By Connie Leinbach
Hyde County has postponed their request of $146,000 from Ocracoke Occupancy Tax funds until the Occupancy Tax Board meets April 4, and Hyde County officials will attend the board’s working meeting today at 5:30 in the Community Center.
The meeting is specially for OTB board members to consider the county’s request to cover the operational costs of a proposed tram system in conjunction with the advent of passenger ferry service to the island in 2018.
The county made that request at a public meeting Feb. 7, attended by close to 80 islanders, and the OTB had set the decision-making meeting for tonight.
However, that has changed, said Bob Chestnut, OTB chair, and the county won’t need an answer until the regularly scheduled April 4 meeting at which Ocracoke nonprofits also attend after having submitted their grant proposals.
While tonight’s meeting is open to the public, Chestnut said today that the OT board invited county officials to attend the meeting.
“There will be no comment or question period from the audience,” Chestnut said. “We invited the county to attend to ask them how they’re going to do this.”
Attending will be Tom Pahl, Ocracoke’s commissioner and Kris Noble, assistant county manager.
In an email today to OTB and Ocracoke Civic and Business Association board members, Noble said:
“After deliberations with the project team this week it has been decided that we can wait until an April decision on the OT allocation. That gives us all a little more time to work through any concerns with the transit plan while also ensuring all other funding requests can be considered comprehensively.
“With that being said, we will not be looking for a decision tonight, rather we would like to utilize the work session to address concerns and to develop a plan moving forward that the OT Board feels comfortable with.”
Noble’s email said Hyde County Manager Bill Rich will attend via speakerphone.
Hyde County had asked the OT board on Feb. 7 to fund the first-year operations cost of $216,000 for a three-vehicle village tram system. They had recommended that the board set aside $108,000 from the 2017-2018 budget and appropriate the same amount from the 2018-2019 budget.
However, after that meeting, the county announced it would contribute $70,000 to the project and reduce its total request to $146,000.
Last June, the N.C. General Assembly appropriated $3.6 million to the Ferry Division to activate passenger ferry service in addition to vehicle ferries, and the N.C. Ferry Division applied for and received a Federal Lands Access Program grant of about $7 million that would include the building of one passenger ferry and cover the costs of a village tram system, including infrastructure on Hatteras and Ocracoke.
Will Letchworth, an engineer who conducted the passenger ferry feasibility study in 2015, said at the Feb. 7 meeting that plans call for passenger ferry service to begin in 2018.
The Occupancy Tax fund is derived from a 3 percent tax on top of the 6.75 percent sales tax on all lodging nights purchased, both hotels and rental homes. Yearly receipts generally amount to about $440,000, although in the 2015 fiscal year, total receipts were $453,780 and last year they were $454,535. The county receives 10 percent of that total to administer the fund.
Each year, the OTB decides how to distribute the fund money to island nonprofits from their grant proposals.
Grant proposals are due by March 27.