By Connie Leinbach
An item in the proposed state Senate budget bill calling for charging $150 for a priority pass on any North Carolina ferry has been taken out of the budget negotiations, according to Bill Rich, Hyde County manager.
Rich revealed this development Sept. 8 during the monthly Hyde County Board of Commissioners’ meeting.
“I’ve been told by our lobbyists that it’s out of the deal,” Rich said. “(State Rep. John) Torbett (R-Gaston) confirmed it.”
There still is no new state budget and the legislators have until Sept. 16 to craft one.
In other business, the commissioners voted to lease a home owned by Ronnie Vann O’Neal along Back Road to house the county EMS office.
The EMS office is currently in a building behind the Ocracoke Health Center, but they need to vacate by Dec. 31.
The agreement calls for leasing the O’Neal property for three years for $2,000 per month with an option to buy after that, Rich said. During the lease period, the county will look for grants to pay the balance of the $1 million O’Neal is asking for the property.
This property would be large enough to include an expanded Ocracoke Health Center as well as other county offices serving Ocracoke.
“We had a meeting with the Ocracoke Health Center and they’re excited about expanding with us,” Rich said.
At the August commissioners meeting, Rich had said he would like to have a location on Ocracoke that also could accommodate the department of social services, the home health care nurse, the sheriff’s office and the Ocracoke Health Center.
The commissioners agreed to further explore changing the Ocracoke noise ordinance.
During the public comment session, Claudia Horwitz spoke on behalf of Oscar’s House, where she works, which is across from the Ocracoke Bar and Grille. The two establishments this season have been at odds over enforcement of the ordinance, which sets a decibel level at 70 up to 10 p.m. After 10 p.m., music can still be indoors, but sound is not supposed to cross over boundaries to disturb others. The ordinance does not say anything about what the decibel level should be from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.
Oscar’s House has complained about the bar noise floating across the street.
Horwitz said the establishment wants the decibel level lowered.
“We really want to support across the street, but it’s keeping people up at night and has shifted the vibe,” she said. “We’re not Myrtle Beach and don’t want to be. Music and noise infringes on the peaceful quality of Ocracoke.”
Sean Death, proprietor of the Ocracoke Bar and Grille, also spoke and said he sent a rewritten ordinance to the commissioners for their consideration. He said a petition he circulated got more than 100 signatures of residents living around the bar who are OK with recorded music after 10 p.m.
“Now, the ordinance says nothing on the decibel limit after 10 p.m.,” he said. “In any part of this village all summer there are people making more noise than I am. I hear whooping and hollering of people driving by.”
He suggested a decibel level of 62 after 10 p.m.
Death had said at the August commissioners’ meeting that even music in indoor establishments nearby the Ocracoke Campground sometimes floats over to the campground.
Will Doerfer, the special assistant county manager, said he is working on the ordinance situation.
“There’s a lot of emotion around this issue,” he said, “and also the unique environment of houses in close proximity.”
He suggested that the decibel level remain as it is up until 10 p.m. and set another level for after 10 p.m.
To read the original ordinance, click here.
To read the amended ordinance of 2011, click here.
Amy Srail Johnson, president of the Ocracoke Child Care Center, also in the public comment period, reported that the center has been dealing with scabies for more than a year.
“We had one closure last year because of this and four closures this year,” she said. “It has ruined us economically and we implore the health department to report it, track it and eradicate it.”
The center is closed now and hopes to reopen March 1, she said.
Later in the meeting, Ocracoke commissioner John Fletcher also spoke on this problem.
“I’ve been contacted by various ladies and men on Ocracoke and thought last year that public health would get rid of it, but it still exists,” he said.
He said the Ocracoke Health Center and the Hyde County Health Department should work together to get it done.
Rich also reported that the NC Ferry Division has applied for and received a $7 million federal grant for Ocracoke and Hatteras Island infrastructure associated with the proposed addition of a passenger ferry service to the car ferry fleet at Hatteras Inlet in 2017.
Among the proposed changes on Ocracoke would be docking areas, a tram service around the village, and a passenger shelter with restrooms, Rich said.