By Connie Leinbach
There will be no fireworks on Ocracoke for the July 4th holiday this year.
Tuesday night, the Ocracoke Occupancy Tax Board declined to fund the more than $31,000 it would take for the island to have these aerial displays.
“It’s just too much money,” said Frank Brown, chairman of the board. “It’s a tough decision.”
In March, the board had heard a presentation from Sundae Horn, the travel and tourism director for the Ocracoke Civic and Business Association, about how Pyrotecnico of Columbia, SC, would be able to work Ocracoke into its Outer Banks schedule but only on July 1 this year. They would have launched fireworks from a barge in the Pamlico Sound.
Prior to that, the Hyde County commissioners had approved being the sponsor for the display in order to hold the insurance certificate.
OCBA’s position was that it did not want to be the sponsor of fireworks in light of the tragedy in 2009 when, following an explosion on July 4 while fireworks were being unloaded near the NCCAT building, four of the fireworks company employees died.
Although an 18-minute display would cost $18,000, rental of a private barge from which to launch them would cost $13,000. A postponement contingency amount of $6,000 was also part of proposal along with lodging for the company workers.
While the OCBA does not want to sponsor them, Horn has been researching several different companies and scenarios. Shooting them off from a barge off the NPS dock in Pamlico Sound has been the favored option since they can’t be launched from Park Service property nor the NCCAT grounds.
In recent weeks, islanders have weighed in on the resumption of fireworks on the island with opinions on both sides of the issue.
Some members of the more than 25 residents in attendance were in favor of spending the money for fireworks.
“My business has gone down that week due to day trippers not coming,” said Teresa O’Neal, owner of the Island Ragpicker.
“Having fireworks (and more day visitors on the island) would shore up the sales tax revenue,” said Amy Johnson, owner of the Pirate’s Chest.
Trudy Austin, one of the tax board members, said they would like to see the display occur on July 4 and to look into that for next year.
“Make an attempt to get that price down,” said David Styron, another of the tax board members.
Nevertheless, the OCBA will sponsor July 4 events again this year, including the sand sculpture contest, a classic car show on the grounds of Pony Island Motel, a parade and square dancing and music in Community Square.
Several organizations made their requests, including Hyde County for $10,000 to continue paying for the lobbyist team of Joe and Henri McClees of Oriental, and for $100,000 to set up a county-run Ocracoke visitor’s bureau) totaled $496,354.
Other requests included the Ocracoke Community Park Association, Ocracoke Brownie and Girls Scouts, the Hyde County Chamber of Commerce, Ocracoke Friends of the Library, Ocracoke Alive for the Ocrafolk Festival, the Ocracoke Preservation Society, the Ocracoke Health Center, and the Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Department.
The unappropriated balance in the Occupancy Tax fund is $484,000, said Corinne Gibbs, Hyde County finance officer, but that does not include what is due to be collected in the 2014-2015 fiscal year.
The board has not finalized its decisions on the requests and expects to do so on Wednesday, April 15.