Providing government services in a geographically large and sparsely populated county can be a challenge. It is even greater when many of its residents are separated by 23 miles of water. Welcome to Hyde County.
With a population of fewer than 6,000 residents, about 20 percent reside on Ocracoke.
Hyde County provides many of the same services as the 99 others in North Carolina, such as issuing building permits, property inspections, registering deeds, health and other services for seniors and veterans.
To visit a county office, an island resident must take the two-and-a-half-hour ferry to Swan Quarter, the county seat, where most services are in the government center or one of the other buildings in the hamlet. Whereas in less rural places, folks can visit the county offices in an hour or two, it takes the greater part of daylight for islanders to visit the county offices.
Apart from the county manager, Ocracoke sees few administrative employees. We were heartened in January to see Gwen Cahoon, manager of the Swan Quarter Convenience Site, spending the day at the Ocracoke site to rally the troops and straighten the place up.
We have numerous issues here to deal with, as does any place, and cyberspace is not always reliable.
Access to information has exponentially changed in the last two decades. The Internet, with its myriad web sites, search engines and social media, has yielded fractured digital overload amidst necessary information.
Hyde County has a website but not everyone has access to the Internet or are tech-savvy to obtain the information they are seeking. Sometimes it’s just better to meet or to speak with a real person rather than travel through cyber space in search of information.
Hyde County has a small office space in the Ocracoke Community Center.
Currently only the Department of Social Services has a regular schedule of two days per month at the center to take applications for the Food and Nutrition, Work First and Medicaid Programs. We propose that this office be staffed on a fixed schedule – perhaps one day a week under the Hyde County Public Information Office– to meet with residents and answer questions, print forms and help solve problems.
Staffing this office could be done by a trained Ocracoke resident or a Hyde County employee who can continue to do work when there are no visitors.
Another possibility is having volunteers trained to provide this important public service.
Ocracoke is the largest economic and population center in the county, which, granted, has the largest acreage in the state. Its population provides the lion’s share of county real estate and sales tax revenues to the county’s budget.
It’s time for Hyde County to have an actual staff person on Ocracoke to assist residents with the many issues affecting them.
This would be good for Ocracoke and Hyde County government.