Editor’s note: John Fletcher and Tom Pahl are also featured in our story on the Feb. 25 OCBA candidates’ night story where they also answered these questions. Warren Judge of Kitty Hawk, who, along with Judy Justice of Manteo is seeking the nomination for the N.C. House of Representatives District 6 seat, also attended the OCBA meeting. All three men’s responses are detailed here. Justice, who could not attend the Feb. 25 meeting, will attend the March 9 OCBA meeting.
The Ocracoke Observer asked the two men running for county commissioner to respond to these questions for the March print edition. Each was held to a maximum of 100 words due to space limitations.
Running for commissioner for Ocracoke Township are John Fletcher, 78, incumbent; retired lawyer; and Tom Pahl, 64, a licensed general contractor.
What is the biggest challenge Ocracoke faces of which the county commissioner can have an impact?
Fletcher: Access to the north end of the island. The road was put there 70 years ago and the island is moving west (causing the ocean to breach the dunes and over wash the road in major storms).
This summer, it will be mosquitoes and the Zika virus. I believe we’re in an area where that mosquito resides. We will need to keep on our mosquito control people and keep the mosquitos at bay. I don’t know what effect it will have on women visiting the area.
Regarding ferries and funding issues: If they’d have gambling devices on ferries that would solve a lot of problems.
Pahl: There are many challenges and they are all interrelated. First are challenges to the maintenance and growth of our island economy. That includes fees and restrictions to Park access, new restrictions on commercial fishing, the possibility of ferry tolling, ferry route and dredging issues, and roadway reliability. While these challenges don’t fall directly under the control of the Commissioners, it is very important that the Commissioners and in particular, the Ocracoke Commissioner should have good communications and a good working relationship with the individuals who are involved in these issues. A 100-word response cannot do justice to the importance of this question.
Do you think the services that Hyde County offers, which are mostly located on the mainland, meet the needs of the Ocracoke residents? How could they be improved for Ocracoke?
Pahl: Ocracoke receives county services from the Sheriff’s Department, Education Department, EMS, Emergency Management, Solid Waste, Social Services and from general County Administrations. Do we get a fair share in relation to the amount of taxes we pay? If you could break it down, probably we pay a little more and get a little less. I think our Sheriff’s Department does a great job. I see room for some site and operations improvement at the dump. We’re just starting on a major investment in EMS facilities. I’d like to see the County address the lack of public restrooms here. We have a great school and we need to keep it great by keeping it funded.
Fletcher: I don’t think the health department does much to provide for people over here—nurses and home health care. If they’d give actual service to our elderly instead of filling out papers for the state, local and federal authorities. We lack that. Law enforcement is adequate. They (the county) provide for our school.
What is your view keeping the Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry toll free?
Fletcher: It should be toll free. It might take some supplemental income. That might have to come from the General Assembly. If the passenger ferry has a toll, the only way you would get people to pay the passenger ferry toll would be to toll the other (car ferry). By and large, it wouldn’t work to have one (ferry) tolled and the other one free.
Pahl: Not only do I support keeping the Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry toll free, but I have been actively working on this issue for several years. I recently wrote op-ed articles for the Raleigh News&Observer and the Virginia Pilot, and just last month, I testified before a legislative oversight committee on Ocracoke’s behalf. The point is simple: Ocracokers are not looking for special treatment by having a free ferry. On the contrary, we are looking to NOT be singled out as the only North Carolina residents who would have to pay a toll to go home at night. The ferries are a division of the NC Department of Transportation and should be funded the same as bridges and roads are funded: toll-free.
If you’re re-elected/elected, what will you do the next four years?
Fletcher: Work on beach access; keeping taxes at the same level; keeping an eye on education on the mainland. There, the first three grades do well (academically). Then it declines in the upper grades. They say it’s because they’re poor, but today is no different from being poor in the 1940s when kids went to school and graduated. We can’t blame it (poor academic performance) on being poor.
Pahl: Teamwork. This is a big project. Hyde County operates under a $16 million budget and has more than 100 employees. The buck stops with the Commissioners, but it’s very important that everyone involved–from the elected officials, to the County Manager and department heads, to the paid staff, to the unpaid volunteers–that everyone be treated respectfully and as a member of the team. I do that in my construction business and I will do it as a Commissioner. And I will extend that same courtesy to every citizen of Hyde County because, in the end, you are the most important members of the team.
Do you support the passenger ferry option that may include a fee?
Pahl: As of this writing, the Ferry Division has not released its study on the passenger ferry proposal. There are a lot of valid questions about the proposed plan: How would the passenger ferry affect the RPO funding structure? Would there be a guarantee that the car ferry would remain toll-free? If it proves to be impractical, what is the fallback plan? Couldn’t those funds be better spent dredging a new short route? How often would it run and how many boats would be in the fleet? If a boat breaks down, how do we accommodate 100 people on the island with no hotel rooms? Until those questions and more are answered, I think it is best to keep an open mind.