A Word from Our County Commissioner

Ocracoke's representative, Tom Pahl, weighs in on the tram issue prior to Thursday night's meeting.

 Tom posted this statement Wednesday evening on his "Good Government for Hyde County" Facebook page. 

There is a meeting of the Occupancy Tax Board tonight at the Community Center (Thursday, Feb. 9th) at 7:00 for the purpose of hearing a presentation by the County regarding the proposed tram system which would take people around the village and out to the beach in conjunction with the passenger ferry planned to start up in 2018. The presentation will support a request for Occupancy Tax funds to pay for the operation of the tram system for its first year. This meeting is an important opportunity for Ocracoke residents to hear others and express their own thoughts on the proposal.

I have to admit that I was surprised when, at my first meeting on this issue as a Commissioner, I realized that the proposal, at that point, fully anticipated the tram operating funds to come from Ocracoke’s Occupancy Tax. And that the seasonal cost of operating the system would be more than $200,000. My first reaction, which I'm sure many of you shared was “no way! That’s more than half of our annual OT revenue. Simply can't happen.”

After much discussion and much thought, I've come to fully support this proposal which, to be clear, is to fund the FIRST YEAR of tram operations with the idea that we would tweak the plan as needed, assess its value and seek alternate funding if, in 2019, we feel the project should go forward. I realize that is a whole lot of “ifs” and unanswered questions, but it is the nature of this project, from the passenger ferry to the tram, that it is somewhat of an experiment. A 9.2 million dollar experiment to be sure, but one that is based on extensive research, as reported in the Ferry Division’s 40 page report released last year. And, I would note, an experiment that is designed to solve one of Ocracoke Island’s most pressing problems.

I would suggest that we start with two things I think we can agree on: First, since the long route started and brought the decline in tourist traffic, the resulting status quo is not acceptable. And second, when the passenger ferry starts up in 2018 we want it to succeed, and, of course, change the status quo for the good.

So what does success look like? Well I think it means the passenger ferries are full of happy people coming to Ocracoke AND happy people going home. They must have a good experience once they get off the ferry and that's where the “ground transportation” comes in. We have to successfully get them around the village and out to the beach so that they enjoy their visit and so that ALL the business on the island benefit from their presence, not just those located around the harbor. The proposed three tram system can’t do that alone and no one thinks it can. It will only work as a partnership between private sector businesses and and a fare-free tram. Golf cart rentals, bike and scooter rentals, taxi services, maybe even Uber…all will work together with the tram to get visitors around so that they leave looking forward to their next visit.

Please come out and hear the detailed proposal and join the discussion. Your opinion matters.


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