Separate Checks

Sundae Horn

Two boards met to divvy up the tab of Ocracoke expenses.

Alert readers of the Ocracoke Current are on the edge of their seats waiting for a report about the meeting between the  new TDA and the old OTB (with some new members), which took place last Tuesday, October 17th. (Get the background scoop here.) The purpose of the meeting was to discuss which expenditures the Tourism Development Authority board will take over from the Occupancy Tax Board. 

Ocracoke's county commissioner, Tom Pahl, opened the joint meeting by proclaiming the new TDA to be an "absolutely fabulous" board. He's heard from a lot of other people about how great his picks were. They are: Amy Howard, Greg Honeycutt, Martha Garrish, Wayne Clark, and Daphne Bennink. New appointees Byron Miller and Nancy Leach join the returning members of the OTB, Bob Chestnut, Stephanie O'Neal, and Trudy Austin.

Separate Checks

This was the first time that the TDA has ever met, although, this being Ocracoke, they all know each other. They declined to pick a chairperson until they can meet among themselves to discuss it; Tom Pahl and county manager Bill Rich agreed that the joint meeting could go forward without an elected chair. 

The meeting was long on runway and short on take-off. No motions were made, no decisions are final, there was just a lot of sometimes circuitous talk about tax revenue and the spending thereof. 

The money discussion was "clear as mud" said OTB chair Bob Chestnut, as he and Bill disagreed about whether the OTB makes appropriations of tax revenue that's already been collected or speculates on what will be collected. After a loooong back and forth, Tom suggested, "Let's take up this conversation again down the road." In any case, it comes down to this (I think I got this right!): the OTC has a cash reserve of about $325,000 and a fund balance for f.y. 2017-18 of about $739,000, which includes the cash reserve and monies that have been appropriated, but not yet distributed. The reserve is close to one year's worth of appropriation, just in case we ever have a really bad year. 

The topic was germane because it set up the next discussion: will the TDA have to wait until it has collected money to spend it, or can they speculate and have the county back them up until the money rolls in? 

Bill explained that the TDA can spend based on what they anticipate the TDA will take in with their 2% of occupancy tax. Bill's conservative estimate, based on last year's revenues, is that the TDA will have a little over $300,000 to spend. 

"I thought the TDA would be cash strapped at first," Tom said. "But the county is prepared to cover spending until they collect the 2%." (That extra 2% occupancy tax collection goes into effect on January 1, 2018.)

Wayne Clark noted that the TDA would need paid staff to do the tourism development, and they would need to "build out a reserve in order to have employees," but Bill's reply was that the county would be the reserve. 

So – what will the TDA pay for?

Bob presented a list of appropriations that the OTB has been paying for that he thinks should move to the TDA:

  • Ocracoke Civic and Business Association, which is already using OT funds to pay a travel and tourism director, hire a marketing firm for a branding and marketing campaign, coordinate 4th of July, and maintain the website.
  • Ocracoke Alive, which hosts the Ocrafolk Festival and the Festival Latino de Ocracoke, among other special events in the community. 
  • Ocracoke Preservation Society, which has a popular museum and offers activities and programs for visitors. 

A new discussion ensued about who will be responsible for marketing Ocracoke? (The TDA must spend 2/3 of its revenues on tourism promotion). To continue the programs it has started, OCBA would need $250,000 in 2018-19. Should this money funnel from the TDA to OCBA, should the OTB pay for part of that, or should the TDA take over the marketing from OCBA?

Wayne Clark and Martha Garrish are doing double duty as TDA board members, as well as OCBA board members. Wayne also served as the former chair of the OTB, and is currently OCBA's treasurer.

"In most counties, it's the TDAs that do [marketing and promotion], not another organization," he said. "Now that we've got a TDA, OCBA might send over the marketing and tourism promotion. The new board can decision [sic] about how to spend money. The whole purpose of the TDA is to promote the island, not just to pass money through." He mentioned that OCBA had talked about this, and they were open to moving the marketing operation to the TDA.

What else could the TDA do? 

"I'd like to see the [TDA] look into the need for public restrooms," Tom said, citing the "ongoing costs of cleaning and maintenance" as the hurdle to getting necessary rooms built for the masses. "It's my hope that the board would prioritize that need."

Wayne opined that Ocracoke has plenty of public restrooms (his comrades on the TDA disagreed to varying degrees), but we do need better signage to let people know where they are. He also pointed out that the TDA is a taxing authority, as is the Ocracoke Sanitary District and the Ocracoke Mosquito Control Board. These entities can add a tax onto Ocracoke's property taxes. "[Lodging] customers pay a lot of tax and we keep going back to the same well all the time," he said. "If the people of Ocracoke want restrooms, the people of Ocracoke should pay for it, and spread the tax around."

Greg Honeycutt hopes to make improvements to Ocracoke's convenience site. "Our dump is ridiculous," he said. "And it's the gateway to Ocracoke!" 

What comes next?

Tom came up with three take-aways:  

  1. There's unanimous consent for the boards to work together.
  2. The TDA needs to get together and elect officers.
  3. There are key decisions to be made between the TDA and OCBA. Tom says his "gut feeling" is that the TDA will go with funding OCBA, and take up the conversation of the TDA taking over marketing at a later date. Wayne reiterated it's the norm in other counties for TDAs to be active themselves, with hired staff to do the work.

The meeting returned to discussion of the old OTB. Amy mentioned that non-profits will need to know about these changes early on so they can put together their funding requests for either or both boards. Bob thinks his board (OTB) should re-vamp the whole process of appropriation. Stephanie requested that the TDA meet before the end of the year so they can all know how to go forward. 

Finally! A decision was made: the TDA will meet on Monday, November 13th at 5pm at the Community Center. 

If you're so inclined, please read the statute that make the TDA possible.  


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