Lost Opportunities on Ocracoke
Recently there has been much discussion regarding funding for a recreational field on Ocracoke and the need for "shoulder season" tourism promotion on the island. These issues have been long standing on Ocracoke.
There have been at least two successful efforts to promote off season visits to the island. The Ocracoke Invitational Surf Fishing Tournament held in early May each year successfully increased business for lodging facilities and restaurants during the spring. Gary Mitchell's efforts to organize and promote the Ocrafolk Festival the first weekend in June has been an outstanding success drawing visitors in the "shoulder season." Yes, there was a time when the first week of June was a slow business time. Schools are still in session, and the Festival draws an older, more affluent crowd during what was traditionally a slow week.
Both of these events resulted from the efforts of a few individuals and both events should serve as models for future "shoulder season" efforts in tourism promotions. These two events target specific groups, that is fishermen and music lovers, rather than individuals. During the off season it would be best to target specific groups rather than general tourism.
Lodging facilities, and restaurants in particular, cannot afford to remain open during the off season to serve only the occasional visitor. If Ocracoke had the ability to attract groups of people for meetings and special events during the off season, businesses could plan to be open for specific events. Unfortunately, Ocracoke does not have suitable meeting facilities to attract business groups for retreats or conferences. The new school gymnasium has opened up possibilities for basketball, volleyball and other events that can be promoted during the off season.
Over the past years Ocracoke has missed several opportunities to acquire the assets needed to promote off season tourism. Efforts to acquire the Berkley Center property resulted in state legislation approving an additional 2% occupancy tax that could have provided assistance in this purchase. The failure to implement an additional 2% occupancy tax 5 years ago has resulted in the loss of one million dollars which could have been used to promote Ocracoke and assist in funding other initiatives to encourage tourism. Meeting facilities, space for festivals, weddings, family reunions, etc. could have been achieved at that time. A lost opportunity.
Both Carteret and Dare counties collect 5% occupancy tax from their visitors. Dare County is one of the few counties in the state authorized by the General Assembly to collect a 1% food and beverage tax. This link shows a table of these tax rates for all NC counties.
During the 1980s Paul and Irene Mosher made a generous offer to the county on property which could have served as a recreational field. Failure to act resulted in another lost opportunity. Now, the Burrus family has offered one of the very few remaining sites that are adequate for a recreational field. Will we look back ten years from now and see another lost opportunity?
Over the past thirty years Ocracoke has moved ahead with the purchase of the Community Center and the opening of the Health Center. Both of these purchases were controversial and many skeptics questioned the wisdom of these acquisitions. Today the Community Center and the Health Center serve the needs of both residents and visitors. Most business owners and residents see the benefits that resulted from the efforts of a few individuals who persevered over the objections of the skeptics.
If Ocracoke is to move forward in providing employment and economic opportunities for residents during the off season it will require making an investment in the future. Recreational fields open the possibilities for sporting tournaments such as softball, volleyball, soccer, baseball, etc. The acquisition of suitable meeting facilities would encourage businesses to schedule seminars and training sessions during the off season.
Even if there was agreement on the need for recreational fields and meeting facilities, there would undoubtedly be controversy regarding how to fund these programs. Realistically, the county has seldom shown the foresight or willingness to fund efforts to promote tourism on Ocracoke.
Even though there are many needs which could and should be funded by the county, recent history demonstrates that providing fire protection, health services, restrooms, tourism promotion, etc. must be funded and supported through Ocracoke's own resources.
There is really only one reliable source of income available to Ocracoke. The occupancy tax. Additional sales tax would not directly accrue to Ocracoke.
Food and Beverage and land transfer taxes require action by the state legislature and are extremely difficult to get approved due to opposition by Real Estate and Restaurant lobbying groups. Food and Beverage taxes and land transfer taxes are also countywide taxes that are not specifically allocated to Ocracoke. All taxes other than the occupancy tax are paid by Hyde county residents.
If Ocracoke is to fund recreational fields, fire halls, meeting facilities, etc. it will require making hard choices.
Will we look back 10 years from today and see LOST OPPORTUNTIES?
Editors note: As many of you are well aware, Al Scarborough is the father of Ocracoke Current co-Editor Jenny Scarborough. Ocracoke Current welcomes Letters to the Editors, Submissions and Comments from anyone, even if you are not related to us!