New Board to Promote Ocracoke

Sundae Horn
Lovely lighthouse... has nothing to do with the article, but it's always nice to see it.
Lovely lighthouse... has nothing to do with the article, but it's always nice to see it.

The new TDA will meet with the old OTB, and you're invited!

At last week's Hyde County Board of Commissioners (BOC) meeting, a new five-member Tourism Development Authority (TDA) was established with these inaugural members: Wayne Clark, Martha Garrish, Greg Honeycutt, Daphne Bennink, and Amy Howard. 

The TDA board was appointed in compliance with the state statute that allowed the BOC to raise Ocracoke's occupancy tax effective January 1, 2018. In a unanimous vote on June 5, 2016, the BOC approved a motion to increase a tax on lodging from 3% to 5%. Approximately $320,000 in new revenues will be generated from the 2% increase on $16 million dollars of room sales. By statute, a five-person Tourism Development Authority board must be appointed to disperse the money, of which 2/3 must be spent on tourism, travel, and development, per the 2006 NC law allowing the tax increase. The remaining 1/3 can be used for promotion or capital improvements or whatever the TDA decides.

An already-existing Occupancy Tax Board (OTB) will continue to dole out the monies from the original 3% of occupancy tax revenues. By statute, this fund can be spent on any reasonable, public purpose. 

No, they can't be combined into one board. It's the law. No, the money can't all go into one big pot o' gold. It's the law. Yes, the county coffers really do get a small percentage of the funds for "administrative costs." It's the law. (These are answers to frequently-asked questions that need to be put to bed once and for all.)

Last month, Ocracoke's commissioner, Tom Pahl, appointed two new members to the OTB. Byron Miller and Nancy Leach will join chair Bob Chestnut and board members Trudy Austin and Stephanie O'Neal in deciding the fate of about $400,000 each year. 

So.... the two boards need to meet to divvy up who's going to pay for what. Tom Pahl hopes and expects the two boards to work closely together, and their first chance to do that will be on Tuesday, October 17th at 5pm at the Community Center. All TDA and/or OTB meetings are open to the public. 

The TDA and OTB will operate differently. The main difference is that the TDA had the authority to spend its money without further approval, within the parameters of the 2/3 spent of tourism promotion. The OTB is and will remain an advisory board to the BOC. They listen to the pleas for cash, decide on whom to bestow it, and make recommendations to the BOC, which needs to vote to approve the OTB spending. 

As Tom mentioned at last night's Ocracoke Civic Affairs meeting, the BOC isn't beholden to approve the wishes of the OTB, but they always do. (Always? Almost always? Someone should fact check that!) "This came up last year," Tom said. "And I insisted that the commissioners not break the tradition of the board approving occupancy tax board recommendations."

It's hard work to decide how to allocate the funding to all of Ocracoke's non-profits and good causes. The OTB members are volunteers and take that responsibility seriously. 

As will the new carefully chosen TDA members. Tom appointed Martha and Wayne to represent both the lodging industry (Martha works at Ocracoke Island Realty and Wayne owns Edward's motel) and Ocracoke Civic and Business Association (OCBA), of which they are board members. Currently, OCBA is taking ownership of the island's promotion, having hired a marketing firm to brand Ocracoke and begin an advertising campaign. OCBA also hires and pays (with OTB money) a travel and tourism director, Helena Stevens, and an administrative assistant, Kathryn Waldrop. They also produce the Ocracoke Walking Map and the website (formerly Communication between OCBA and the TDA will be important going forward. One task of the TDA will be to decide if they'll funnel funding to OCBA for the marketing or take it over themselves. Tom said that he purposefully appointed two, but not three, OCBA board members to the TDA to ensure that the TDA doesn't become another branch of OCBA. The state statute for the TDA requires that at least two members be from the lodging industry that collects (collects, not pays) the occupancy tax.

The other TDA board members represent different segments of the island's economy. Greg Honeycutt is an experienced fundraiser and advocate for many of Ocracoke's non-profits, including the Community Park and WOVV. He founded the 5K/10K/Half-Marathon to support local causes, and is on the board of the Outer Banks Community Foundation Daphne Bennink and Amy Howard represent the restaurant and retail industries, respectively, and have also both served on non-profit and community boards. 

Martha, Wayne, and Greg were appointed for three-year terms. Daphne and Amy were appointed for two-year terms. Hereafter, all TDA appointments will be for three years. 

Tuesday's meeting will include county manager Bill Rich, Tom Pahl, and both the TDA and OTB peeps. "We'll be talking out specific issues and figuring out how the two boards will relate and communicate," he said.

See you there!



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