Data refutes tax claims made by candidates Merrell, Danko

By on April 22, 2018

Ronnie Merrell

Ed Danko

Republican candidates for the Dare County Board of Commissioners Ronnie Merrell and Ed Danko have based their campaigns on a platform of repealing last year’s 4-cent property tax increase.

But data shows several of Merrell’s claims are incorrect. And if the increase was rolled back, the county would be unable to balance its operating budget, threatening a realignment of employee salaries that was designed to prevent losing workers to better-paying positions in other counties.

Meanwhile, Danko has targeted board Chairman Bob Woodard as the single force behind the tax increase. But unanimous consent was given initially by all seven board members.

Merrell is taking on incumbent District 2 Commissioner Rob Ross. The winner is not expected to have an opponent in November.

News analysis

Danko is challenging Anne Petera of Kill Devil Hills in the GOP primary for the At-Large seat currently held by Jack Shea, who will retire at the end of the current term. The winner will face Democrat Ervin Bateman in the General Election.

Merrell and Danko have stated their opposition to the property tax increase of 4 cents per $100 of value, and in online posts and television commercials say they will roll it back.

The increase amounts to 9.3 percent. For a $300,000 house, it comes to an additional $120 a year, or $10 a month.

In an image on his campaign Facebook page, Merrell lists four main points he feels justify not approving the increased tax rates.

But data provided by Dare County contradicts several of the claims, and current North Carolina laws prevents one of Merrell’s proposals from taking place.

The graphic leads with “An additional $2.2 million from growth in the occupancy tax. 2016: $26M – 2017: $28.2 million.”

Image from Merrell’s campaign Facebook page.

While it is correct that collections from the hotel and vacation rental tax grew by $2.2 million, it is incorrect to assume all of those revenues come to Dare County and could be used in their budget.

Dare County’s share was only $4.5 million in 2017, a relatively small increase of $348,000, well short of what Merrell says would be needed to dismiss the tax increase.

The rest of that $2.2 million is distributed to Dare County’s six municipalities via an agreed-upon formula.

A separate portion of the occupancy revenue is earmarked by state law to fund the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau’s promotional efforts and operational costs, as well as the county’s beach nourishment fund.

That money cannot be diverted to other uses without the approval of the North Carolina General Assembly.

Merrell’s second point of Dare County collecting an additional $1 million in sales taxes compared to 2016 is correct. But when commissioners met at a retreat to plan the budget, the county staff had already built a conservative $400,000 increase in sales tax revenues into their budget projections.

The total amount projected was $18.54 million while what was actually collected was $19.1 million.

Thus, the increase over the budgeted amount was only $574,000. Applying the entire $1 million increase to collections as additional funds beyond the budget is also incorrect.

His third statement is that there was an increase of $782,330 in property tax collections without a tax increase because of new construction.

County records show the increase in property tax revenue in 2017 was $281,598, a half-million below what Merrell claims.

For the fiscal year 2018, the county has projected the tax base would grow $760,944, almost the same as the figure Merrell uses, but since that figure was projected into the budget before the decision to raise taxes was made, it is also incorrect for Merrell to count the tax base increase as “new money” over and above the budget projections.

More to the point, Merrell is using hindsight — looking at how revenues grew somewhat more than the county projected for 2017 and 2018 and essentially criticizing officials for not having a crystal ball that could predict future revenues would slightly exceed expectations.

As for his final point on $271,258 of Health Service Grants, those are awarded by commissioners for specific health-related purposes and cannot be used for other county services.

Added all together, Merrell’s claims are off by just over $3 million, which means the current county budget could not be sustained without the 4-cent tax increase and also that his claims would not have come close to offsetting the revenue generated by the tax increase.

If Merrell’s plan has been adopted it would have forced $5.3 million in budget cuts this fiscal year, according to the data provided by the county.

A final summary of the 2017-2018 budget by County Manager Bobby Outten last June listed what the increase will fund over the next two years:

  • Implementation of the results of the salary study over a two-year period, resulting in increases of $1,707,515 in 2018 and $2,306,893 in 2019.
  • Increases of $1,599,552 in 2018 and $1,302,530 in 2019 for Emergency Medical Services for operating costs, increased costs of vehicle replacements and for additional positions.
  • Reinstatement of a merit pool as recommended by the salary study, of $391,440 in 2018 and $414,242 in 2019. The amounts are sufficient to provide a 5% increase to 25% of employees.
  • $236,082 in 2018 and $100,000 in 2019 to transfer to the Inlet Maintenance Fund for Hatteras Inlet

Overall, the budget represented a roughly 7 percent increase in spending from the previous fiscal year.

Merrell was asked to comment on county spending and revenue sources, including if he had an alternative budget plan that would have prevented the tax increase.

“First and foremost, I would need to be briefed on several county programs and gather feedback before making any judgment,” Merrell said. “But make no mistake, I would never vote to raise taxes, especially considering the county received millions of dollars more than the previous year without an increase in property taxes.”

Candidate Ed Danko’s ads directly target Board Chairman Bob Woodard as the culprit behind the 2017 tax increase.

But that is disputed by the minutes of the board’s annual budget retreat, held prior to the new budget formally introduced:

After much discussion, the Chairman queried each commissioner and it was the consensus of all members of the Board to direct the County Manager to prepare a budget that maintains the current level of county services, reflects the changes made by the Board, and address the two-year deficit of $6.459 mil with a 4 cents ad valorem tax increase.

All seven commissioners, and not Woodard alone, were in agreement with the tax increase.

The spending plan was approved on a 5-2 vote, with four Republicans — Woodard, Wally Overman, Rob Ross and Jack Shea —–joined by the sole Democrat, Danny Couch, in favor.

But to the surprise of their fellow board members, Steve House and Jim Tobin, who are also Republicans, decided to vote no, possibly in an effort to save face at election time.

Tobin did not draw a GOP challenger this year, and will be up against Rosemarie Doshier, a Democrat, in November.

There was no discussion before the vote last June, but during the commissioner’s comments at the end of the meeting, House offered that while “everything was a need, not a want, I voted against it because of the size of the increase” and “because several people on the street opposed it and I wanted their voice to be heard.”

Screenshot from Danko television ad. (Youtube)

Danko has directly attacked Woodard in television commercials running on local cable television over the tax increases, and attempted to link Petera with the tax increase also.

In an email group chain shared with The Outer Banks Voice, Danko claimed he and Merrell “will have enough votes to repeal the 9.3 percent tax increase, and to remove Bob “The Taxman” Woodard as Chairman of the Dare County Commissioners.”

“Then we will focus on removing the RINO leadership of the Dare County Republicans,” Danko said.

RINO is a term describing someone as a “Republican in name only” that has become a popular catchphrase in some circles of the GOP.

That would require Danko and Merrell getting elected, and two additional commissioners siding with them to both change the board leadership and repeal the tax increase.

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  • Michael

    Another hatchet job attacking conservatives. The anger towards outspoken conservatives is very evident. Very sad. We need an alternative online media source for news on the Outer Banks.

    Sunday, Apr 22 @ 11:41 pm
  • WombatNC

    Government jobs include the federal government, which, fortunately, has a large presence here in Dare County. From the National Parks and Reccreation/Wildlife Sanctuaries to the Coast Guard and Naval Bombing Range, they are valuable assets to our community and economy. In addition, the state of NC employs large numbers of people as well.
    Now, if Danko/Merrell want to cut taxes/services, then they will have to explain that position to the local teachers, police, firemen and EMT’s. Good luck with that! Or, local fishermen who make a living getting in and out of Oregon and Hatteras Inlets. Or every single person who works in a tourisn related business. These guys are clueless (like Boswell for rep.) and don NOT deserve any of our votes.

    Monday, Apr 23 @ 7:09 am
  • Manteo Guy

    It makes no difference about Danko or Patera. Whichever of these yahoos runs against Bateman will lose that particular contest.

    Monday, Apr 23 @ 8:02 am
  • G Larry

    The key word is “trumpublicans”. Couldn’t tell the truth if their lives depended on it. No courage, no conscience, no compassion and no common sense. BLUE WAVE

    Monday, Apr 23 @ 8:34 am
  • dave

    Yosemite Ed Danko! I can’t thing of too many things more idiotic that arming teachers with guns. Are you capable of thinking more than three bumper sticker slogans out in front of your nose? Do you remember how chaotic it was when classrooms let out in between classes? Now, imagine panic, gunshots ringing out and having panicked kids and teachers running all over the place. Then, some hero wannabe teacher pulling out their rootin’ tootin’ gunzzz. Police arrive….do they know the bad guy shooter from the teacher that is actually stupid enough to pull out their gun? Do the students or other teacher think another teacher is the shooter? ETC! Some simple questions. How is the school board and is the school board going to go along with this? Who is going to carry the guns? Are the other teachers aware who the gun carriers are? Who will be in charge of the guns that are locked at school? Will the school insurance drop the insurance because the school board was so stupid as to allow guns in school? Will a teacher be able to shoot a known student or other faculty member? Will it unnerve some kids looking at the teacher with the gun at their side? Its easy to be rootin’, tootin’, shootin Yosemite Sam; but actually engaging brain before tough guy mouth is a different story.

    Monday, Apr 23 @ 8:48 am
  • Edward Teach

    Another thing to consider when discussing the size of local government in Dare County is the fact that the population expands incredibly during the tourist season. Dare County, while somewhat small in permanent residents, provides services for a population much larger for most of the year.

    Monday, Apr 23 @ 9:06 am
  • surf123

    No matter what side of the fence you sit on taxes collected are almost ever cut where a prior years tax is more than the current years (there are exceptions when properties are reassessed). The problem is that implying it is only $120/year or $10/month is disingenuous. It’s a 9+% increase and that is significant. Project that out 10 years and the number becomes substantial. There is fat to be trimmed in every government and the leaders need to do it.

    Monday, Apr 23 @ 9:37 am
  • Ed Danko

    @Karen R: Good questions Karen. First, just so you know in a recent survey of NC teachers 25% of teachers responded they would like to have access to their handguns in their classroom. The key word here is “access.” What I am proposing is that we put wall safes in each classroom that only teachers can open. This would be a small one time expense. Those teachers that have carry permits will be able to access their handguns in the event of a school shooting. I am also proposing that those teachers that want access be required additional yearly training and certification, which could be done by either the State Police, or the NRA, which has offered to provide that training. Students, and of course a shooter, would have no idea which teacher has access to a weapon. Should a school shooting happen the teachers with access to their weapons would be able to provided another layer of defense and protect their students. If we hire additional retired police and military (who are already trained) to assist our School Resource Officers, I believe we will be taking a big step to increase the safety of our students and teachers. Doing nothing, like we are doing now, and pretending that we can confiscate all guns may make some liberals feel better, but it will never solve the problem. To learn more on my proposal please visit my website

    Monday, Apr 23 @ 11:00 am
  • Sassy

    In answer to Ken fucci’s question on Sunday, April 22, 2018, if Danko and the plastic bag lady were married, NO but she thought enough of him to endorse him in his first press release with pictures and endorsements, Beverly Boswell was front and center!

    Monday, Apr 23 @ 2:25 pm
  • dave

    Hey Ed Danko……..did you get your guns back from Obama yet? If we took a couple common sense measures, we wouldn’t have to do all the crazy and costly stuff you’re proposing; like maybe doing background checks at gun shows, etc. You know, the types of things 97% of Americans want.

    Monday, Apr 23 @ 2:38 pm
  • Greg Greven

    Ken Fucci: you ask where these people come from. Mostly Virginia. That’s why things have gotten so screwed up here. They don’t have any roots here and once they’ve finished messing Dare County up, they’ll move on.

    Monday, Apr 23 @ 3:26 pm
  • Spoony rae

    Every election we get promises of tax cuts from candidates who obviously have no idea what they are talking about, then when elected they say I didn’t know all the information before I was elected; same story, different actors…….

    Monday, Apr 23 @ 3:31 pm
  • Stephen

    What is Danko’s background? What are his credentials?

    Monday, Apr 23 @ 5:15 pm
  • Carter McKay

    It’s obvious that a great many of the participants on this forum are completely inept when it comes to basic economics. Your tourist industry is bloated seasonally, and then sheds legions of short term employees at the conclusion of each vacation season. Your local, state and federal government agencies keep their respective staffs bloated beyond the tourist season, when there are no more than 35,000 permanent residents within the county. So while many of you will take 13 weeks of unemployment, as well as seek short term public assistance programs such as Food Stamps, your government will spend your hard earned tax dollars to fund staffing that is utterly unnecessary during the off-season while you struggle through the winter. Doesn’t seem like a fair trade off!

    Monday, Apr 23 @ 7:53 pm
  • Ed Danko

    @Stephen: If you want to know my background and credentials then please simply visit my website where you can find out everything about me and where I stand on all the issues. Thank you!

    Monday, Apr 23 @ 10:50 pm
  • scales of balance

    Per Mr. Danko:

    “Wall safes”: Let’s just take a price on Amazon at $250 and a $50 install cost = $300 per room x lets say 20 rooms per school x what, 11 schools? Roughly $66k one time cost.

    If we hire additional retired police and military (who are already trained) to assist our School Resource Officers…

    That’s what, 70-100k per hire out the door with insurance/pension/salary/bonuses?

    Sorry, you lost me at where you were going to get this money from…and this is why you’re having a credibility issue with your public statements.

    Tuesday, Apr 24 @ 12:36 pm
  • OBX Resident

    I ask that all Republicans vote for Ed Danko. The reason that I request that you vote for this guy is because he is nuts. While I do not agree with his views, he is nuts in the way that he responds to people and in his thought process.

    The Outer Banks needs Ervin Bateman as commissioner. The winner between Danko and Petera will face Ervin in the November election. Danko will be much easier for Ervin to defeat. In fact Danko will probably defeat himself before November. Thus, vote for the Danko in the primary and allow Ervin to KO DanKO in November.

    Tuesday, Apr 24 @ 1:18 pm
  • Gregg Greven

    scales of balance: A wall safe that would be acceptable for putting in schools i.e. fireproof and tamperproof is going to run closer to $1000-1500 per unit plus several hundred more for installation since school buildings are a bit more complicated than residential construction. And there’s definitely more than 20 classrooms in each school.

    On top of that, there will need to be some sort of fail-safe in/when a gun is accessed by an unauthorized person. Auto-locking doors, roll-down steel barricades, etc. to prevent further loss of life when the inevitable occurs. The initial outlay will likely be north of $1 million for installation alone. Then there’s like you mentioned personnel costs and increased insurance for the county due to the extra risk involved.

    Since Mr. Danko is also vehmently against any tax increase, the money will have to be taken from some other part of the budget. The question then is, what gets cut? EMS? Police? Teacher salary supplements? Trash collection? Maintenance?

    Also, and nobody seems to have a good answer for this- what about parents who don’t want their children in a room with a loaded gun all day? Will there be an opt-out provision, and how will that work? It’s not as if there are a lot of alternatives to the public schools here.

    Tuesday, Apr 24 @ 5:13 pm
  • Ed Danko

    This liberals really hate me….They must be really afraid that I’m going to get elected! Visit to find out what these liberals are afraid of!

    Wednesday, Apr 25 @ 9:55 am
  • dave

    No Ed, we don’t “hate” anybody. You belong to the party of hate! Most here, like me, don’t deal with crazy very well. Maybe you should do a few google search’s and some fact finding; engage brain before mouth/fingers. Maybe try to do some critical thinking. Better yet, go and get an education and try and pass History 101 and 102 before you run for anything.

    Wednesday, Apr 25 @ 12:18 pm