Sundae Horn
Discussions & Decisions

The OTB made preliminary decisions on spending; will meet again April 23rd. 

Here we are for Round Two of the OTB meeting report. (Read about Round One here!) Please note that none of these decisions are final. The board didn't vote on any recommendations and will revisit the total list of funding requests at their next meeting. 

So.... to refresh your memory, the OTB members are Bob Chestnut, Trudy Austin, Nancy Leach, Byron Miller, and Stephanie O'Neal. Ocracoke's county commissioner, Tom Pahl, was there too. Two other stalwart community members stayed 'til the bitter end (which came after 11pm), plus me, because I love meetings. We weren't allowed to comment (um, that's nearly impossible for me), but we were able to answer some questions and confer among ourselves. 

Bob began the discussion by saying, "We should've been much more active in the OCBA–TDA discussions." The TDA made an effort to involve the OTB, whose members were invited to participate in the workshop meeting. Bob said he was surprised that the request from Ocracoke Civic & Business Association ($112,000) was bigger than last year's request. given that the organization is also getting funding ($251,000) from the Tourism Development Authority. For 2017-18, the OCBA was granted $70,000 for events and programs and $50,000 for marketing. With the marketing and salaries moving to the TDA, Bob expected the OCBA request to be at or lower than last year's $70,000. Instead, there was a $42,000 increase, much of which is going to augment already-existing events. 

Tom clarified what his intent was for the TDA. "[Hyde county manager] Bill Rich and I worked to get the TDA started with the 2% occupancy tax increase," he said. "And one of the real benefits we intended was the TDA would take pressure off the OTB in funding OCBA. It would relieve $100,000 from this board as their funding was shifted over to the TDA."

Tom said he had only learned of OCBA's request for OTB funds that day. (The Current reminded him later that OCBA had provided a 2018-9 budget at the March 12th TDA meeting; it laid out their plans to ask the OTB for over $100,000 while also requesting $251,000 from the TDA. The budget has been out in the open for at least a month, and Tom had seen it before yesterday, but was, he said, focusing on the TDA proposal.)

"I feel the TDA acted hastily in making their decisions and I'm extremely disappointed," Tom said about the $251,000 that has been budgeted for OCBA. "We should call a joint meeting with the OTB and TDA. The 2% tax increase was something that the community ultimately supported because it would ease the pressure on the OTB."

Stephanie asked if there was any way that the TDA could pay for more of OCBA budget? "I thought they would take away some of the expense from us," she said. 

The TDA has voted to adopt a budget, Tom explained, but "they haven't signed the contract with OCBA yet." 

The contract for $251,000 includes $130,000 to pay for professional marketing, $100,000 for 1.5 positions on Ocracoke, and $21,000 for "general and administrative."

Tom suggested that the OTB consider cutting the allocation to OCBA by $100,000. OCBA would then be forced to rethink their TDA contract and decide how to spend their money, perhaps spending less on the professional marketing or employee salaries. (I didn't get a line item list of what OCBA is asking for, but the $112,717 request includes 4th of July, Pirate Jamboree, Holiday Boat Parade, British Cemetery Ceremony, office supplies and computers for their employees, and more. I hope to get the full list and add it to this story.) It was noted that OCBA is already advertising a 4th of July Glow Light Party at the Community Park (complete with it's own Facebook event page), but the funding request has yet to be granted. If the OTB had a relationship status with OCBA it would be: it's complicated. Expect to hear more about it after the April 23rd meeting.

For expediency's sake, Bob went through the list of requests and asked for initial yea/nays. If even one board member hesitated on their "yea," Bob moved on. Requests from Ocracoke Friends of the Library, the Decoy Guild/Waterfowl Festival, Ocracoke Health Center, and Ocracoke Alive did not require any debate.* (Trudy and Stephanie recused themselves from the Decoy vote because they are on the committee.) After some discussion, OPS was granted their requests for the Fig Festival, 300th Anniversary event, and Island Inn project. The OTB would like to hear more about the OPS digitizing project before they vote for it. WOVV got everything they asked for except the $3000 for construction cost overruns. Ocracoke School Arts Week was granted $4000 of the $6000 they asked for (Nancy recused herself – she works for the school.) 

Operating expenses for the Community Center were okayed, but the OTB would like to see a couple more estimates for the siding work, including estimates for a less labor-intensive material. (Cedar shake has to be applied one shingle at a time.)(Full disclosure: I'm on the Community Center board and will get that information.)

Hyde County and the NC Coastal Land Trusts requests were both tabled until we meet again.

Given that the OTB has just learned they have a surplus of $400,000 that the Hyde County Board of Commissioners would like them to spend on capital improvements, they decided to move the requests from the Youth Center/Community Park and Ocracoke Foundation to the list of possible projects. Tom agreed that those requests would "completely fall in line" with what the commissioners were hoping to support with the surplus fund balance.

Finally.... the fire department. Our wonderful, brave, beautiful, underfunded, all-volunteer fire department. All agreed that OVFD's need is justified. (Raise your hand if your DON'T want them to put out a fire at your house.) We need OVFD. But OVFD needs a better way to raise money. They already do fundraisers (Firemen's Ball!) and seek donations, but, Bob said, "They need a long term plan. The problem isn't that we don't want them to have a new fire truck, it's that their request is such a huge proportion of the occupancy tax." (35% to be exact-ish.)

Do we dare mention..... more taxes?

"Has the political climate changed so that a one penny increase on property tax may be acceptable?" Tom asked. 

That solution would require a referendum and a tax for the whole county, meaning that the mainland would have to vote to increase their own property taxes to help buy Ocracoke a fire truck. LOL. 

Former county commissioner Darlene Styron was allowed to speak about the failed attempt to add a fire tax to the Ocracoke Sanitary District (water plant) taxation. OSD board members are voted into office, and the district has the authority to levy a tax. A couple of years ago (6? 7? no one could remember), OVFD made a strong effort to lobby the OSD board to add the tax. "They denied it," Darlene said. "They didn't want to catch heat from raising people's taxes." 

[Correction: Scott Bradley, who is on the Ocracoke Sanitary Board, says that the board never voted on the tax increase for the fire department. The proposal from OVFD was withdrawn, and no vote was called. He pointed out that this is a common misconception. I asked him for the minutes from the OSD that would pertain to this issue. Stand by for more reporting!]

Is it time to try again? Or go for a property tax increase (county-wide referendum) or food and beverage tax (state legislature decision)? Tom promised to "look at all the options for a steady stream of funding" for OVFD. "We'll start this discussion right away," he said. 

Meanwhile, the OTB decided to table the discussion, adjourn, and start afresh on Monday, April 23rd at 3pm at the Community Center.

*Correction: I originally posted that those requests had "unanimous support." Bob asked that I change to wording to better reflect that the items have not yet been voted on.