dare County Board of Education Bea Basnight, and Ivy Ingram of the Surfrider Foundation – among many others.

“This sets an exceedingly dangerous precedence, and causes folks to take sides on issues that have no business in partisan bickering,” said a local resident in regards to the education-related bill. “I myself have personally benefitted from the even-handed education this county has provided.”

“I own and operate the Waterfront Shops in Duck,” said resident Matthew Price, while speaking against the repeal of the plastic bags, “and since the ban, we’ve noticed a lot less plastic bags in our sound and waterways.”

“I also informally polled out tenants… [and] nearly 90% are all in favor of this ban,” he added. “These are all smaller businesses that use paper bags, and even if the ban were introduced, would still use paper bags because they see such a great benefit to the community, wildlife and nature in our area.”

There were specific reasons behind the opposition for each of the aforementioned bills, but a common theme throughout seemed to be that many folks believed that local input wasn’t being taken into consideration for these ‘local’ bills.

Willow Kelly, one of the many public commenters, has been a volunteer on numerous area boards for 20 years, and served on the Currituck County Chamber of Commerce. During her comments, she generated a round of applause for her summation. “[This is the] first time I have heard so many comments in a public comment period on state bills, where local bills have been introduced, and where you, [the Board of Commissioners], have not directed their introduction.”

“…It’s time for a town hall meeting [or some other forum] with state officials to see what they are doing without our direction.”

As a result of the engaged public comment period – as well as many emails and phone calls that a number of board members reported receiving – the BOC unanimously approved to draft a resolution opposing two of the bills on hand.

Per Item 11 on the BOC meeting agenda, the board agreed to oppose the “North Carolina House Bill 271 to Repeal the Plastic Bag Ban.”

“I oppose the repeal of the bag ban. I’ve heard [our constituents] loud and clear,” said Hatteras Island Commissioner Danny Couch.

“It boils down to [the fact that] local bills are supposed to - or should have - overwhelming or majority local support, and this bill does not seem to meet that requirement,” added Commissioner Wally Overman.

“I’m concerned about this bill, and as one of our local residents stated earlier, I’m opposed to local bills being proposed on the state level without local support or local vetting,” said County Commissioner Chairman Bob Woodard, who also noted during the discussion period that he and his wife often have overflowing recycle bins. “Quite honestly, I really and truly don’t understand that… how you could present something without vetting it through your local community, especially if it’s a ‘local’ bill?”

Item 12 on the agenda addressed one of the other unpopular state bills on the table, the House Bill 265 to “Change Board of Education Elections from Nonpartisan to Partisan.”

Several strong arguments against this bill were made by various community members during the public comments section. Bea Basnight, Chair of the Dare County Board of Education, listed three primary issues with the bill, noting that the method itself to bring the bill to fruition – without local input - was questionable, that the bill could damage relations with the BOC as now party affiliation was in the mix, and the new timing of the elections – which would change from summer to November – would be detrimental.

“Currently, there is time [before the school year starts] to make crucial planning and financial decisions for our students and staff,” said Basnight, noting that new board members who were voted in November instead of during the summertime “need to be oriented to budget processes and school operations at a time when our staff and board members are busy taking care of our students… In education, we put students first, always.

The board agreed, especially when it came to the relationship with the board itself.

“Partisanship has no business in the school system,” said Woodard during the discussion period. “This board has built an incredible relationship with our school board, and I challenge any of the other 99 counties in this state to have a relationship as strong as Dare County has with its Board of Education. And I, personally, will do nothing that would separate the relationship that these two boards have…  I am highly opposed to this legislation.”

Other island-related items of interest included a public comment from a Buxton resident who proposed that leash laws be enacted for Hatteras Island and / or other unincorporated parts of Dare County. Being a dog owner herself, she noted that it would make it a lot easier to protect her pets, while also making it easier to find the owner of stray dogs that came up to her property. “Let’s eliminate this problem… Dogs need to be on leashes if [they are] off their property,” she said, mentioning that not having a leash law could lead to bites, dogs getting hit by cars, and other area problems.

In addition, per Item 14 in the meeting agenda, the board unanimously approved distributing $125,000 towards the ongoing Hatteras Inlet dredging project.

County Manager Bobby Outten noted that the funds were part of a budget amendment, and that all permits were in place, and that the MOA had been recently been signed in DC and was en route to Raleigh to be signed before landing in Wilmington.

“The MOA says the state will deposit $500,000 in an account so they can get started as soon as they sign, and there’s a 25% match we have to make so that’s $125,000, and we have a fund,” said Outten.

The motion to approve the funds was passed with no discussion.

The next Dare County Board of Commissioner meeting will be on April 17 at 5 p.m. at the Dare County Administration Building in Manteo.

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