News

General Assembly contemplating ferry replacement funding

By Connie Leinbach

By the end of June, islanders should know whether or not they will have to continue fighting the push for a toll on the Hatteras Ferry.

In May, Rep. Paul Tine (U-Kitty Hawk) introduced a bill to fund new ferry vessels from the general transportation budget and eliminate all ferry tolls.

His bill (House Bill 1002), co-sponsored by representatives John Torbett (R-Gaston) and Phil Shepard (R-Onslow), asked for $13.85 million to be appropriated from the Highway Fund in 2016 to 2017 the ferry division to do both rehab on ferries and also purchase new ones.

It also allows for the Ferry Division of NCDOT to seek revenues from concession sales, sponsorships, and opens the door for privatization with the clause:  “authorized to acquire, own, lease, charter, or otherwise control all necessary vessels, boats, terminals, or other facilities required for the proper operation of the ferries or to enter into contracts with persons, firms, or corporations for the operation thereof and to pay the reasonable sums that in the opinion of the Department represent the fair value of the public service rendered.”

Tine’s bill also called for eliminating all tolls on ferries.

The General Assemble convened in April for its short session (between its mandated long sessions) to work on tweaking the budget.

Henri McClees, a lobbyist from Oriental hired by Hyde County to fight ferry tolling, said in an interview that Tine’s bill was rolled into the House’s version of the budget and it passed.

That budget bill, HB 1030, was sent to the Senate, which, at press time, was working on it.

Soon after Tine introduced his bill, Sen. Bill Cook (R-Beaufort) introduced a similar bill, only Cook’s bill asks for the $23 million the Ferry Division is seeking in order to fund all of their 10-year capital improvement projects.

Torbett, a co-chair of the House Transportation Committee, has said he wants to get this matter of ferry replacement funding settled so that this question does not come up every year.

The two houses will now negotiate about how to divvy up the $240 million surplus in the budget, McClees said.

Both houses are poised to give North Carolina teachers a raise from this surplus, McClees said, but the House wants to spread the raises over several years while the Senate wants to give it to them quicker.

The section of HB1030 dealing with ferries starts on page 113, McClees said. It can be viewed at http://ncleg.net.