Dare needs housing plan; legislation to be introduced to eliminate controversial section in budget bill

Published 10:51 am Monday, April 29, 2024

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The Dare County Housing Task Force met April 22, 2024 in a crowded conference room in the county’s Administration Building.

Task Force members numbered 17 in a quickly called meeting to talk with North Carolina Senators Bobby Hanig and Norman Sanderson by Google Meet. Public members numbered at least 27, causing more chairs to be brought into Room 168.

Vice chairman of the county’s Board of Commissioners Wally Overman called the meeting to order. County manager Robert L. Outten asked an open-ended question to the two senators about looking for other tools.

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Outten then asked a question that the Task Force had about the $35 million grant provided to Dare County by the state in the budget bill for fiscal year 2021: Is it possible to repurpose the grant money for other uses in the affordable housing arena?

Hanig immediately responded that a concrete plan needed to be in place, especially since the money was allocated in 2021.

Sanderson said the same, “it will take a plan.” He mentioned the short session time crunch. The session opens Wednesday, April 24 at noon and will recess in sometime in July.

Malcolm Fearing, a Task Force member, thanked the senators for their work. He described the most recent legislation as a “lightning rod” for Dare’s municipalities.

In the most recent budget bill referred to as House Bill 259, Section 24.8 was inserted at the last moment. It was not vetted by the county’s incorporated towns or the county, reported Fearing.

The legislation requires the Town of Manteo to provide access to its wastewater system as it would for all new construction, provided that Manteo (referred to as the local government) has sufficient capacity. The legislation also negates development and zoning controls in place in the towns.

At the April 16 meeting of the Task Force, after a long discussion about the latest legislation, the members voted unanimously to ask the General Assembly to repeal the offending section.

Hanig and Sanderson were also completely unaware of the section until it was too late.

Hanig announced that he had already drafted legislation to take the offending section out as a technical correction to the budget bill.

Discussion moved to the $35 million when Hanig asked Outten about his conversation with the Office of Budget and Management.

Outten replied that the office said “we can sit on it as long as we want.” There is no reversion clause or sunset date in the original legislation.

Hanig said “we need to work on the timeline.”

Sanderson said the plan needs to identify land. “It’s hard to go to leadership with a blank piece of paper.”

Hanig said “we need some buy-in from the towns.” He further elaborated that resolutions and agreements would be good. He feared that the plan would get to the legislature and a board of elected officials would voice objection.

Hanig also asked questions that the task force, which has only had two meetings, had not considered: Who will own the housing? Who manages the property? How is the money going to be divided among the towns? What does it look like?

Outten responded that the legislation contemplates a development agreement to work out those details.

After the conversation with Hanig and Sanderson concluded, the Task Force decided to meet every two weeks instead of monthly considering the short session calendar.

On that meeting agenda is reorganization of the Task Force. Through two meetings, Board of Commissioners Chairman Robert L. Woodard has chaired the meeting and Outten has drawn up an agenda.

At the April 16 meeting, Woodard pointed to the success of citizen-led task forces. He pointed to the Oregon Inlet Task Force and the NC 12 Task Force as recent examples. Outten later added the Manteo’s Health Care Task Force as another example.

Outten commented: “it may be time for a community-led group that focuses on what the community says.”

Reorganization will be on the next Task Force meeting. Outten will send out a poll to determine that date.

Also attending the Monday, April 22, 2024 meeting were Trey Lewis from U.S. Senator Thom Tillis’ office and John Taylor from U.S. Senator Ted Budd’s office. Dare County commissioners attending included Overman, Danny Couch, Steve House and Bea Basnight. From Dare County Schools came Superintendent Steve Basnight and school board members Susan Bothwell and Mary Ellon Ballance and Ron Payne, a Task Force member.