Clad in blue football jerseys to highlight the overarching theme of teamwork, the Dare County Commissioners reviewed a series of key county issues during the Jan. 23 State of County event before a packed house at Captain George’s in Kill Devil Hills.
Continuing with the football motif, Board Chairman Bob Woodard, holding a football, assigned a team position to everyone and called on them in turn.
Before the commissioners delivered their message, though, State Senator Bobby Hanig took the floor to present a surprised Woodard with a Senate District 3 resolution of appreciation and congratulations.
“What Chairman Woodward brings to the table is the ability to bring people together. Doesn’t matter if you’re Republican, Democrat, unaffiliated. His interests are purely for the best [for] Dare County and North Carolina,” Hanig said in his remarks.
The financial health of the county was the first play, or presentation, of the morning. The good news, according to Commissioner Rob Ross, is that the county’s financial picture is excellent.
“One of the things a former boss once told me is ‘Good numbers make for good meetings.’ Well, spoiler alert. Dare County has some pretty damn good numbers,” he said. Ross went on to describe how the county’s $120 million budget is spent—most of it for public safety, education, and social services—and how it is administered.
Ross drew particular attention to the administration of those funds under Finance Director David Clausen, noting that the county’s credit rating is as good as it can be.
“We are one notch below on Moody’s, Standard and Poor’s, and Fitch from the theoretical perfect credit rating…We’re only down one level because of where we live, our susceptibility to storms, hurricanes. We can’t do anything about that,” he said.
Commissioner Steve House noted that the county’s purchase of the dredge Miss Katie in 2022 seems to have paid dividends last year when for “the first time in almost eight years, we now have loaded trawlers navigating through Oregon Inlet.” But that comes against the backdrop of a disturbing trend in commercial fishing in the state.
“Our commercial fisheries land at 35.1 million pounds of seafood in North Carolina and these are 22 numbers…This was a 17.3% decrease from 2021 landings…and a 26.6% decrease from the five-year average,” he said.
Dare County also continues to struggle with essential housing for its workforce, and Woodard, who wrapped up the meeting, addressed that issue, noting that “2023 was challenging. The last four or five years were challenging…with regard to moving forward with essential housing.” (At the 2023 State of the County, Woodard declared that “The number one priority for us is essential and workforce housing.”)
Woodard noted that Woda Cooper, one of the companies the county had contracted with to created workforce housing, had pulled out, indicating there were too many obstacles.
He also pointed to the controversial state budget item that would have stripped the Dare County towns of the authority to regulate housing developments funded with $35 million in state money, has been rejected by the county commissioners.
The first meeting of the Dare County Affordable Housing Task Force was held last week, and Woodard called attention to what he hopes it will accomplish.
“Our goal is to work to find consensus in an effort to move forward to [address] the pressing housing needs throughout Dare County,” he said.
Hatteras Island Commissioner Danny Couch addressed the need for beach nourishment. He said that Buxton and Avon had been included in the last round of nourishment, but that beach retreat in Rodanthe continued to be a vexing issue for the county.
Rodanthe, which is very narrow at points and sparsely populated, does not seem to qualify for nourishment under federal guidelines. “There’s not a lot of money that you can get from a tax district to help pay that [nourishment] because that’s a FEMA requirement,” he explained. “If you’re going to get federal money, you’re going to have to have some financial input coming…from the community and it just does not have it right now at this point.”
But he added, there is reason for hope, describing collaborative efforts to protect property on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, which owns the beach to the high tide line, and state and federal agencies.
“We’ve had a federal, state, and local commitment. We’re moving houses off of the beach. We’re doing what we can to help [homeowners] to…hang on to that critical certificate of occupancy and we are having some success,” he said.
On the issue of the battle against addiction, Vice Chair Wally Overman, Co-chair of the Saving Lives Task Force, called attention to the funds the county will receive.
“One of the biggest accomplishments for 2023 was managing the first round of the national opioid settlement funds awarded to Dare County. Dare County will receive $3.4 million over an 18-year period that started in Fiscal Year 2023 when approximately $400,000 was designated,” he said.
On the subject of education, Bea Basnight, the newly appointed county commissioner and a former chair of the Dare County Board of Education, noted that Dare County has now provided more than 700 scholarships covering the cost of tuition and other expenses for county students who will be attending the College of the Albemarle.
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