How to Spend $2045.46 a Minute

Sundae Horn
How to Spend $2045.46 a Minute

More exactly: how the OTB spent $450,000 in 220 minutes.

The Ocracoke Occumancy Tax Board (OTB) met Thursday, April 11 for their annual appropriations meeting. With a budget of $450,000 to allocate, and requests totaling $566,492, the board had some slashing and burning to do.  

OTB board members are Bob Chestnut (chair), Stephanie O’Neal, Trudy Austin, Nancy Leach, and Byron Miller. 

The way the meeting works is that all the local non-profits and Hyde County put in their official requests in March. They also provide financial information and detailed plans of how they will spend the money they may get. After the OTB looks over the mounds of paperwork, they meet to let representatives of the organizations make a final plea and answer any questions the board has raised. 

This is riveting stuff if you like meetings and budgets and non-profits and seeing well-meaning people ask for or decide on funding for community-based projects. I love it!

As per tradition, the requests go from smallest (Ocracoke Friends of the Library) to largest (Ocracoke Foundation, moving into the top spot in 2019 after the OFVD occupied it for years.) 

After everyone makes their case, the floor is opened for questions from the audience. Once satisfied, Bob Chestnut, the OTB chair, calls a short recess. This separates the sheep from the goats as the less-hardy souls who don’t cherish long meetings head home and await the Current’s reporting on the morrow. I like sheep best (though I’m considering adopting a Nubian goat, but that’s an article for another time), so I’ll call those of us with patience and fortitude the sheep. Our flock last night included Darlene Styron, county manager Kris Noble, John Simpson, Helena Stevens, and Ocracoke’s county commissioner Tom Pahl. Some of us even stayed ‘til the bitter end at 10:40pm. 

Whew! The OTB listened, questioned, discussed, argued (in a friendly manner), decided, and voted all in one night. 

Here’s where it stands (with some commentary from the players)(All funding amounts were voted on with unanimous “ayes”):

Ocracoke Friends of the Library: Requested $3165 to support the Summer Reading Program, summer janitorial services, new lighting for the teen room, and funding for a subscription service for new books in Spanish. Approved: $3165. Bob had some reservations about buying books, as he didn’t see that as part of the OTB mission, but later in the evening when it was discussed again, the support was there.  

Ocracoke School Arts Week: Requested $4500 for artists stipends out of the total Arts Week budget of over $10,000. Approved: $4500. It passed in the first round without discussion. Everyone loves Arts Week! (Note: Nancy Leach is the Arts Week coordinator and didn’t recuse herself from the vote.)*

Hyde County Sheriff’s office: Requested $7500 for radar speed warning signs to deter speeding on Ocracoke’s small roads shared by cars, trucks, golf carts, bikes, pedestrians, and ducks. Approved: $7500. As Sgt. Jason Daniels explained, these signs have an 80% success rate (i.e., 80% of people who see that they’re speeding will slow down immediately) and help control leadfoots without issuing tickets. The deputies cannot write tickets based on the signs, and the signs don’t take photos. They just remind people to slow the *&%$^#^!* down. (Jason didn’t actually say that – that’s my editorial license.) The deputies will maintain the signs, keep them charged, and move them around the island as needed. This was an easy one!

Ocracoke Working Watermen’s Association (OWWA)/Ocracoke Foundation (OFI): Requested $9600 for operation of the OWWA Exhibit at the Community Square. The OTB chose not to bring this to a vote. The money would’ve gone to the Ocracoke Foundation (which owns the Community Square) to essentially pay rent for the exhibit space (at under the market value, per OFI president Scott Bradley.) As Bob put it, “I don’t want to get involved paying rent to the Foundation for a Foundation project.” The precedent will not be set.  

Hyde County: Requested: $10,000 for Lobbyist fees. Ocracoke has been paying a part of the lobbying fee for the past several years from OT funds. The lobbyists represent Ocracoke and Hyde County interests at the state level including ferries, small school supplement money, commercial fishing regulations, among other general lobbying needs. Currently, Ocracoke is using the lobbying to promote the proposed derelict vessel ordinance in Silver Lake. Approved: $10,000.

Ocracoke School: Requested $19,000 to purchase a cover for the wooden gym floor when it’s used for non-sporting events. This was a no-discussion no-brainer. Approved: $19,000.

Ocracoke Seafood: Requested: $20,000 for foundation repair at the Fish House. The OTB chose not to bring this to a vote. No one was there to plead the case on behalf of the Fish House, and they had not provided enough information for the board to make a decision. 

Beaufort-Hyde Partnership for Children: Requested: $24,385 for an educational playgroup program for children age 18 months–5 years. This was came sooooo close to being voted on, but ultimately, the OTB learned that mainland Hyde County gets state funding for their playgroup program. Ocracoke peeps don’t like to pay for stuff with occupancy tax funds that the mainland gets paid for in other ways. As Byron put it, “Why should our tourists pay for a playgroup?” The board passed on a vote.

OCBA/Fireworks: Requested: $26,500 to go up in smoke in 20 minutes or less. What a bargain! Approved: $26,500 with no discussion. (Don’t miss it! Ocracoke Fireworks are on July 3rd.)

Ocracoke Alive: Requested: $28,000 to support the Ocrafolk Festival, Festival Latino, and the new and improved Ocrafolk School. Ocracoke Alive director David Tweedie explained that the Festival (June 6-8 this year) was successful last year as a ticketed event. Now it can be a primary fundraiser for the organization that supports arts in the community. “We are maturing as an organization, and becoming more stable,” Dave said. “And now that we’re confident that ticketing the Festival will be successful, that gives us more flexibility to invest in new projects.” OA requested $1000 less this year than last; they also donated $8000 to Ocracoke School over the past year. Approved: $28,000. (Discussion about advertising costs took up a lot of time and will be the topic of another article.)

Ocracoke Community Center: Requested: $34,570 for cedar shake siding (have you seen the building?), operating expenses (always covered by the OTB), and new audio-visual equipment to make the center more of a conference center. Approved: $29,570. The board said yes to the siding, yes to the operating expenses, and no to more equipment. The Community Center board plans to use their rental income to make improvements to the floor. 

Hyde County Tram operations: Requested: $35,000. Tabled until the meeting about trams scheduled for May 20that 4pm. It is hoped that we’ll know by then if the passenger-only ferry is a dream or reality. Stay tuned! 

Ocracoke Health Center: Requested: $38,600 for building repairs ($26,600) and seed money for a fundraiser seafood festival ($12,000). (Mark your calendars for August 31st!) OHC director Cheryl Ballance described the building’s problems, and all agreed they need to be fixed. The seafood festival will include food, of course, plus music, an auction, and adult beverages. The Health Center board hopes this will become a successful Labor Day event comparable to the Firemen’s Ball that supports the OVFD each year. They also plan for it to become self-sustaining. Approved: $38,600.

Ocracoke Preservation Society: Requested: $49,423, amended to $47,490 This will pay for the digital archives project (which will be finished this year), the Fig Festival ($11,000), the British Cemetery ceremony ($2800), a one-day Maynard celebration on November 22nd($4050), and the mortgage on the Island Inn. (The mortgage is less than they expected, hence the change in the OPS request.) Approved: $47,490. In answer to the OTB’s questions we learned: the concrete slab piles at the Island Inn should be ground into gravel ASAP, the public restrooms are on track to be built by late July, and the digital archive is going to be amazing. 

NC Coastal Land Trust: $50,000 for the Community Park/Loop Shack Nature Walk. Approved: $50,000, plus the OTB re-appropriated the $50,000 they set aside for this project last year. NCCLT is doing other fundraising for this project and expects to begin work on it after all the money is secured, with a goal of fall 2020.  

Ocracoke Civic and Business Association: Requested: $61,061 for events, which breaks down as $32,200 for the Pirate Jamboree, $14,451 for the non-pyrotechnical 4thof July events, $3400 for a new program of community movie nights, $3000 for the Christmas boat parade (which has never cost anything yet), $2500 to promote and purchase yard signs for the spring and fall Island Wide Yard Sales, and $5500 for Christmas décor. Approved: $61,061 after much long discussion. Nancy noted that “Everyone in the community has something negative to say about the Pirate Jamboree.” Yeah, all agreed, but it brings people here and makes money. “It accomplishes what we’re trying to do – bringing people here on the shoulder seasons,” Bob said. “It doesn’t help my surf shop, but it puts heads in beds.” Those heads pay the occupancy taxes so it all comes back around…. (Note: Bob Chestnut also sits on the OCBA board, but did not recuse himself from the vote.*) 

Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Department/Ocracoke Fire Protection Association: Requested: $70,188 for sundry equipment and building maintenance needs, plus $50,000 toward their new truck fund. OVFD will get a new tanker-pumper truck in September of 2019 that cost $283,000 (and is paid for.) They’d like to plan ahead to replace another truck in 4 years or so – the $50,000 will start the nest egg. And they’ll come back next year for another $50,000 and so on…. Approved: $70,188. “I’d like to take the opportunity to tell the county commissioner that the OTB shouldn’t be funding this much of the bill. We need a fire tax,” Bob said. “We haven’t quit that conversation,” commissioner Tom answered. 

Ocracoke Foundation: Requested: $75,000 for improvements to the main dock at the Community Square. Approved: $75,000.  

*This is different from years past. See: 2018, when the Waterfowl Festival asked for funding and both Stephanie and Trudy recused themselves because they serve on that board. 


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