This letter to the editor, published this week, is from my friend Helen Hudson, who is the librarian at the Dare County Library in Hatteras village:
?April showers were often said to bring May flowers. May, 2009, will be bringing Hatteras Island residents a 12.8 percent increase in electricity costs, as well as a 6.5 percent increase in homeowners’ insurance. How can we cope in these hard economic times? I’ve never seen so many people out of work and using the food pantries. It breaks my heart to see so many businesses closed and/or for sale. Quite a few people are simply leaving the area. I spoke with a gifted teacher who may have to move because the cost of living is so high on the island.
We make every effort to support local businesses. However, we often end up paying resort prices all year long. I think there needs to be a task force addressing the specific needs on Hatteras Island. I’d love to hear others comment on dealing with these issues.?
Helen?s letter got me thinking about all of the economic forces that are coming together right now. If you will excuse what has become an overused phrase, we are looking at the economic ?perfect storm? on Hatteras and Ocracoke.
Yes, Hatteras Island CHEC customers will pay 12.8 percent more for electricity, starting on May 1. Increasing electric rates have been a nationwide phenomenon in the past year.
Also on May 1, Hatteras and Ocracoke homeowners ? and many more folks in coastal counties ? will see a 6.5 percent increase in homeowner?s insurance and may well face increases in deductibles and surcharges also. Though efforts are underway to stop this rate hike and the surcharge and deductible increase in the courts and in the General Assembly, it appears likely to happen at this point.
Dare County?s unemployment rate in March was still among the highest in the state at 14.6 percent, which is down from 17.1 in February.
Hyde County?s unemployment rate in March was 12.4 percent, down from 14.6 percent in February.
The construction industry has been hit hard with layoffs in the past year, and the downturn in construction has meant less business for companies selling building supplies and less work for plumbers, electricians, and the like. Rental companies have also laid off some staff and maintenance workers. Banks and boat builders have also laid off employees.
Higher unemployment rates mean fewer residents with medical insurance. And that on top of a high number of uninsured residents in Dare and Hyde who are self-employed or work part-time and cannot afford insurance.
Linda Saturno, director of the Community Care Clinic of Dare, which offers free medical care to the uninsured and underinsured says that the number of Dare residents seeking free care is steadily increasing.
?It?s difficult for us to keep up with the demand,? she says.
In an article on the free clinics published today on the Local News Page, Saturno says that the Hatteras Island Clinic accepted 18 new medical patients for physician appointments in the first three months of this year.
?Many people come to us in tears because they?ve never had to ask for anything before, and they?re embarrassed about it,? she says, ?But that can happen to any one of us. Any one of us can lose our job, lose our insurance, and it can happen tomorrow.?
There has been an even larger increase in the number of people who need help paying for their medications.
?People who used to be able to pay for the medications simply can?t do it anymore,? explains Saturno.
The island?s food pantries have been seeing an increased demand since late last year, and it hasn?t let up yet.
On top of all that, you can consider the nation?s economic crisis and the fears of what impact it might have on the tourist economy of Hatteras and Ocracoke.
Though it’s too early to say for sure what might happen here, most companies are working hard to rent cottages. Go on any rental company Web site and you will see large numbers of cottages discounted for the summer, which is largely unheard of on these islands in the summer months.
Hatteras and Ocracoke businesses will take another hit this spring and summer from the miles of beaches that are closed to protect shorebirds and turtles during the nesting season under a court-ordered consent decree. The most popular recreational areas in the seashore ? Cape Point, Bodie Island spit, South Beach in Frisco, Hatteras Inlet, and South Point on Ocracoke ? are likely to be mostly closed again this summer.
There are residents, crucial to the work force, who are wondering if they can afford to continue to live here.
Of course, islanders are an independent bunch who have toughed it out in worse times than this, in times when there was no economy here other than commercial fishing and hunting.
Many will hang in there, but there will be those who cannot.
And that brings us back to Helen Hudson?s comments:
I think there needs to be a task force addressing the specific needs on Hatteras Island. I’d love to hear others comment on dealing with these issues.?
I?d like to hear those comments also.