Occupancy Tax Unable to Fully Fund All Requests

Jenny Scarborough
When Occupancy Tax funds don't come through, you can always sell a plate of barbeque.
When Occupancy Tax funds don't come through, you can always sell a plate of barbeque.
Heather Johnson photo

Wondering what makes Ocracoke tick?  Like budgeting?

Approximately $360,000 collectively was requested from Occupancy Tax funds by the Health Center, OVFD, OCBA and, acting for the recreational field committee, Ocracoke Youth Center.

The revenues from occupancy taxes total about $360,000 each year.  A five member board, chaired by Stella O'Neal, recommends how to distribute the funds.  The Hyde commissioners have final approval, but only once have made changes to the boards proposal. 

The other board members are Trudy Austin, Wayne Clark, Martha Garrish and Cyndi Gaskill.

This year, for the first time, requests to the board exceeded revenues by about $160,000.  Austin said they usually are able to grant the majority of all requests, but would be making some hard decisions this year.

The article about the large requests is on the CURRENT NEWS page.  Other organizations seeking funds are covered below, in the order that they made their proposals.

OPS sells these handmade quilted potholders in their gift store.
OPS sells these handmade quilted potholders in their gift store.
Heather Johnson photo

To learn more about many of the non-profits visit OUR COMMUNITY and click on the images linking to their sites.

"We try to put our visitors in touch with the heart of the village, which is its history," said Ocracoke Preservation Society President Bill Jones.  The historical society saw all of its income sources decrease in 2011, with the exception of estate and memorial gifts, which grew.  They hope a re-invigorated gift shop will turn things around, he said.

Significant damage to the OPS museum roof during Hurricane Irene led insurance adjusters to determine it needed replacement.  OPS asked for $8,600 to cover the difference between the insurance payment on the roof and the lowest bid.

The Ocrafolk Festival has grown in attendance by a third each of the last two years, said David Tweedie.  He asked for 8% of the Ocrafolk Festival budget of $50,000, or $4000.   Expenses have grown as the festival hires more performers to entertain more visitors.

The Ocrafolk Festival grows every year.
The Ocrafolk Festival grows every year.
Heather Johnson photo

The rest of the festival budget comes from donations and fund-raising concerts (like the one Saturday at the Community Center!).  In February, Coastal Living Magazine, which has a circulation of 660,000, mentioned the Ocrafolk Festival as one of the top island festivals in the world, said Tweedie.

Wayne Clark asked if the organizing committee had considered moving the event to an earlier date.

Tweedie said the festival had developed a "following on the first weekend in June."  As the event continues to grow, the plan is to expand to include different sites around the village.

Clark said his business, Edward's of Ocracoke, booked early and quickly for the festival weekend.

Martha Garrish asked if all performers were provided with housing for the week of the festival.

Occupancy Tax Unable to Fully Fund All Requests

They are given the option of staying all three nights, said Tweedie.  Organizers encourage the musicians and performers to participate in the festival even when they are not on stage, he said.  Housing is "part of the package because we don't pay what they'd earn otherwise."

Friends of the Library board chair Scott Bradley requested $3190.   Visitors frequently take advantage of the wi-fi connection at the library and the free use of computers.  They'd like to outfit the library with a "decent printer" and are "looking to get everything connected wirelessly," he said.

Ocracoke School cleans the building during the school year.  Friends of the Library would use part of the requested funds for summer janitorial service.

The money would also support the annual summer reading program for K - 4th grades, which attracts about 25 kids from both on and off the island.

Click image to learn about the April 5K
Click image to learn about the April 5K

WOVV board chair Greg Honeycutt requested $5000 to promote and support next years Annual Spring 5K Run, which equally supports WOVV and the School Booster Club.  "Sporting events up the beach have become big business," said Honeycutt.  "Most money goes to non-profits, but they also bring a lot of people in."

Next year the 5K committee would like to add a 10K to attract more runners.  In this, its first year, event organizers expect a turnout of 200 -250 runners.  They hope to double that number next year, said Honeycutt.

Janey Jacoby requested $2000 for the continued maintenance of the British Cemetery.  The money also helps cover the cost of the reception during the annual ceremony.  The British and Canadian governments both contribute wreaths to that event.

Jacoby asked that remaining funds granted last year by the occupancy tax board remain, and was told that monies not used by the end of the fiscal year must be returned to the occupancy tax fund.

The UFO should be a stop along the Scenic Byway!
The UFO should be a stop along the Scenic Byway!

Scenic Byway Committee member Melinda Sutton asked for $12,570 to meet a matching funds grant received in 2011.  Dare County paid the $50,280 match on the $251,000 grant, and Hyde is obligated to reimburse 25% of that total.  She said, "We're on the hook to Dare County."

The grant paid for signs that will go up in August along the scenic byway, stretching from Whalebone Junction to Beaufort.  The committee requested the matching funds from both Hyde Commissioners and OCBA.  They were encouraged to instead ask the occupancy tax board, said Sutton.

"We gave money to start this thing, and now it's getting bigger and bigger," said Garrish.  "Did we know we were going to owe this?"

Sutton, who recently joined the Scenic Byway committee, said she wasn't sure how it came to pass that the process moved forward without any clear understanding of how it would be funded.  The byway committee is now "planning and applying for additional grants for digital media interpretive programs," along the route.

$8000 would support a "family friendly" fall Pirate Festival.
$8000 would support a "family friendly" fall Pirate Festival.

The Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce is planning a Pirate Festival for October 26 & 27, said Chip Stevens, who requested $8000 to pay two crews of pirate re-enactors, purchase T-shirts for sale, and promote the event.

2018 will be the 300th anniversary of Blackbeard's death, and Caaarteret County is planning a paaarty.  We'd like to bring traffic here as well, said Stevens.  Organizers aaaare "trying to establish a family oriented, pirate themed event" on Ocracoke that will bring visitors in the shoulder season.  There will be a mock battle and pirate boarding in Silver Lake.

This will be a laaarger scale for the event, now in it's fourth year.  Stevens said organizers "want to self-fund" and aaaare planning a scavenger hunt to generate revenue while encouraging visitors to tour businesses in the village.

EMS Manager Brian Carter said EMS returned all $17,000 of last year's occupancy tax funds, designated to purchase a 4x4 vehicle for emergency response on the beach.  Last month, the occupancy tax board agreed to spend $12,000 of the returned money to pay lobbyist Joe McCLees to advocate for no new ferry tolls.

Carter said he focused on what is "feasible, useful and needed" in his $34,000 request.  $100,000 was cut from the Hyde EMS budget last year and Carter expects a similar situation this year.  Carter would use the money for a Tahoe or Suburban that could enclose a person (or body) that needed to be carried off the beach.

EMS requested $5,075 for Hurricane Tracking software.
EMS requested $5,075 for Hurricane Tracking software.

Riding in the bed of the current blue ford ranger the department uses is both unsafe for the patient and "poor PR," he said.  Carter envisions a new emergency service vehicle that could have a tent attached for use as command central during crises, as well as during festivals and events that require EMS presence.

The blue truck would remain on Ocracoke, said Carter.  In 2011, there were 8 incidences with 2 beach calls at the same time.  In 2010, there were 12.  When the rip currents are bad there are often multiple distressed swimmers at once, he said.

$5,075 of Carter's request would purchase sophisticated hurricane tracking software that could help the EMS team better determine when to call an evacuation.  "It's not a magical tool.  I wish it would say, Brian, you need to do this now," he said.

The community center board envisions a wedding destination space where there once was a bar called the 3/4 Time.
The community center board envisions a wedding destination space where there once was a bar called the 3/4 Time.

Newly appointed Community Center Board chair Barbara Jemison requested $30,250 for operating expenses and capital improvements to the Ocracoke Community Center.  $17,250 of that would cover yearly cleaning, utilities, landscaping and maintenance costs.

Jemison pointed out that as a county owned building, Hyde should bear the cost of bringing the entrances into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.  She also said since EMS offices are in the building, Hyde should pay a percentage of the utility fees.

"Our new goal is to generate revenue and make this a wedding destination," she said.  The board would like to open up the community center and make it all one level, keeping the stage intact.  They would put in windows, take down the bar, and add cabinetry.  They would like to purchase some round tables.

The exterior should be landscaped and re-graded, said Jemison.  They received a bid of $16,050 for the exterior work.  She anticipates total renovations will cost between $50 -$55,000.

The biggest priority, however, is fixing the HVAC.  There are some water spots on the ceiling which raise the concern of mold, said Jemison.

The board will raise the price of the rental agreement, and begin charging cleaning fees for events that serve food and beverages.  Jemison would also like to see the Community Center receive a "more frequent serious clean."

Ocracoke Child Care:  no sandbox required.
Ocracoke Child Care: no sandbox required.

Ocracoke Child Care Director Jennifer Daniels was the first to arrive and the last to present.  Jenn said, "Thanks for helping us out again.  It is greatly appreciated."  OCC operating funds come from frequent fundraisers, donations and parent fees.  OCC requested $32,250.

A new NC law states that cribs with drop down sides are no longer allowed in certified day care centers, said Jenn.  She requested $3000 for eight new cribs.

Part of the request would replace the poorly functioning radios in all the classrooms.  Jenn also hopes to update a donated surveillance system, which has allowed parents to "see what's going on in the classroom."

The center was built in 1998 and the floors in particular need some maintenance.  Cracks in the kitchen floor are not okay with the health inspector, said Jenn.

She is working with OFI Director Robin Payne on a grant to renovate the playground.  Rubber matting in the "fall zone" under swings and playground equipment costs $15,000, but would protect both the kids and the longevity of the equipment better than sand.

Ocracoke Child Care can always use dress up clothes, manipulative toys and science toys, said Jenn.

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