By Connie Leinbach
At a meeting Tuesday (April 25) in the Community Center, the Occupancy Tax Board cut the original asking amount of $1.15 million by island groups by more than half.
Citing the need to save a large chunk of money for possible critical issues or emergencies, the board agreed to cut all events to two thirds of their asking amount.
Bob Chestnut, chair of the board said the board expects to have about $663,000 in reserve by the end of the next fiscal year for possible emergencies and other requests down the road.
Normally, the board holds back about $200,000 in reserve, he said.
“But we’re anticipating we’ll need it for access issues, such as ferries, roads or dredging,” he said.
By law, the Occupancy Tax Board (OTB) on Ocracoke can grant money for “any legal purpose,” and the appropriations have to be approved by the Hyde County Board of Commissioners.
“Access is one of our top priorities to get people here or we’re not going to have any funds for anyone,” said Board Member Ann Warner.
Other board members are Trudy Austin, Lena O’Neal and Nancy Leach.
The Community Pool Association did not receive funding and they had asked for $136,713 for the purchase of land should they find appropriate property.
“We felt they aren’t quite ready,” Chestnut said. “The board supports it and if they find a piece of property and have a plan, we can convene a special meeting.”
He noted that the Occupancy Tax has funded three big infrastructure projects that need to get over the finish line first: the Island Inn refurbishment project along with public restrooms for that property and the tennis/pickle ball court near Community Park off Maurice Ballance Road.
He said the board had expected that the Ocracoke Tourism Development Authority (TDA) could help fund some of the festivals, but that didn’t happen this year.
Helena Stevens, TDA executive director, said afterwards that the TDA spent a majority of its money (after advertising the island) on infrastructure projects.
Those were the tram stop benches, signage and trash receptacles and service.
They also created additional parking along Lighthouse Road for lighthouse and Springer’s Point visitors, she said.
But Stevens said helping to fund festivals is within the realm of the TDA’s purview.
She said the TDA also paid the Ocracoke Civic & Business Association (OCBA), who is handling the public restroom project at the Island Inn $50,000.
The OCBA at its April meeting approved the proposal by local contractor Tom Pahl to build the restrooms from scratch rather than a prefab facility that would be shipped to the island. They requested Pahl to have his subcontractor begin by October.
The following is what the Occupancy Tax Board approved:
Hyde County — $110,000 to help fund the free tram operation. The money appropriated to Hyde County for the trams will help pay for the contract, maintenance and for new batteries for the tram fleet. The state pays for half of the tram costs, Chestnut said.
The county had also requested $12,000 of OTB funds to help pay for its new lobbyist, Bob Steinburg, the former state senator for Hyde County. Steinburg resigned from the General Assembly after losing in the Republican primary to Norman Sanderson in the redrawn Senate District 1 and announced he would become a lobbyist and is currently representing several eastern counties.
Chestnut said the county withdrew its request for Ocracoke to help with the $36,000 the county is paying Steinburg due to the negative comments the OTB received about Steinburg.
The comments can be found on www.hydecountync.gov under the Boards & Committees section on the home page. Two islanders appeared at the April 25 meeting with protest signs about Steinburg.
The organizations and the amounts they received are as follows:
Hyde County Sheriff’s Department: $23,110 for more flashing speed signs
Ocracoke Alive: $18,760 for the Ocrafolk and Latino festivals
OCBA: $44,871 for events (July 4, Pirate Jamboree, Island-Wide Yard Sale, Holiday lights and Holiday market)
OCBA: $36,500 for 2024 fireworks
Ocracoke Community Center: $30,000 for repairs
WOVV community radio: $22,752 for broadcasting equipment upgrades
Ocracoke Fire Protection Association: $75,000 for radios, an extraction tool, insurance and truck outfitting
Friends of the Library: $7,250 for various projects
Ocracoke Preservation Society: $135,660 for two Island Inn projects, the Fig Festival and the British Cemetery Ceremony
Ocracoke School: $6,300 for Arts Week
United Methodist Church: $22,500 for a new roof for the rec hall
The board declined the request by Mattie Arts Center in Swan Quarter for $600 for advertising.
Correction: The board cut all events requests to two thirds of their asking price. A previously published version incorrectly stated that the board cut the amounts by two thirds.
Point of disclosure: Connie Leinbach is the secretary of the OCBA and its unpaid events coordinator.