It’s a new day in Hyde County, and William D. Rich, as the newly appointed county manager, is eager to help.
Rich, who goes by “Bill,” was appointed to the position Feb. 18, and while he has given the county all of his time since then, he officially assumed his new position on March 1. Rich has hit the ground running, attending many meetings, including all three ferry toll hearings, since he began.
“So far I love it,” he says with his ready smile. “There’s something new every minute. I love the pace of it. ”
Rich, who lives on Ocracoke with his wife Jennifer, will spend four days a week on the mainland, where he will stay at his family farm near the Pungo River. He will be on Ocracoke Friday through Sunday.
Rich is a Hyde County native who graduated in 1968 from Belhaven High School and in 1972 from the University of North Carolina. He has spent his career as a real estate manager and developer in Hyde County and all over Virginia and eastern North Carolina. He is the proprietor of The Rich Company, which has offices in Elizabeth City, and Rich and his brothers, Bob and Cy, own Rich Brothers Farms in Hyde County.
“I’ve never had to apply for a job in my life,” he says with a laugh when asked about his resume. “I had to craft a resume.”
He credits Jennifer for pointing him toward his new job.
“She said, ‘You’d make a really good county manager,’” he explains in an interview at his Ocracoke home.
Rich expects to use his four decades in business to better the county.
“I like putting projects together,” Rich says about his real estate career. “I got to put together zoning, infrastructure, helping families…”
As such, he had to attend many city or county commissioners’ meetings to get approvals for his projects. So he knows how governments work.
The Rich Company in Elizabeth City has changed that city’s landscape with several waterfront and commercial projects since 1975. Now that Bill has a new position, his son, Alex, runs the Elizabeth City office of the family business.
The Rich Brothers Farm used to manage almost 100,000 acres of farm and timber land in Hyde County.
“We farmed it until it was ready to be leased out,” he said.
The company managed 35,000 acres of Hyde County farmland for the John Hancock Insurance Company. At the same time, Rich served as president and overseer of the Mattamuskeet Drainage Association, which controlled the pumping and drainage of more than 60,000 acres of land.
Among his other projects, Rich owned and operated Agriworld Farm Management, which managed thousands of acres of farm and timber land for several German, Austrian, and Japanese owners in Eastern North Carolina. He also developed and managed the Woodlake Golf and Country Club community outside Pinehurst, N.C.
Rich’s experience helping families come to agreements over land bequests should be useful in dealing with the conflicting viewpoints that often arise in the world of local government.
But as a native, he already has an edge.
“I know most of the people in Hyde County,” he says.
On Ocracoke, where Rich has vacationed all of his life and has had property since 2007, Rich helped secure the land that will become a baseball field for local youths. He has been chairman of the Ocracoke Planning Board, and, though he had to give up that position, he will still participate on the board as the county manager.
Although Rich was only just acquainted with the current board of commissioners, he feels in tune with them.
“I like my commissioners,” he says. “They’re not politicians. They have the best interest of Hyde County.”
In Hyde County, politics is different from that of cities. It’s the politics of money, Rich says.
“We need to find more money other than through taxes,” he says. More sales tax revenues and more jobs are goals Rich hopes to help realize, and he’s confident in his department heads.
“I’m very impressed with our employees,” he says. Hyde county employs 150 people.
One of the many challenges in the county is the amount of land that the government owns—400,000 acres–and therefore is not taxable.
“We can’t allow any more land to not be taxed,” he says. “The county has less money than ever before.”
The clean-up from Hurricane Irene in 2011 is still being felt in the budget with $1 million in expenses Hyde County spent over and above the insurance reimbursement, he says. He’s not going to give up trying to get this last million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
But even if that money is never received, Hyde is prepared for the next hurricane with its FEMA ducks in a row now, thanks to the work former manager Mazie Smith had done.
Speaking of insurance, the recently announced 17 percent increase in the rates coastal homeowners pay for their insurance policies by the North Carolina insurance commissioner is going to be a big “ouch” for people on Ocracoke. Homeowners inland are getting much lower increases.
“This is a killer on the island,” he says.
But Rich is excited about all of the challenges ahead.
“They got someone who understands the business side of government,” Rich says about his appointment. “It’s good for me and I hope for the people.”