Sand fatigue

By on February 21, 2011

Nags Head’s Board of Commissioners could build a ton of political goodwill if it would just put the brakes on beach nourishment.

While its rush to start pumping sand onto the beach by April has cheered South Nags Head property owners, it risks feeding further resentment among many of the town’s other taxpayers.

Even if it already had a list of contingencies ready when the latest push started more than a year ago, the continual rollout of trial balloons and new plans makes the board look desperate and stubborn.

Last week, the latest version took the town full circle from a bond referendum that was rejected in 2007. Unable to get enough oceanfront owners to voluntarily foot the bill by signing a petition and sparing the rest of the town, the Board of Commissioners now says it wants to tax everybody another 2 cents.

That would be in addition to 16 cents per $100 of value in two oceanfront tax districts also established last week.

Commentary

Making everyone share responsibility sounds logical, especially if it is in response to a backlash from oceanfront owners who resent having to carry all of the freight. But this is the fourth variation of the plan, give or take a few tweaks, in the past year. And it closely resembles the failed referendum, when voters indicated they were not interested in shared responsibility.

The 2007 referendum called for adding 5.54 cents to the townwide property tax rate and another 32.08 cents along the oceanfront to pay back a $24 million bond over five years. The difference this time is that the town’s share of occupancy tax revenue would guarantee a $10 million bond. So the town doesn’t need the blessing of voters for collateral. It just needs to raise the money to pay off the loan. The rest of the 10-mile project, now estimated at $36 million, would be funded by the county.

Commissioners and the town’s staff can be applauded for perseverance in securing federal and state permits. You could also give the board some credit for commitment, even if you believe, rightly or not, that beach nourishment is misguided and serves a minority of moneyed interests.

But to move forward with seeking bids for a $36 million project before securing the funding makes the town look reckless. It looks that way even if town leaders are confident that they will earn the blessing of the state’s Local Government Commission, which makes sure plans for bond issues are fiscally sound but will not rule on Nags Head’s plan until April 6. 

The town probably should have hired a public relations firm with some of the $1 million or so it has already spent. But the PR people might have been confused by now, too.

Legal problems could downshift the steamroller. Several property owners have filed a class-action suit challenging the town’s procedure for securing easements, which basically say sign here within 30 days or we’ll condemn. It’s a legal process known as a quick taking, which creates another perception, this one of the town being a bully.  

Maybe the lawsuit will provide a cooling down period to let us all catch our breaths. At least it might allow some time for the idea to sink in that 2 cents only amounts to $5 a month on a $300,000 house. The beach will still be here next year.

This column originally appeared in The Virginian-Pilot.

Related story: New sand plan calls for a townwide tax increase »

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