The Town Council unanimously voted last night to approve establishing two municipal service districts for beach-nourishment funding, and Town Manager Cliff Ogburn presented a recommended fiscal year 2021-22 budget that specifies tax rates for properties in those MSDs, as well as town-wide, to pay for the 2022 project, but has no general tax-rate increase.
Mr. Ogburn recommended that the general tax rate in FY 2021-22 remain 19.58 cents per $100 of assessed property value, but said that there will be a tax-rate increase in FY 2022-23. He submitted a balanced budget of $7,841,910—the highest ever in Southern Shores.
(PLEASE NOTE: Of that amount, only $30,400 is budgeted for cut-thru traffic mitigation. There is no explanation in Mr. Ogburn’s budget message or in the proposed budget how that total was derived and how the money would be used. The expense is itemized as a “Contracted Service” under the Public Works Dept. budget. We highly recommend that you attend the Town Council’s May 18 budget workshop if you would like to comment on this proposed allocation.)
To raise revenue to pay for the Town’s annual beach-nourishment obligation of $1,224,775 over the next five years, Mr. Ogburn recommended that properties in the newly created MSD-1, which covers the oceanfront, be assessed a tax of 18.42 cents; those in MSD-2, be assessed 6.42 cents; and all other properties be assessed 3.42 cents.
His proposed rates, thus, are: 12 cents for MSD-1; 3 cents for MSD-2; and 3.42 cents for all other properties. Because MSD-1 overlaps MSD-2 and the rest of the town, and MSD-2 overlaps properties “town-wide,” the total tax-rate increase for the MSDs is cumulative.
Bottom line: Taxpayers who own property outside of the two MSDs would pay a total tax of 23 cents per $100 of value in FY 2021-22, if the Town Council adopts Mr. Ogburn’s recommendations. MSD-1 property owners would pay 38 cents, and MSD-2 property owners would pay 26 cents.
Mr. Ogburn further calculated that the revenue generated from property taxes for beach nourishment would cover $1,074,633 of the project debt and said that an additional $200,000 would be contributed by the Town’s capital reserve fund—thus bringing total revenue to $1,274,633, which is $49,858 over what is needed. The excess amount would go into the Town’s beach nourishment fund, he said.
The Town Council will hold a budget workshop at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, May 18, in the Pitts Center. A public hearing on the budget will be held during the Council’s regular monthly June 1 at 5:30 p.m. in the Pitts Center.
PROPERTY OWNERS SPEAK AGAINST MSDs; NCDOT SAYS NOTHING NEW ABOUT MID-CURRITUCK BRIDGE; THE BANDWAGON CONTINUES
Last night’s meeting was a lengthy one, in part because of public comments by property owners who voiced opposition to the municipal service districts. We will highlight their arguments in a subsequent posting.
Before the comment period, two employees of the N.C. Dept. of Transportation who appeared remotely and shared a power-point presentation gave an “update” of the Mid-Currituck Bridge project that could easily have been dispensed with.
Rodger Rochelle, chief engineer for the N.C. Turnpike Authority, and Jennifer Harris, who also works for the turnpike authority and is project manager for the bridge, confirmed what we already know: Construction has been delayed because of a “legal challenge.”
In the meanwhile, the NCDOT employees assured us, they are doing what they can to prepare for the bridge with permitting, design work, etc.
Neither Mr. Rochelle nor Ms. Harris said anything about the progress of the litigation, and no one on the Town Council asked. The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) has filed suit on behalf of interested local parties who formed a non-profit organization in order to qualify for representation by the SELC.
The lawsuit essentially alleges that construction of the 4.7-mile bridge from Aydlett to Corolla, as well as other related construction, would significantly damage the natural environment and cause harm to animal and human life alike.
When asked by Mayor Tom Bennett if he could provide a tentative starting date for the bridge’s construction, Mr. Rochelle replied that he could not, because of the litigation, but he did reveal that before construction can start, “a year of pre-construction” must occur.
Six property owners spoke in person at last night’s meeting in opposition to the municipal service districts, and the Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Morey read three more protests that were emailed to the Town by other property owners.
In contrast to the Town Council’s April 13 meeting, when members took the first vote of two votes required by N.C. law to approve an ordinance to establish the MSDs without expressing any viewpoints, last night’s meeting featured discussion and commentary by the Council members, who at times directly addressed the audience.
Once the vote was taken, the near-capacity audience—seating was limited because of social distancing—left, without hearing Mr. Ogburn’s budget message.
The Beacon never doubted the outcome for a moment, because we have followed the beach-nourishment bandwagon since its formation and reported on it extensively.
At a March 6, 2018 Town Council meeting, coastal engineering consultant Ken Willson, who is now overseeing the Town’s 2022 project, reported on his company APTIM’s 2017 Southern Shores beach assessment, informing the Council that the coastline is in good shape, with “stable” dunes.
Just three years ago, Mr. Willson told the Town Council that the Southern Shores “shoreline is looking fairly stable” and there is “no big rush” to “jump” on beach nourishment.
“I think time is on your side,” he concluded.
Nonetheless, Mr. Willson recommended that the Council authorize APTIM to conduct a “vulnerability assessment of the oceanfront structures” and to determine the “minimum cross-section of [sand] volume” that should be maintained to protect the shoreline from FUTURE storm damage.
And, just so the Town Council would have the information it needs, he said, he would provide a “five-year plan” for “what a project would look like” when he conducted the vulnerability assessment and the volume determination.
Not that the Town needs to implement that five-year plan, you understand. The options Mr. Willson presented would not be recommendations, he emphasized; they would just be options for the Town Council to consider.
See The Beacon, 1/19/20, for background. (We have written numerous articles!)
Since then, we have seen how Mayor Bennett, with the support of at least two other Council members—he now has four on his side—and former Town Manager Peter Rascoe, steered the bandwagon to reach the moment that the Council reached last night.
Those property owners who have vocally opposed the MSD tax structure in the past two months needed to oppose beach nourishment last year—not forever, but for now—in order to succeed. They needed to put the brakes on and ask the Council to consider alternate methods of funding before it voted to “pursue” beach nourishment.
Once they gave the Town Council their vote of approval, the MSDs were a done deal. The Town Council was not going to consider another method of funding; it never has.
We pointedly asked the Town Council in public comments in an October 2019 meeting why the Council was not considering general obligation bond funding and received no reply.
The past two councils have done no thinking outside of the box on beach-nourishment funding. They have simply fallen in step with what all of the other beach towns have done.
We will do some thinking for them in an upcoming blog article.
When you vote for a new mayor and a new Council member this year, we strongly urge you to vote for someone with vision—someone who will reach out to all of the other Dare County beach towns about beach-nourishment funding and encourage cooperative action.
We have much to say about last night’s meeting, but very little time in which to say it until next week.
We were disappointed, but not surprised, by some of the misinformation and lack of knowledge expressed last night by Town Council members, especially in regard to funding, and we believe it is important to expose both.
(Speaking personally, the first two weeks of May are an exceptionally busy time for my family and me. Today is my mother’s 97th birthday, or as she calls it, her “un-birthday,” a word coined by author Lewis Carroll, not her. I will stop here and pick up when I can.)
Mr. Ogburn has been true to his word about posting the recommended FY 2021-22 budget on the Town website first thing this morning. You may access it here:
Last night’s meeting can be viewed on the Town’s You Tube website in two parts: The first part covers the agenda through the first public-comment period, when the Council took a break. Part two picks up with the Council’s discussion of the MSDs.
Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 5/5/21