By Peter Vankevich
The potential for a leash law for dogs, a proposed raise for the members of the Board of Education and the approval of funds for the Ocracoke Childcare building renovations drew a full house at the Hyde County commissioners’ meeting Jan. 5 in the Ocracoke School Commons room.
Hyde County Schools Superintendent Randolph H. Latimore again requested that the Hyde County Board of Education be given an increase in monthly compensation of $353 per month for members, up from a $42 per meeting rate. The board chairman would be raised to $470, up from $50, or about $22,000 total for the board members.
Latimore said that he was not asking for more money from the commissioners but would reallocate the money from the current education budget. Nevertheless, Kelley Shinn, who has two children attending Ocracoke School, said in the public comment period she was trying to understand why the art program was cut due to lack of funding yet the Board of Education wants a raise. She also pointed out that the budget is not posted on the Hyde County Schools’ website. She vowed that she would not give up on her quest to have art classes restored as part of the school’s curriculum.
The room erupted in applause when Essie O’Neal, 5, and in kindergarten, said “I want to get my art class back.”
Ocracoke’s commissioner, John Fletcher, said it had been brought to his attention that a National School Board of Education study revealed that 75 percent of board members in small school districts are not paid at all. He suggested that the county manager look into this and find out if it is accurate.
“Maybe we are overpaying them,” Fletcher said. The commissioners agreed to table voting on this increase until next month’s meeting.
The second education item, described as “school funds held,” turned into a non-issue. Fletcher said he put it on the agenda because some parents thought money was being withheld from the pre-K program which has eight students. Latimore said this was not correct.
A possible contentious agenda issue was downplayed when County Manager Bill Rich said that there are already adequate enforcement measures to deal with aggressive animals and a new dog leash ordinance was not necessary.
In December, a free-roaming dog attacked and killed one of the feral cats that lives in the vicinity of the Ocracoke Island Realty Company.
Ruth Fordon, President of Ocracats, a nonprofit island group that helps the feral cats on the island, said she had a petition with 137 signatures requesting that a leash ordinance be set up to control aggressive dogs. Before reading her statement, she said that she, as well as others, were unaware that there were measures already in place to deal with these animals. In her testimony, she displayed a photo of a cat that was seriously hurt by an attack. Hyde County Animal Control Officer J.M. Eakes said the attacking dog should have been quarantined for 10 days.
The commissioners unanimously approved three Ocracoke Occupancy Tax Board fund requests. The first was for renovations to the Ocracoke Childcare building; the second to help move the WOVV community radio studio from its current location on Silver Lake harbor to the second floor of the old firehouse on the school campus and the third request to pay the remainder of the three-year contract for the two lobbyists hired to help stop ferry tolls and advocate for initiatives that would benefit Hyde County.
Rich also announced that a public meeting on Ocracoke Jan. 12 will allow Ocracokers the opportunity to provide input on the NC Ferry Division’s proposal for using passenger ferries. He requested that the commissioners write a letter to the NC Ferry Division in support of having a passenger ferry from Hatteras to Silver Lake.
Fletcher said he supports a passenger ferry, but people he has spoken to are divided as to whether the ferry should go to the north terminal or all the way into Silver Lake. He requested that the letter replace Silver Lake with Ocracoke. The commissioners voted to write the letter as amended.
Fletcher also said that a lot of Ocracokers take the Cedar Island ferry for one-day shopping visits and proposed and the commissioners agreed to write a separate letter to the NC Ferry Division requesting that the last Cedar Island ferry to Ocracoke be scheduled as late in the day as possible.
Rich noted that he has been in contact with U.S. Rep. Walter Jones’ office and has been assured that the National Park Service will pay for the entire funding for lifeguards on the Ocracoke public beach this summer.
The Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Department was commended by the county manager for their work in putting out a camper trailer fire that could have burned a neighboring house if not for their quick response.