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New town taxes for beach projects will have a ripple effect

By on October 16, 2013


KDH’s beaches took a beating during the recent nor’easter. (Rob Morris)

In what may be the one of the last meetings of the Dare County Shoreline Management Commission, the tone and tenor of the gathering was worlds apart from the early days of the panel.

Commission member Jodi Hess, a Southern Shores town council member, said as much when she talked about her constituents’ reaction to beach nourishment plans now moving forward in three towns.

Hess recalled that when she first came to the commission, many were hostile to the concept of beach nourishment and often, few towns sent representatives to the meetings.

“Whole attitudes are different (in Southern Shores) and this commission compared to a few years ago. Very few people expressed opposition to beach nourishment. Their main concern was how other towns raising taxes to pay for nourishment would affect Southern Shores,” she said.

Under Dare County’s formula for sharing occupancy and other tax revenue, when one municipality raises its property taxes, distributions to other towns are reduced unless they also raise taxes.

County Manager Bobby Outten said other towns had to consider tax increases when Nags Head undertook its nourishment project, and he noted the new three-town plan would cost Dare County about $500,000 in shared revenue.

Outten then presented the overall plan to coordinate and help fund the three projects now ready to be started in Duck, Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills.

The towns will all receive money upfront from the county’s Shoreline Management Fund, which is made up of a portion of the occupancy tax paid by visiting renters. Duck and Kitty Hawk will also get help paying back loans for their projects.

All towns had representatives present at the meeting except Manteo.

The plan has been tweaked somewhat from what was presented to Kitty Hawk a few weeks ago.

Kill Devil Hills, which is implementing a relatively small project, had some concerns about the average of 7.82 cents per $100 of value in additional property tax originally proposed when Outten unveiled the plan at the Kitty Hawk meeting.

Kill Devil Hills commissioner and representative to the Shoreline Management Commission, Brandi Rhuebottom, thanked the county for taking into account Kill Devil Hills’ concerns and finding a way to accommodate all three town projects.

The county’s original plan left a cushion of about $30 million for unexpected debt service and other contingencies.

The new plan reduces that total cushion by a little more than $2 million and those funds will be applied to Kill Devil Hills’ upfront costs so the town can assess an average property tax increase of 5.78 cents.

Outten said county and financial analysts determined the reduction would still leave the fund with plenty of money to handle contingency expenses.

County Commissioner Bob Woodard, who represents Dare County on the commission, praised the project.

“There is no way the towns could have done this on their own. It’s a fabulous plan,” he said.

Commission Chairman Warren Judge noted the county had worked closely with the mayors and town managers of every town in Dare County, including Manteo, Southern Shores and Nags Head, which are not participating in the current nourishment effort.

Judge also noted that the plan takes into account future re-nourishment needs.

“We have not only been able to now help four towns with nourishment, we have left enough funding to help finance maintenance, including re-nourishment, after the five-year debt service on each project is paid, “ he said.

Outten added that funds would also be available for projects in Buxton and Rodanthe if the National Park Service allows it and for Southern Shores if and when they need to place sand on their beaches.

Nags Head Mayor Bob Oakes, who will be leaving both the commission and the mayor’s office in Nags Head, offered some parting wisdom.

Oakes noted that each town needed commitment from its elected officials as well as tcitizens.

He recalled that despite the controversy surrounding Nags Head’s project, through several elections cycles “the strongest proponents of beach nourishment were elected and re-elected and no one against beach nourishment” won.

Oakes cautioned them on the differing environment today, pointing out that more projects along the entire Atlantic seaboard are under consideration, which could strain the supply of dredges and drive prices upwards of current projections.

Judge praised Oakes and the Nags Head board for leading the way on nourishment in spite of the perceived political risks.

He also praised Kitty Hawk mayor pro tempore Gary Perry for a “masterful” presentation about the need for beach nourishment at the town’s well-attended council meeting in September.

Judge said “the main reason beach nourishment projects fail is that they do not plan for or budget for re-nourishment and maintenance.”

Given the cooperation between the county and the six Dare municipalities, Judge floated the idea that the commission, which meets every six months, may have outlived its purpose.

The group decided the next meeting, which would take place in April, 2014, be “tentatively” scheduled rather than be set in stone.

The Dare County Board of Commissioners will now discuss, and possibly vote on the plan at their next meeting on Nov. 4.

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