ONLINE UPDATE: Legislative beach breakfast

by Cole Dittmer
Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Wrightsville Beach smoking ban, Room Occupancy Tax formula, and Coastal Storm Damage Reduction and shallow draft inlet funding were among the topics discussed at a meeting leaders from Wrightsville, Carolina and Kure beaches held with North Carolina General Assembly Representative Ted Davis Jr.  

Held on Friday morning, March 22, at Shell Island Resort, an update on the Wrightsville Beach smoking ban was the first item on the meeting agenda. 

In his efforts to secure a local act from the NCGA that would clarify Wrightsville Beach's enforceable jurisdiction on the beach strand for the ban, Davis said the North Carolina Constitution prevents any local bills dealing with health, sanitation or nuisances. The smoking ban would qualify under all three.

Since learning this, Davis said he has tried to pursue a statewide bill that would allow local municipalities to enforce these ordinances but has encountered significant pushback from across the NCGA, even in the newly-formed Coastal Caucus.

"To put it mildly I have received opposition from all the way up the ladder in looking into this," Davis said. "This is just something that is very controversial, people look at it as an infringement on someone's rights." 

At the meeting, Wrightsville Beach town attorney, John Wessell, proposed a new course of action for Davis, which was to return all areas east of the 1939 property line  on Wrightsville Beach back to the possession of the town based on a United States Supreme Court ruling from the 1970s. Wessell said that case demonstrates the NCGA can do what the beach towns are asking for. 

Although the opportunity for introducing bills is coming to a close soon, Davis said he would try the angle Wessell suggested. 

"I'll be Don Quixote and I'll charge that windmill one more time," Davis said. 

Another issue coming up in the NCGA and local municipalities is the use of Room Occupancy Tax funds, which are generated by nightly stays in hotels, and primarily used to fund Coastal Storm Damage Reduction projects and tourism development. 

The ROT is 6 percent in New Hanover County and the first 3 percent of those funds are distributed to: Coastal Storm Damage Reduction projects in the three beach towns (60 percent); and the New Hanover County Tourism Development Authority and Convention Visitor's Bureau (40 percent). The second 3 percent of the ROT fund is distributed to promotions and tourism related activities for the three beach towns, Wilmington Convention Center development and CSDR projects. 

Wrightsville Beach Mayor David Cignotti said Wrightsville Beach was not in favor of changing the ROT formula but would like to raise the ROT 1 cent to be used explicitly for CSDR projects for the beach town once the federal government completely backs out of funding these projects. Both the federal and state government have been gradually withdrawing funding for CSDR projects and if that funding is totally absent the beach towns would have to fund up to 17.5 percent of the total cost of these projects. 

Town of Carolina Beach Mayor Bob Lewis and councilman Steve Shuttleworth said they would like to see funding transferred from the TDA and CVB allotment to CSDR project funds. Lewis criticized the organization's efforts in marketing the beach towns, adding that businesses on Carolina Beach have told him they do not see any help in marketing from the TDA. 

After Davis mentioned that many issues dealing with taxes were in limbo pending the state's decisions on tax reform, the beach towns decided to form a task force to delve deeper into the ROT figures to determine if more funding could be attained for CSDR projects. 

A recently introduced senate bill providing for alternative funding for shallow draft inlet maintenance was also discussed at Friday's meeting. Introduced by Senator Harry Brown of Jones and Onslow counties, the bill would increase boating registration fees based on the length of the boat to fund shallow draft inlet maintenance. 

As it is written now, SB58 would require a 50/50 match from local municipalities but Davis said he plans on lobbying to change that ratio to only require local municipalities to provide 25 percent of the funding because he does not believe the local municipalities would be able to afford a dollar for dollar match. 

Another aspect of the bill that has Davis concerned is that it includes Oregon Inlet in the list of shallow draft inlets the alternative funding could be used for. 

"The way I see it, if we include Oregon Inlet we should all go home because those projects would suck up all the funding," he said. 

Davis said he knows there is opposition to SB58 and that it would most likely pass through the senate as is, but be amended once it reaches the house of representatives. 

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