Dare’s State of the County presentation celebrates working together: ‘It’s all about teamwork’

Published 9:20 am Wednesday, January 31, 2024

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“It’s all about teamwork,” proclaimed Robert L. Woodard, chairman of the Dare County Board of Commissioners. He described the entire team as a “multitude of people.”

The team includes all the folks who showed up for the 2024 State of the County breakfast and presentations by commissioners clad in Dare County blue football jerseys with names on the back.

The State of the County has been delivered every January at Capt. George’s Seafood Restaurant in Kill Devil Hills. This year’s event was held Jan. 23, 2024.

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That team includes the seven commissioners, over 700 dedicated county employees, 300 people who serve on 40 boards, six municipalities, elected officials including the Dare County sheriff and register of deeds, Board of Education members, fire chiefs and crews, community groups, key agencies, residents and visitors.

Woodard, who said he was the quarterback, dubbed the audience the 12th member of the team.

Commissioner Rob Ross

Woodard called on commissioner Rob Ross, the board’s financial guru, to talk about four topics: annual budget, capital fund, past and present projects, credit ratings and financial excellence.

The annual budget is about $120 million, he said. That general fund budget split among various uses: 31% to public safety for law enforcement and emergency medical services; 23% for public school education and College of The Albemarle; 19% for the safety net created by Health and Human Services, Cultural and Recreation; 13% for general government; and 5% for other departments.

The county has a really, really low property tax rate at 40.05 cents per $100 valuation. That’s the fifth lowest rate in the state.

The Capital Improvement Planning Committee has two sources of revenue: 1% of the land transfer tax collected, about $8 million, and the general fund about $10 million. This year’s revenue is about $18 million. In the immediate past, a new animal shelter was built and opened in 2021; a new College of The Albemarle campus was opened in 2022; and renovations were completed for the Health and Human Services Building, also in 2022.

This fiscal year expect the openings of the new Emergency Medical Services Station 1 building including managerial offices and hooked up with the new Kill Devil Hills Fire Department; the new Southern Shores Emergency Medical Services Station 4; and a new helicopter hangar and crew living quarters.

Next on the capital improvements list are a Roanoke Island Youth Center, the Manns Harbor Emergency Medical Services Station 8 and a new Station 9 in Kitty Hawk.

The new and renovated facilities are paid for by limited obligation bonds issued by Dare County, which has top ratings from three national bond rating agencies. Those agencies are Moody’s with Aa1, Standard and Poor with AA+, and Fitch with AA. The top ratings help Dare County attract low interest rates on issued bonds.

For 28 years, Dare County has had clean audits. And for 32 years, Dare County’s Annual Comprehensive Financial Report has garnered a Certificate for Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting from the Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada. The award is presented annually to finance director David Clawson and assistant finance director Sally DeFosse. “They are the best in the business,” said Ross.

Ross concluded his assignment, saying “we work hard to earn your trust.”

Commissioner Steve House

Steve House, Dare County commissioner, was assigned waterways accessibility and impacts of fishing regulations. He honored the late Jim Tobin, a county commmissioner who for many years chaired the Oregon Inlet Task Force. Tobin was also honored at the beginning of the presentations.

House also praised the work of Harry Schiffman, vice chairman of the Oregon Inlet Task Force, who took on the leadership role during Tobin’s final illness.

The dredge Miss Katie operates under local control to keep the county’s waterways open and safe. During its first year of operation, the crew pumped 841,564 cubic yards of sand from Oregon Inlet and 55,586 cubic yards from the connector channel in Hatteras Inlet.

Trawlers are once again landing catch in Wanchese.

As part of public/private partnership, the Oregon Inlet Task Force agreed to send the Miss Katie outside Dare County. During its first year of operation, the dredge was sent to Lockwood Folly Inlet in Holden Beach. The Miss Katie cleared the channel in two weeks from a depth of four feet to 12 feet.

“Commercial watermen need help,” said House. Commercial fishing is the second largest economic driver in Dare County.

Commercial fisheries landed 35.1 million pounds of seafood in N.C. in 2022. This was a 17.3% decrease from the 2021 landings.

Frequently, fishing regulations end up in courts. On Aug. 7, 2023, a unanimous decision by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court ruling dismissing complaints against shrimp trawling under the Clean Water Act.

Proposed regulations are closely followed. On the longline fishery, Dare’s commissioners enacted a resolution opposing Amendment 15 Section F Subsection F2 to the Consolidated Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan. A media release was distributed. The regulation is now back under review by NOAA.

Board Vice Chairman and Commissioner Wally Overman

Wally Overman, BOC vice chairman, was charged with talking about The Wall That Heals, efforts to combat the opioid crisis and the regional airport on Roanoke Island.

In four days of the visit to Dare County by The Wall That Heals, 15,000 people visited the site that was open 24 hours a day. The event was organized by the Dare County Veterans Advisory Council. Some 33 event sponsors signed on and 251 volunteers assisted with the visit. Countless in-kind donations were received. Patty O’Sullivan, Dare’s veterans services officer, won praise for her work on the event from Overman.

The Saving Lives Task Force, now a non-profit organization, has been working for 10 years to prevent substance abuse.

In 2023, national opioid settlement funds were awarded to Dare County. Over an 18-year period, Dare County will receive $3.4 million.

Major 2023 accomplishments listed in the presentation included a new overdose response coordinator, a new Dare County Recovery Court case manager, naloxone and fentanyl testing strips, Dare County Detention Center “Linkage to Care” counseling program, “Fentanyl Kills” campaign billboards and advertisements and community grants for prevention, treatment and recovery initiatives.

Additionally, the task force partnered with Dare County EMS for overdose reporting and response efforts, facilitated the “Lock Your Meds” campaign, held prescription drug drop-off events with the Dare County Sheriff’s Office and Outer Banks Health, continued syringe  services and held community forums and recovery skills workshops.

Plans for the coming year include a new vehicle to increase services and bring those services to people in Dare County for combatting the epidemic.

A community educational event will be held April 18, 2024 at Jennette’s Pier featuring Dr. Stephen Lloyd.

Overman also reported on the Dare County Regional Airport and its regional economic impact with the audience. That impact is $105 million. The airport is responsible for creating 500 jobs. In 2023, 27,000 arrivals and departures took place. Some $1.35 million in fuel sales were achieved. Hangar rentals amount to $280,000 per year, building rentals $180,000 per year and car rentals, $110,000 per year.

With two major grants, the airport embarks on several projects. The airport is 80 years old and needs updating. With $2.3 million, which requires a 10% match, LED airfield lighting and precision approach lights will be installed as well as beacon, windsock and generator. This project will be completed by summer 2024.

The second grant for $2 million will be used to build new hangars starting at the end of 2024. This funding is from the North Carolina Capital Infrastructure Fund.

Commissioner Danny Couch

Danny Couch was charged with bringing information on National Aviation Day, the Wright Route, water system infrastructure and beach nourishment in Avon and Buxon.

National Aviation Day is August 19 and celebrates the birthdays of Orville Wright and Katherine Wright.

For the 125th anniversary of First Flight in 2028, a coordinated, weeklong celebration will involve moves from Indiana, Ohio, Virginia, to Dare County leading up to Dec. 17.

As to water infrastructure, for four years, the water main between Buxton and Avon ruptures 10 times. The water department replaced 1.5 miles of water main. Since installation was finished in December 2022, no issues or leaks have occurred; people in the villages and firefighters have a reliable water source.

As Couch approached the next subject, he called it “sexy” and received good laughter as he read about new Kamstrup automatic water meters. Only a few meters remain to be converted to the automated readers which can be read remotely and report every 24 hours, which enables the Water Department to quickly identify leaks.

Regarding beach nourishment, Couch reported that 2.5 miles were nourished in Avon for the first time in 2022 and in Buxton, 2.9 miles were re-nourished as planned. Buxton received its first beach building in 2018.

As to Rodanthe, Couch indicated that while the board was sympathetic “it just does not happen for financing.” He also said that “a lot of eyes are on Rodanthe.”

Commissioner Ervin Bateman

Commissioner Ervin Bateman talked about Dare County Recovery Court, Dare Challenge, home elevation projects and Love the Beach Respect the Ocean.

Recovery Court, started in 2019, helps people facing substance use criminal charges and offers an alternative to going to jail. Currently, 46 people are in the program. In January 2023, 18 individuals graduated. In January 2024, seven individuals graduated. “Lives are transformed,” said Bateman.

Dare Challenge, also known as “the men in black,” broke ground this month on an 8,400 square foot multi-purpose building to house a commercial kitchen, classrooms and a dormitory and staff housing. The program will move from 15 men to 45 and 15 women will be added in 2025.

Funding for the building program comes from private donors with $1.273 million; Dare County with $200,000, and the General Assembly with $6.9 million.

Dare County has two projects to elevate homes after flooding by hurricanes. In 2021, the county received a $6 million federal hazard mitigation assistance grant in 2021 as a result of damage to Dare County homes during Hurricane Florence and Hurricane Michael in 2018. Some

27 homes were elevated in 2023.

As a result of Dorian in 2019, over $5 million will be provided to elevate 31 more homes this year.

Last year, Love the Beach Respect the Ocean, a beach safety campaign, was awarded a Disaster Preparedness Award from the International Association of Emergency Managers.

Commissioner Bea Basnight

Commissioner Bea Basnight talked about Dare County Schools funding and the Dare Guarantee Scholarship.

Back in 2015, four people, Robert L. Outten, now county manager; Sue Burgess, then superintendent of Schools; Anna McGinnis, now acting finance officer of the schools; and David Clawson, Dare County finance director; convened to devise a per pupil formula that would avoid the sometimes-dramatic budget battles between the Dare commissioners and the Dare Board of Education.

The funding formula is divided into three sections: items determined by General Assembly action; items impacted by student enrollment; and items impacted by inflationary factors.

The formula works.

Today, the county provides $26.9 million plus another $1.4 million for school resource officers and nurses in every school. Dare has the second highest local contribution in the state to its schools.

The Dare Guarantee Scholarship provides tuition, out-of-pocket expenses and $200 for a laptop computer. In four years, 700 scholarships have been accepted to attend College of The Albemarle as a curriculum student or for workforce development. Adults and students just out of high school can apply for a scholarship.

Chairman of the Board of Commissioners and Commissioner Robert L. Woodard

Robert L. Woodard undertook to delve into the Alligator River bridge, housing, cluster housing, field lighting and improvement, and insurance rates.

To replace the 62-years old Alligator River bridge, NCDOT received a $110 million federal Mega grant to replace the bridge with a new 3.2-mile high-rise span. This National Infrastructure Project Assistance program supports large, complex projects that are difficult to fund by other means and likely to generate national or regional economic, mobility or safety benefits.

About housing, Woodard pointed to the new challenges faced in 2023. A Housing Task Force with 26 members held is first meeting Jan. 18, 2024.

“The goal is to work to find consensus in an effort to move forward to begin addressing the housing needs throughout the county,” states one presentation slide.

In 2018, cluster housing was added as a special use in 34 zoning districts throughout unincorporated Dare County. Seven cluster home projects have been approved.

Last year, people became concerned about the density of six units per acre on a project proposed for Wanchese. People in Wanchese launched a campaign complete with yard signs and making sure people in the community showed up to make comments at the Dare County Planning Board and at the commissioner meetings.

The commissioners listened, put additional conditions on the project and asked the Planning Board to take another look at the ordinance. The Planning Board redrafted the ordinance and removed 22 of the 34 zoning districts from the ordinance.

“We listened,” said Woodard.

Behind First Flight Middle School is land supposed to be used to play soccer. Kill Devil Hills commissioner Ivy Ingram said the field is called “ankle breaker.” In 2023, Dare’s commissioners authorized $800,000 to install lighting on the fields and most recently $450,000 to sod the fields.

A master plan for recreation facilities is underway.

The homeowners insurance rate request from the North Carolina Rate Bureau is opposed by the Dare County Board of Commissioners. Woodard encouraged the crowd to write in opposition to the rate request. The commissioners adopted a resolution stating its opposition.

Woodard said in closing, “we applaud you. We could not do what we do for the county without you.”