Expanded use of 1 percent tax should be restored

By on February 20, 2011

Regional cooperation, already in short supply in Dare County, took it on the chin once more when it was revealed that a newly authorized addition of 1 percent to the occupancy tax might preclude use of those funds for anything beyond beach nourishment.

County Attorney Bobby Outten said he believed the law requested by Dare County would not allow towns to tap those funds to remove houses in the public right-of-way beach unless it was part of a beach nourishment plan.

When Nags Head and Kill Devil Hills approached the Dare County Shoreline Management Commission last year with proposed nourishment projects that would consume most the county’s special fund for that purpose, Nags Head proposed implementing an additional 1 percent occupancy tax to help pay for its project.

Commentary

Dare’s other municipalities endorsed the additional tax with the understanding they could employ those funds for other uses besides pumping sand onto the beach. For example, Duck town officials revealed plans to tap the the Shoreline Management Fund for retreat, sand fencing and dune vegetation. Other municipalities such as Southern Shores and Kitty Hawk have never sought beach nourishment funds but have expressed interest in using the money for other shoreline strategies.

Our sound-side regions, Roanoke Island and the Dare mainland, also experience erosion problems where sand replenishment would not be a viable control method.

The resolution Dare sent to the General Assembly requesting permission to impose the additional occupancy tax was broadly worded to include all of the desired uses of the fund. But, not surprisingly, it has come to light all of that broad language was gutted from the eventual General Assembly bill, apparently to avoid opposition from lobbying groups representing the lodging industry. Why the lodging industry thinks it important to restrict funding to beach nourishment only begs another question for another day.

What is more surprising is that elected officials in local municipalities were unaware of this change until Kitty Hawk inquired about using those funds to remove a house sitting in the public beach.

Outten has requested an opinion from the state attorney general, and Kill Devil Hills Mayor Ray Sturza has asked that our state representatives to go back to the General Assembly and reinstate the original language in the Dare resolution.

This is an issue that should be resolved quickly. While many decry the large number of municipal governments in Dare County as redundant, one reason citizens form towns and choose to live in them is because each one approaches issues, from zoning to development to shoreline management, in different ways. A countywide fund where all contribute should reflect and support such diversity of opinion where erosion is concerned.

Not only should each Dare municipality be free to use designated county funds to manage its shorelines as it sees fit, it is also time for the Shoreline Commission to become more proactive. The commission should also monitor legislation such as the occupancy tax and keep its town representatives informed of obviously important changes such as those revealed in last week’s meeting.

Anything less only serves to increase the skepticism already present where beach erosion and taxpayer funding are involved.

Related story: Lonely house casts a shadow on beach funding »

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