Making It Rain

Sundae Horn
Making It Rain

The Occupancy Tax Board voted to appropriate over $500,000. 

The total bill came to $503,617 to be exact. This is the amount that the Occupancy Tax Board (OTB) recommended to the Hyde County Board of Commissioners (BOC) to disperse to Ocracoke organizations for the 2018-19 fiscal year. The BOC will vote on the appropriations tonight at their regular monthly meeting. (6pm @ the Community Center.)

The OTB is an advisory board, and the BOC can override their decisions but they almost never do. The OTB meets every spring to hear the requests for funding, which always exceeds the amount of money they can give away. (Thanks, visitors, for paying the occupancy tax when you spend the night on Ocracoke – you buy lots of great stuff!) OTB board members are Bob Chestnut (chair), Nancy Leach, Byron Miller, Stephanie O'Neal, and Trudy Austin.

At their second meeting of the grant-request season on April 23rd, the OTB was joined by several members of the community who were there to eavesdrop on the decision-making process. We were there to be seen and not heard (which is SO hard for me -- I have questions!), but in a generous moment at the beginning of the meeting, Bob allowed a few public comments. 

The first to speak up was Ocracoke's rep on the BOC, Tom Pahl. He had expressed at the previous meeting (read about it here) that he was unhappy with Ocracoke Civic and Business Association's funding request. "I want to reiterate my position," he said. "OCBA's request should see a significant cut of $50,000 or more."

OCBA's vice president Justin LeBlanc defended the organization's request for $112,717. (They are also getting $251,000 from the TDA.) "OCBA continues to fully support our request," and added in an ominous tone that if they didn't get the money, the result would "not be painless. A reduction in funds will have real-world implications such as a reduction in events or reduction in marketing," he said.

(Much, much later in the evening, the OTB decided to grant OCBA $82,833 –a $30,000 cut to their request. OCBA has gone back to the drawing board, and will present their real-world implicated updated projected budget at the Civic Affairs meeting on Wednesday, May 9th at 6:30pm at the Berkley Manor.) 

But we are jumping ahead!  

I was pleased to hear Bob's comment as the board voted to grant Friends of the Library their full request of $2815. "Congrats to Friends of the Library – they're the only ones with a reduction in their request from 2017 to this year," he said. (Full disclosure: I work at Ocracoke Library and will get to spend about half of that money on the Summer Reading Program, and I'm also really excited about getting some of the rooms painted! Thanks, OTB!)

Ocracoke School asked for $6000 for Arts Week and for some reason that request needed a lot of discussion over both OTB meetings. The six grand pays for the stipends for the artists that teach at Arts Week each year. It's not the total budget – Ocracoke Alive provides supplies;housing for visiting artists is donated. The OTB agreed to give them $4000, then later discovered they had a bit more to give, so the final grant is $4838. Somebody's gonna have to do some bake sales for the remaining $1162.

Everybody loves the new Waterfowl Festival! The decision to grant them $10,025 was an easy one. (Stephanie and Trudy are on the Decoy Guild board so they recused themselves and the motion passed with 3/3 votes.)

Ocracoke Health Center will get their new roof! That grant is for $12,133 for the island's only clinic/healthcare facility. 

For the hometown radio station, WOVV, the OTB voted to fund all their request save the bit they asked for to cover construction overruns. That's $17,535 to keep WOVV 90.1FM on the airwaves. 

Ocracoke Alive, Bob noted, had a "huge increase" in their request this year, most of going toward the Ocrafolk Festival. "Their justification is the possibility of a weather event leaving them with more expenses than they could cover for the festival," Bob explained. "But it's a big increase to go from 8 or 9 thousand to 20."

Ocracoke Alive also hoped to make repairs to Deepwater Theater (roofing and doors.) The board agreed to give them $22,000 – which amounted to $0.00 for theater repairs and a $5000 reduction in the request for the Ocrafolk Festival. Later that same evening, when the totals were totaled and there was money leftover, the Ocracoke Alive grant was increased to $28,500, just $500 less than their total request. 

At the risk of editorializing, I'd like to point out that the Ocrafolk Festival was almost punished for being mostly self-sustaining over the years. With a total budget of ~$65,000, Ocrafolk was asking for less than 1/3 of what it needs. Back when they only asked for ~$8000, it was a mere pittance compared to what the event costs (about 15%) and in many years they asked for less. Ocracoke Alive seeks sponsors, sells merchandise, holds fundraises year-round, and requests donations from festival attendees to pay for their events and programs. In spite (or because of?) showing fiscal responsibility for 19 years, the Ocrafolk Festival didn't receive full support of a big request the first time they made one.

By contrast, Blackbeard's Pirate Jamboree has received grants of $18,000–$20,000 each year (so far) without debate, and OT funds covered at least half of the event's budget. To celebrate the 300th anniversary of the triumph of the rule of law over thieves and scoundrels, the BPJ is expecting to spend $60,518, and over $36,000 was requested from occupancy tax funds. That's 60% of the event's budget. As we know, OCBA didn't get their total funding request this year, so will we have fewer pirates roaming the streets this October? Will they scale back the budget for the BPJ to last year's level? Will they seek other source of revenue? We'll find out at the Civic Affairs meeting on Wednesday.


The Ocracoke Community Center gets $18,570 for operating expenses, and an additional $33,295 for repairs, be they flooring or exterior siding, but probably not both. 

The OTB voted to give Hyde County $45,000 – 35 for the tram project (promised last year) and 10 for the lobbyists who keep our Hatteras ferries toll-free. OTB members agreed that the trams are important to support the future passenger ferries, and the lobbying seems to be working. 

The North Carolina Coastal Land Trust asked for and received a thumbs-up on $50,000 to develop raised nature trails on their marshland property that will connect to Ocracoke Community Park and NPS property. All agreed that the proposed project would be an asset to Ocracoke.

Ocracoke Foundation's request was tabled to be discussed at yet another meeting to disperse the extra reserve funds. (We'll keep you posted.)

Andrea Powers, director of Ocracoke Preservation Society, gave more information about why the digital archiving project at OPS is vital to their mission. The project involves scanning photos, documents, newspapers, etc., into a database that anyone can access. In response to questions raised at the first OTB meeting, she said that OPS expects to finish the bulk project by June of 2019. (Ongoing archiving will be ongoing because history never ends!) Even before then, the information will go live online and be available to the public. 

Her pleas fell on deaf ears, however, with the board voting to fund 3 out of 4 OPS requests: Maynard, Island Inn, and Figs. But alas, no archiving funds. The OTB did tell OPS that they could try again next year.

A new OPS event this year to honor Lt. Robert Maynard and his crew for ridding Ocracoke of pirates will take place on November 22, 2018, the 300th anniversary of the Battle of Ocracoke. The OTB voted to grant $18,000 for this once-in-300-years celebration. 

OPS will receive $19,623 to support the Island Inn project. Tom Pahl mentioned that the Island Inn committee will be fast-tracking the public restrooms piece of the 5-year project. The plan id to renovate the Island Inn, restore it to its former glory as the historic Oddfellow's Lodge, and make it a public space.

The Fig Festival (August 17th and 18th) gets 80% of its budget from occupancy tax funds, with a grant of $11,000. (Full disclosure: I'm the Fig Festival coordinator and petitioned OPS to adopt it as their own event this year; we plan to make the festival more self-sustaining.)

The OTB voted to continue their support of Ocracoke Youth Center and the Community Park with a grant of $48,000 which pays for the annual mortgage. The rest of the OYC request will be revisited in the meeting about the reserve fund.  

Ernie Doshier attended the meeting to provide more information about the OVFD's need for new fire trucks. Not surprisingly, fire trucks are pricey – to the tune of $250,000-$320,000 for a basic truck. The OTB voted to grant $100,000 toward the new truck fund, then raised that amount to $120,000 when they realized they had enough money to do so. OVFD's request this year was $160,000, and last year they received $80,000, so most on the board felt the $120,000 was an acceptable compromise. Tom Pahl pledged to consider all possible sources of revenue for our fire department, including a local referendum to add a fire tax to the county property tax. A fire department isn't a luxury, people. We might have to start paying for it.

The OBCA/TDA/OTB/BOC discussion deserves its own article, so that one comes next. For now, I'll repeat that they'll get $82,833 out of the $122,117 they requested.

And..... that's how you spend $503,617 in three short hours. Whew! 




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