Carolina Beach’s request to tap into Room Occupancy Tax funds to pay for a beach renourishment project has prompted concern from Wrightsville Beach town officials.
ROT funds would supplement federal and state funds for a fall 2014 renourishment project before the beach’s federal authorization expires on Dec. 31, 2014.
“I don’t have a problem with the fact that there’s federal funding for a one-time deal that’s available for Carolina Beach, and I don’t know if I actually have a problem with the fact that they’re requesting money from the county… but see, we don’t have a clue. We have been left out of the process,” said Wrightsville Beach Mayor Bill Blair during an April 24 phone interview.
Carolina Beach Town Manager Michael Cramer said town officials learned in February 2014 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has $4.8 million to fund the project, pooled from $2.1 million in leftover general construction funds and $2.7 million the corps requested from the federal government. The N.C. Division of Water Resources pledged $727,000.
The requested $1.8 million from ROT funds would round out the project’s cost.
An April 18 letter from Cramer to New Hanover County Manager Chris Coudriet contained an official request to access the ROT funds.
“With our conversations with the corps over the past several weeks, it was explained to us, the county and Kure Beach that some sort of decision from the communities needed to be made within the next week so they could make their timelines for using the federal funds and get the project rolling by the end of September,” Cramer said during an April 24 phone interview.
County commissioners will vote on the request during a May 5 meeting following a presentation on numbers prepared by New Hanover County Shore Protection Coordinator Layton Bedsole and New Hanover County Finance Director Lisa Wurtzbacher.
Blair is concerned that Wrightsville Beach was not included in the conversation.
“As beach towns go, we have all been a group and then all of a sudden we’re not part of that discussion and I think we need to be because …Wrightsville Beach contributes about 50 percent of ROT dollars every year,” Blair said.
Cramer said he has discussed the request with Kure Beach town officials.
“I’ve had conversations with multiple council members in Kure Beach and as long as it doesn’t negatively impact them, which it doesn’t, they don’t have an issue with us utilizing the resources,” Cramer said. “I haven’t heard anything from Wrightsville Beach.”
Cramer said the focus has been on getting approval from county commissioners, who will decide whether to dedicate resources.
Blair said that approach does not follow established procedures for requesting access to ROT funds, like securing a recommendation from the Wilmington-New Hanover County Port, Waterway and Beach Commission first.
The project was on the agenda for the last Port, Waterway and Beach Commission meeting.
During the April 9 meeting, members discussed the project but determined they did not have enough information to make an informed vote.
“This request, although I understand the math and numbers, never actually went and got a recommendation from the ports and waterways commission. … Our concern is, has the process been circumvented or is there a new process for asking for money? Because it’s always been handled a certain way,” Blair said.
He hopes Wrightsville will be kept in the loop in the future, in part to assure the town is allocating enough money for future renourishment projects.
“I’m just trying to figure out what our set-aside amount needs to look like at our beach, meaning, are we putting away enough [or] too little? How do we plan for the future?” Blair said.
Wrightsville Beach Town Manager Tim Owens said in ongoing 2014–2015 fiscal year budget discussions, the town plans to put aside $345,000 for future projects like this. The fund currently holds $324,000.
Wrightsville Beach’s renourishment projects will remain federally authorized through 2041.
Cramer said Carolina Beach officials are also planning for future projects, including the possibility the town might lose state funding after losing federal authorization.
The town has put aside $350,000 per year for the last couple years.
“We’re putting that away just in case. However, that amount of funds probably will not cover any sort of substantial amount compared to an $8 or 9 [million] nourishment project,” Cramer said, adding the town would request the remaining amount be pulled from the only remaining option, the ROT fund.