This year’s legislative short session is expected to be about as short as it can get, and passing an adjusted state budget is going to be even shorter in what’s being called an unprecedented move.
The biggest local provision authorizes $15 million from the shallow draft inlet dredging fund to create a partnership between the state and a yet-to-be-identified private company to purchase a hopper dredge, with Dare County paying for its operation in Oregon and Hatteras inlets and other channels.
Republican leaders of the state House and Senate created a conference committee of 40 members, all from the GOP, to hammer out the $23.9 billion spending proposal for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
But using the conference report process shuts off any debate or amendments and only allows up-or-down votes by the various committees, then the full chambers, which has not happened with a budget in modern history.
Democrats say they have been shut out from having any say in the proposal.
Republicans countered that it was not uncommon when Democrats were in the majority for nearly a century that budgets were negotiated behind closed doors , then dropped in the laps of members just hours before a vote.
The dredge funding requires the private company to also pay $15 million for the $30 million dredge and provide work to Dare County at a reduced rate in exchange for a state loan eventually being forgiven.
While Dare would likely be using it the most, the dredge would be available to help clear other waterways along North Carolina’s coastline.
Dredging has crawled to a near halt as federal funding for smaller inlets and harbors has been repeatedly cut by Congress and the White House for decades.
Dare County and North Carolina have since picked up the slack by paying the Army Corps of Engineers to clean out the channels with their limited fleet.
In a formal resolution passed at their May 7 meeting, Dare County commissioners pledged $3,250,000, with $3 million already set aside from an occupancy tax allocation for dredging.
Matching money from the state that would bring the total to $10 million for operation of the dredge over a five-year period and would come from the shallow draft channel fund.
County Manager Bobby Outten said the county will enter an agreement with the private contractor that would give the county almost exclusive use of the dredge.
Concerns have arisen that the dredge would only be used to keep Oregon Inlet open, since $9 million of the county and state funds are allocated to those waters, and the budget bill specifically mentions the Oregon Inlet Task Force would be in charge.
Outten reiterated Tuesday that the dredge will be available to use anywhere in the county and not just Oregon Inlet, and that the task force is made up of members who are more familiar with the needs in the county’s waterways.
Lawmakers plan to carry over from the previous year’s budget $2,219,000 designated for dredging of the Old House Channel, and have designated money for the Coastal Storm Damage Mitigation Fund, which was created but unfunded in the 2017-18 budget.
$5 million will be placed in the fund to be used to help pay for future beach renourishment projects anywhere along the N.C. coast following storms.
After clearing the Senate on Wednesday, the House is expected to approve the budget by the end of the week.