Political Forum Brings Candidates And Beach Town Leaders To Table

Political Forum Brings Candidates And Beach Town Leaders To Table Featured

By / Local News / Wednesday, 24 September 2014 04:00

Managing Editor

KURE BEACH - Candidates for New Hanover County Commissioner attended a forum Wednesday September 17th at the Kure Beach Community Center with elected leaders from Carolina Beach, Kure Beach and Wrightsville Beach.
Candidates answered questions posed by those leaders from the three beach towns. Among the topics discussed during the meeting, the focus was largely on beach nourishment funding, inlet dredging funding sources and improved working relationships with county staff and elected leaders. Candidates for County Commission seats include:
Skip Watkins (R), Derrick Hickey (R), Rob Zapple (D), and Patricia Spear (D). The event was organized by The Pleasure Island Foundation for a Sustainable Community.
The main focus of the forum was on beach nourishment and inlet maintenance funding. Federal funding for those projects has disappeared since 2005 with various forms of emergency funding being allocated by the Army Corp of Engineers to dredge the Carolina Beach Inlet and put sand on area beaches to combat erosion.
In addition to federal funding, such projects are in part funded by the state and the County's $37 million dollar room occupancy tax fund. That fund is fueled by a room tax on hotels, motels and short-term vacation accommodations.
All of the candidates agreed the County should continue to support the beach Towns for funding beach and inlet projects but were mixed on long term funding sources.
Dr. Derrick Hickey said the beaches are important economic driver for the entire county. He said the question is how to create a sustainable source of funding. He explained there is a shortfall from federal and state funding that keeps increasing year to year and options that need to be explored are increasing the room occupancy tax, sales tax, a food and beverage tax or increasing the property tax rate.
He said a food and beverage tax could generate $6 million dollars a year based on data from 2010. He said if those were updated that amount may increase.
Hickey said currently the sand fund fueled by the room tax is paid by people visiting the beach while many people from other parts of the County visit area beaches on a regular basis. He said spreading out the cost for those projects is a consideration.
Zapple said he didn't favor raising taxes and would focus on the existing room occupancy tax fund while researching other solutions.
He said he would explore renegotiating a contract the three beach Town's have with the county as a contingency plan should federal funding not arrive for a future project. That agreement, which expires in June 2015, says the county will fund 82.5% of a nourishment project with the affected beach town paying 17.5%.
Watkins didn't favor raising taxes and wants to look at reallocating the room occupancy tax funds.
Spear said working with State Legislators on a long term solution to funding such projects would be one of her goals but also would consider a food and beverage tax.


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