By Peter Vankevich
Hyde County Commissioner Benjamin Simmons III (Fairfield Township) said at the Feb. 1 commissioners meeting that if the General Assembly convening April 25 does not succeed in getting ferry replacement funding into the general transportation budget, a toll on the Hatteras ferry is likely.
Simmons was on Ocracoke for the monthly commissioners meeting while Commissioner John Fletcher, who represents Ocracoke, attended the meeting in the Hyde County services building, Swan Quarter.
Simmons said islanders should contact members of the state Senate to encourage them to provide ferry replacements out of the general budget instead of from the $30 million annual amount that is
distributed to the 10 counties of the Albemarle Regional Planning Organization, for which he is a voting member.
The General Assembly will convene at 7 p.m. Monday, April 25, in what is known as the “short session,” between statutorily-mandated biennial meetings.
The ARPO is charged with deciding how to spend the money the state has allocated for the 10-county region which includes Hyde. All transportation projects–including ferry replacement–for this area come out of this fund.
The next meeting of this group is April 27 in the Dare County administrative offices in Manteo.
Reps. Paul Tine (U-Kitty Hawk) and John Torbett (R-Gaston), chairman of the House Appropriations Transportation Committee, are seeking to move ferry replacement funding back into the DOT general fund.
The NC Ferry Division is grappling with how to get much-needed money to pay for replacement ferries in their aging fleet of 21 boats. The average age of the boats is 26 years old, with one that has been in service for 47 years. The division last fall sold the Pamlico, a Sound-class ferry.
Older boats need more frequent repairs, which takes them out of service for various periods of time. New car ferries cost about $16 million while a passenger ferry would cost around $2 million.
A partial solution, since it would not cover the entire costs, would be to enact a toll on the Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry, but many question whether the cost of collecting fees would negate the approximately $2 million in revenues the NCDOT has projected such a toll would raise.
Restoring replacement boat funding into the NCDOT capital fund would remove the pressure of enacting a toll, said Torbett, who is on record as opposing all ferry tolls.
Ocracoke’s state Senate representative Bill Cook, contacted the Ocracoke Observer in the fall to be put on record that he is adamantly opposed to any type of ferry tax.
Hyde County Manager Bill Rich said that he recently asked Cook to lead the charge in the state Senate to get ferry replacement funding out of the RPO.
People wishing to air their views about ferry tolling should send letters to Cook about this.
Senator Cook’s office address is 300 N. Salisbury Street, Room 525 Raleigh, NC 27603-5925, phone number: (919) 715-8293 and email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Ferry Division has said that the passenger ferry feasibility study will be available for public review in mid-April.
For contacting the members of the General Assembly about this issue, click here.
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