OT Board Doles Out $385K

Sundae Horn
This is why you come. This is why occupancy tax gets collected.
This is why you come. This is why occupancy tax gets collected.

How would you spend $385,000 on Ocracoke? 

It's a tricky task deciding how best to fund the non-profits that benefit island visitors and residents. 

After a second meeting to discuss occupancy tax distributions for 2017-18, the board finalized their recommendations. 

At their April 4th meeting, the five-member Occupancy Tax Board (OTB) heard from 13 local non-profit and governmental organizations with funding requests for fiscal year 2017-18. The total amount requested this year was over $466,000. OTB chair Bob Chestnut opened the meeting by announcing that the board would dole out about $381,000. Somebody wasn't going to get all they asked for, but who?

This is riveting stuff, if you follow the whims and trends of Ocracoke politics. And why wouldn't you? 

The board listens to the requests, then sticks around as long as they can stay awake to discuss and vote on appropriations. This year, they needed a second meeting (on April 25th) to clarify the requests from Ocracoke School and the Community Center Board. 

The board members (Bob, Marlene Mathews, Trudy Austin, David Styron, and Stephanie O'Neal) voted unanimously on all but one of the grants. The vote was split 3–2 on funding the tram project request by Hyde County. Surprised? Then you weren't reading all the tram articles on the Current in recent months. 

As of April 25th, the OTB voted on the following recommendations. This list will go before the Hyde County Board of Commissioners on Monday, May 1st, and they will vote to enact it. (The commissioners have the power and authority to override the OTB recommendations, but they almost never do.) The money will be ready to spend on July 1st. 

  • Friends of the Library will receive their full request of $3040 to pay for summer janitorial services, the Summer Reading Program for kids, and replacing some of the library furniture. FOL is saving their cash assets for a proposed library expansion project, and continuing to support the library by purchasing books and supplies. 
  • Ocracoke Child Care asked for $5000 for new playground equipment and to pay for the expenses of hiring new employees (background checks, etc.). The OTB pointed out that the daycare still had $4500 unspent from last year's appropriations, and so voted to allow that money to carry-over into the next fiscal year, adding another $500 to meet the request. 
  • Ocracoke School/Ocracoke Arts Week asked for and received $6000 to fund the special performing and visual arts classes and performances at Ocracoke School. Hooray for the arts!
  • Ocracoke Health Center requested $14,000 to help them hire consultants for health organizations. OHC will soon need a new or refurbished building to comply with federal grant requirements. The OTB voted to grant $10,000 of that request.
  • Ocracoke Alive requested $8000 for the Ocrafolk Festival (June 3–5), $4000 for the Latino Festival (November 11), and $3367 for a portable floor to protect the school gym floor during performances. The board voted to fund the festivals (they are "in favor of festivals"), but not the flooring, for a total of $12,000.
  • Ocracoke School/Adam Burleson asked for $16,277. Coach B has a dream: transform the outdoor basketball court into a multi-use court for the entire community, including visitors. Tennis, soccer, pickleball, badminton, and yes, basketball – it will accommodate them all. Hyde County School Board is committed to preparing the concrete slab so that it can be covered with "Versacourt" flooring. The occupancy tax money would help pay for the flooring and fencing, and possibly lighting. The Ocracoke Athletic Boosters have also committed $10,000 to the project. The OTB agreed to grant up to the $16,277 Adam requested as a 1:1 match with other funds from the school board, Boosters, in-kind donations from local businesses, and fundraising. Pack your tennis racket for your next visit to Ocracoke.
  • Ocracoke Preservation Society asked for a total of $18,000 to continue their work digitizing the OPS library. Included in the request is $1000 to celebrate the 300th anniversary of Blackbeard's demise in 2018, and upgrading computer hardware and software. OPS has some funds from last year's request that they haven't spent yet due to extenuating circumstances; the OTB agreed to give them $11,000 and allow them to carry-over any unused balance.
  • Ocracoke Community Center board wants to replace the plywood sections of the floor and get the floor refinished. This is the 4th year in a row that they've asked for that funding, and now, finally, they may have it. After much discussion and a second meeting for more discussion, the board decided to grant the Community Center a total of $29,800 ($18,570 of which is for operating expenses) to be spent as the board sees fit. The Community Center board has identified the floor refinishing, chair closet spiffing up, and exterior siding repair as their priorities. They also have rental income from the Center to use at their discretion. 
  • Hyde County asked for and was granted $35,000 for the tram service project to support the passenger ferries in 2018. (They also want an additional $35,000 next year.) 3 voted in favor; 2 against. There was no motion recorded about committing another $35,000 next year. We shall see what next year brings.
  • Ocracoke Youth Center's gotta pay for that wonderful Community Park. They'll make payments with the $48,000 they asked for and received.
  • Ocracoke Foundation requested $75,000 for "preservation and revitalization" of the Community Square. The OTB's discussion veered toward withholding funding from Ocracoke Foundation. Why? I don't know – I wasn't at that part of the meeting. In the end, they allotted $34,500 to be used for dock repair. 
  • Ocracoke VFD needs a new fire truck. Well, who can argue with that? There's no fire tax, and the county chips in very little to support the VFD, and most of their funding comes from donations and fundraisers. (Woo, Firemen's Ball!) OVFD got the full $80,000 they asked for. Timing is everything. There was a fire on Ocracoke two days after the April 4th OTB meeting. Bob quipped last night if the fire had come first before they had committed to other organizations, the OTB might have chipped in more than OVFD asked for. The fire was contained in twenty minutes and didn't spread. Woo, OVFD! 
  • Ocracoke Civic and Business Association wears a lot of hats. Their request of $120,000 included fireworks, 4th of July, Fig Fest, British Cemetery, and Pirate Jamboree festivities, event coordinator salary, travel/tourism director salary, and professional marketing/advertising. Last year, OCBA was granted $50,000 to hire Magellen Strategies for a "strategic marketing initiative." They committed to a $70,000 contract with Magellen, which includes $29,000 of advertising buys to be spread out through 2017-18. They need an additional $20,000 to complete that contract with Magellen. OCBA was granted $100,000 and when I asked last week, they had not yet decided if or where they would cut their budget or find the other $20,000. 

That's it! Scintillating, right? 

Stay tuned.... sooner or later I'll post a story about some additional conversations that took place at the April 25th OTB meeting. I can sense your anticipation. 



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