Tourism, restaurant groups join opposition to disputed bills

By on April 10, 2017

The Dare County Tourism Board and the Outer Banks Restaurant Association have joined a long list of county and municipal governments and non-government organizations that have passed resolutions or sent letters opposing legislation introduced by state Rep. Beverly Boswell.

At a special meeting Thursday, the tourism board passed a resolution opposing H531, a bill introduced by Boswell that would require it to set aside funds to be used to offset so-called negative impacts of tourism on local and county governments.

The board also passed a second resolution opposing a specific section of S539 that calls for repeal of the ban on the use of plastic bags. That section was added by state Sen. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort.

Advertisement

In March, the board had passed a resolution opposing a bill introduced by Boswell, a Dare County Republican, that dealt specifically with the repeal of the plastic bag ban.

Also on Thursday,  the Outer Banks Restaurant Association unanimously passed resolutions opposing the same bills at their monthly meeting, according to the group’s president, Daniel Lewis.

The issue surrounding the interpretation of language in legislation authorizing occupancy tax revenue to fund the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau dates to an April 18, 2016 meeting when Kitty Hawk Mayor Gary Perry asked the board fund “no more than $25,000” to cover overtime expenses incurred by Kitty Hawk, Duck, Southern Shores and the Dare and Currituck County sheriff’s offices in manning the intersection of U.S. 158 and U.S. 12 on summer weekends.

Vehicles often blocked the northbound lanes when they became stuck in the intersection after trying to turn left onto N.C. 12.

At that meeting, the board’s legal counsel advised that because they were state roads, the N.C. State Highway Patrol was responsible for enforcement at the intersection. Oher board members expressed concerns that other towns, which contribute occupancy tax funds to bureau, would also be entitled to those funds to pay police officers in other jurisdictions.

Advertisement

The board voted to table the request and also asked that the towns and counties requesting the funds provide a summary of the actual expenses incurred in manning the congested intersection.

At a meeting on September 15, 2016, data was made available for three of the towns that requested the additional funding and that data covered the prior (FY 2014-15) and current year (FY 2o15-16) overtime expenses. The three towns were Duck, Southern Shores, and Kitty Hawk.

None of the towns broke out overtime paid to man the intersection.

Advertisement

The numbers actually showed a drop in overtime for the 2015-16 year (personnel began to man the intersection in the summer of 2015, near the end of the 2014-15 fiscal year) although Kitty Hawk claimed another $15,404 in time off in lieu of overtime. The documents do not specify the time periods covered by Kitty Hawk’s “comp time” expenses.

Board member Wally Overman told the other members the Dare County Board of Commissioners would seek state funding in the form of a resolution and letter to fund and implement a traffic management plan for the intersection.

The tourism board voted once more to table the request from Mayor Perry pending the county action.

The drama didn’t end there as Sen. Cook’s office became involved, asking for an opinion from a General Assembly attorney and the state auditor’s office concerning whether the DCTB was required by the legislation creating the funding for the Visitor’s Bureau to fund such requests as the one made by Kitty Hawk.

Neither the state attorney or the auditor stated the board had done anything wrong and in fact, the auditor’s review stated the DCTB was not spending the so-called restricted funds incorrectly.

Boswell’s bill picks up where Cook’s office left off. It calls for re-examining how the tourism board uses its 1 percent share of revenue from the 6 percent occupancy tax on visiting renters.

House Bill 531 notes that legislation passed in 1991 says that money collected from 1 percent of the tax on hotel and motel rooms and vacation rentals and a 1 percent tax on prepared food and beverages mist go into a fund administered by the Tourism Board.

 The original legislation designates 75 percent of those funds for administration and tourism promotion, while the remaining 25 percent would be “restricted and used for services or programs needed due to the impact of tourism on the county.”

Boswell contends that the money from the restricted fund has been misspent on grants for bike paths, fireworks, boardwalks and special events rather than to shore up local services such as public safety during tourist season.

But her proposal does not mention that Dare County county and its six municipalities already receive half of the revenue from the 6 percent tax to cover those costs and other budget items.

The balance of the tax — 2 percent — is designated specifically for the county’s shoreline management fund and is used to pay for beach nourishment projects.


Recent posts in this category