4/15/20: COVID-19: DARE MARKS THIRD DAY WITH NO NEW CASES; REMINDS RESIDENTS 25% OF PATIENTS ARE ASYMPTOMATIC. Plus: N.C. Legislative ‘Error’ in 2019 Repeals Beach Nourishment Bonds; and The Beacon Comments on MSDs in Southern Shores.

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Dare County reminds area residents in its COVID-19 bulletin today of a report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that about 25 percent of patients with the new coronavirus do not show symptoms. Thus, although the County has not received any positive COVID-19 test results during the past three days, that does not that mean that the respiratory illness “is not in our community.”

See Bulletin No. 43: https://www.darenc.com/Home/Components/News/News/6137/1483

COVID-19 Bulletin No. 43 also reports that of the 14 surviving Dare County residents who previously tested positive for COVID-19, 11 have recovered or are asymptomatically cleared, and three are asymptomatic. A 15th person died.

“Every day,” the bulletin says, “healthcare providers in Dare County are testing individuals they believe are in need of COVID-19 testing and meet the following criteria: fever of 100.4 or higher, cough, and respiratory illness.” Asymptomatic people are not tested unless they are known to have been exposed to an infected person; then they are tested as a part of “contact tracing.”

Dr. Sheila Davies, director of the Dare County Dept. of Health and Human Services, credits the low incidence of COVID-19 in the county to “good public health practice,” including social distancing and proper hand-washing and hygiene. The message of the bulletin is to stay the course and not ease up on mitigation measures now.

ERROR REPEALS SPECIAL BONDS FOR BEACH NOURISHMENT

In other Dare County news, Kirk Ross of The Coastal Review Online reported yesterday that an “error” by the N.C. General Assembly “eliminated a key funding mechanism for beach nourishment and other public projects.”

As Mr. Ross reported, the General Assembly unanimously voted last June to pass Senate Bill 381, which he described as a “rewrite of laws for a handful of state boards and commissions.” Included in the 14-page bill, however, was a single-sentence repeal of Chapter 159I of the N.C. General Statutes, which authorizes municipalities to use special obligations to finance projects in specific categories, including for beach nourishment.

(It is on page six of the bill.) See the article at https://www.coastalreview.org/2020/04/legislative-error-wipes-out-bond-program/

All Dare County beach nourishment to date has been financed in part by special obligation bonds, which do not require a public referendum and allow for very short short-term borrowing.

Senator Mike Woodard, D-Durham, one of the sponsors of SB 381, which took effect July 1, 2019, told the Coastal Review Online that a “repeal of special obligation bonds was not my intent . . . I will work with our local governments to fix this situation when the short session begins.”

The legislature is scheduled to convene April 28.

SOUTHERN SHORES IS CONSIDERING A $14-$16 MILLION COASTLINE NOURISHMENT PROJECT that would be financed through special obligation bonds and Dare County monies. Approval of such a project may finally occur at the Town Council’s budget workshop on April 21.

The Town has preliminarily proposed three “municipal service districts” to fund the debt through varied tax increases—oceanfront property owners would pay the highest tax rate increase—but it has yet to prepare a report that demonstrates and justifies the proposed district boundaries. All it has done is provide financial data, not a coherent report.

For a municipal service district to be designated and the property owners within it to be taxed more than other property owners in the town, N.C. law requires Southern Shores to attest that the proposed district—such as the oceanfront—is in need of beach nourishment to a “demonstrably greater extent than the rest” of the districts in town.

Inasmuch as Southern Shores is a town of rental homes whose occupants visit because of the oceanfront, and the beaches are held in trust for the public and not privately owned, The Beacon questions the districts the Town has proposed. They are based solely on proximity to the oceanfront, not on the “demonstrably greater extent” standard.

It seems more reasonable to The Beacon either to designate two MSDs, one of which starts at the oceanfront and goes west to the year-round neighborhoods in the maritime forest, and the other of which includes the year-round neighborhoods; or to make the town one single district, acknowledging that all property owners benefit equally from a beach nourishment project. There are seasonal rentals in the year-round neighborhoods, too, including airbnb.com rentals.

The layout of Southern Shores does not resemble any of the other beach towns that have secured special-obligation funding and created MSDs. There is a short mile between the ocean and the Currituck Sound in Southern Shores, and vacationer foot traffic from rental homes west of Ocean Boulevard and Duck Road to the oceanfront is heavy and easy to track.

The Town Council should give more consideration to Southern Shores’ uniqueness and not simply apply a one-size-fits-all plan for MSDs that may work for Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head, but not Southern Shores.

The ocean is proximate to most of the homes in Southern Shores, rental and otherwise. The Council needs to think more about the “demonstrably greater than” standard and apply it judiciously to all property in town.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 4/15/20

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