By Connie Leinbach
The Occupancy Tax Board will decide at 6 p.m. Monday about approving the more than $643,000 in grant requests made by several Ocracoke community groups.
Tuesday night’s meeting in the Community Center was broadcast live on the Hyde County Public Information Facebook page. The public may watch Tuesday’s meeting and Monday’s deliberations on the same Facebook page.
Chair Bob Chestnut said he is interested in receiving public comments on the various requests before Monday’s meeting. Citizens can send their comments by email to Chestnut at email@example.com.
The grant fund comes from the 5% occupancy tax levied on all island lodgings. Two volunteer community boards manage these funds.
The Occupancy Tax Board manages 3% of it and is authorized to make grants “for any legal purpose.” The 2% of that fund is managed by the Ocracoke Tourism Development Authority (OTDA), which is an independent body and is mandated by state law to spend at least two thirds of their portion on marketing.
While the Occupancy Tax Board is advisory only, the Hyde commissioners typically approve their appropriations. Of the total occupancy taxes collected, Hyde County receives 10% of the 3% fund and 3% of the 2% fund for administration.
According to a financial forecast supplied by the Hyde County Finance Office, by the end of the fiscal year on June 30, the 3% pot might be $512,661.56. Additionally, $264,470 was unspent from last year, Chestnut said.
In conjunction with the passenger ferry between Hatteras and Ocracoke beginning May 25 to Sept. 9, Hyde County Manager Kris Noble asked for a $35,000 grant to help fund the free tram operation in Ocracoke village.
Noble explained that since tram service began in 2018, when the passenger ferry was supposed to begin, operations have not really had a full year of service.
The state reimburses the county for half of the expenses, she said. A normal year would incur $150,000 in expenses for the tram, with NCDOT paying for half of that, or $75,000. Noble asked the Occupancy Tax Board to fund $35,000 for 2021 with the county to absorb the balance, or $40,000.
Joseph Ramunni has a five-year contract to run the trams, she said.
Hyde County also asked for $10,000 to help pay for the McClees Consulting lobby group that works the Raleigh legislators.
The Ocracoke Preservation Society asked for $203,941 for three projects: $4,800 for the British Cemetery Ceremony in 2022, which will be the 80th anniversary of this event. This year’s ceremony is canceled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
It asked for $14,000 for the Fig Festival this year, which will be Aug. 6 and 7.
This group also is seeking funds for the Island Inn/Odd Fellow Lodge restoration project: $12,500 for landscaping and $17,641 for partial payment of the mortgage.
Administrator Andrea Powers said the OTDA pays the other half of the mortgage.
Tom Pahl, contractor for the project, said the foundation has been stabilized and building is scheduled to be raised next week.
The OPS asked for $5,000 for outside beautification of its museum but Chestnut suggested that if an event, such as the Fig Festival, is designed to make money, those proceeds could go toward beautification.
The OPS also asked for $150,000 to build public restrooms, which would be managed by the OCBA. That project stalled in 2019 when there were no local bids and the two off-island bids received were more than twice the society’s budget for the project. After that, Hurricane Dorian hit followed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ocracoke Alive asked for $20,000 to help fund the Ocrafolk Festival and $6,000 to fund its Ocracoke Kitchen video project that promotes local food.
The Ocracoke Civic & Business Association asked for $102,350 to fund the following: $49,100 for Blackbeard’s Pirate Jamboree Oct. 29 to 31. While this event will be on Halloween weekend, activities will be focused on family fun and end by 5 p.m. Saturday night and not impinge on island business celebrations, said Connie Leinbach, who spoke for the OCBA.
$8,250 for this year’s July 4 activities; $30,000 for fireworks for 2022; $4,300 to refurbish the community holiday lights; $1,460 to help fund the Holiday Market on Nov. 27; $1,140 for two island-wide yard sales, one Sept. 18 and one next May TBD.
The Ocracoke Interfaith Relief & Recovery Team asked for $112,090 to help pay for the building of an addition to the Life Saving Church on Lighthouse Road for emergency housing for any future catastrophes.
A number of displaced residents have been in county-purchased travel trailers while their homes are being rebuilt, said Alicia Peel, OIRRT administrative assistant. When Hurricane Isaias threatened the island in August prompting an evacuation, these people had to scramble to find shelter at short notice while their trailers were taken off the island.
This project would add to Ocracoke’s resiliency by not having to rely on non-resident property owners to supply housing as was needed after Hurricane Dorian, she said.
The building would include laundry facilities and a kitchen. Three bathrooms would be available inside the church.
Volunteer labor is expected to arrive in September to build this expansion. Partnering with the Life Saving Church obviates the need to purchase a parcel of land, Peel said.
In response to Chestnut’s question about the capacity to sleep 36 people and feed 60 to 90 people, making it like a hotel, Peel said that this would be an emergency shelter. It could be for disasters or other emergencies such as housing sports teams overnight should the ferries not run.
After Chestnut asked a question about septic capacity, Ivey Belch, pastor of the church, said the church housed 65 people after Dorian hit. He said the septic system for the church is already being expanded and the addition would not require further expansion.
Chestnut noted that should there be a falling out between OIRRT and the church, then the church has a facility paid for with tax money.
Belch said that as long as he was pastor, that wouldn’t happen.
“Before the OIRRT, both churches were our disaster relief,” Peel noted. Both the OIRRT’s and the churches’ missions are entwined, she said. She said a memorandum of agreement is still being drafted between the OIRRT and the church.
Other requests were $51,570 from the Ocracoke Community Center with $33,000 of that for new flooring and siding and $18,570 for operating expenses.
The Ocracoke Turkey Trot asked for $5,000 to make this Thanksgiving Day 5K run an official timed event with T-shirts and medals.
The Ocracoke School asked for $5,350 for Arts Week.
The Hyde County Sheriff Department asked for $4,300 for more speed radar signs.
The Ocracoke Friends of the Library asked for $4,165 to install “StoryWalk” signs. This is a nationwide project in which pages from a children’s book are installed along a public path. Ocracoke Community Library Manager Sundae Horn said that local carpenter Clifton Garrish would be hired to build weather-resistant stands for the books.
Ocracoke Fire Protection Association asked for $83,189 toward the new truck fund and for equipment maintenance.
The MATTIE Arts Center in Swan Quarter asked for $600 for advertising.
Point of disclosure: Connie Leinbach is the volunteer events coordinator for the OCBA and the secretary of the OIRRT.