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Commissioners cautious in granting ROT requests

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New Hanover County Commissioners weighed requests to use room occupancy tax funds for fall 2014 beach sand projects at Carolina Beach and Kure Beach during a May 5 meeting.

The board unanimously approved use of $1.86 million for the Carolina Beach project but declined to take action on Kure Beach’s request.

Carolina Beach’s federal authorization is set to expire December 2014. The fall 2014 renourishment project is potentially the last opportunity to use federal funds to offset costs.

“This is a bit unique because this is not a regularly scheduled nourishment cycle. It is the federal government’s attempt to give a final nourishment to [Carolina Beach] with the ability to use federal funds. … The federal government, to everyone’s good fortune, was able to identify additional dollars,” Coudriet said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed the projects, securing $4.8 million for Carolina Beach. The N.C. Division of Water Resources pledged $727,000, leaving the ROT to cover the remaining $1.86 million needed to complete the $7.4 million project.

The corps expedited federal and state money allocated for use in Kure Beach during the -2015-16 fiscal years to take advantage of equipment mobilized on the island for Carolina Beach’s project.

Both beaches are on a three-year cycle and projects traditionally occur simultaneously. Carolina Beach and Kure Beach both received sand in 2013.

Kure Beach Mayor Dean Lambeth told commissioners the beach strand was hit especially hard by winter storms.

Approval of Kure Beach’s request was not recommended by New Hanover County Shore Protection Coordinator Layton Bedsole or county manager Chris Coudriet.

Bedsole cited a lack of scientific support for pumping another pile of sand on Kure Beach. Coudriet denied support for the request because it could force the ROT to bear the bulk of 2016 renourishment projects for Carolina and Kure Beach.

“The two projects combined in [20]13 were $15 million. … Assuming no money for Carolina Beach because it’s not reauthorized and it’s unlikely that Congress will appropriate the same project twice [for Kure Beach], so potentially in three years the ROT could face 65 percent of a $15 million project plus 17.5 percent for Carolina Beach and Kure Beach,” Coudriet said.

Lambeth requested the county manager and commissioners sign a letter to be published in the paper explaining why Kure Beach did not receive the funding.

“[Kure Beach officials] are going to be in the hot seat for this,” Lambeth said.

School Bond Plan, Health & Human Services Plan

New Hanover County Schools Superintendent Dr. Tim Markley outlined county school needs in a step toward securing a November 2014 bond referendum.

The bond would fund construction of an elementary school in Porters Neck and renovations to College Park Elementary, Blair Elementary and Wrightsville Beach School, among other improvements.

The latest facility needs plan identified $390 million in needed improvements.

New Hanover County Board of Education Chairman Don Hayes said in an April 30 phone interview he expected the bond would be capped at $160 million.

A number was not established during the meeting. Coudriet said commissioners would have to agree on one.

“There is going to have to be a discussion about how much below $280 [million] that you’re willing to put as a question to the voters,” Coudriet said.

Markley said additional information would be given to Coudriet May 6. The board will likely resume the discussion during a May 19 meeting.

Hayes said he was confident voters would support a bond in November.

“I hear very positive comments from people about the bond. They know the need. They know with our previous bonds, we’ve always done what we said we were going to do to the penny,” Hayes said.

Commissioners approved an action plan addressing seven areas of concern in the county health department and division of social services.

The plan’s objectives result from a study conducted by leaders in both departments to identify and eliminate duplicated services. The plan was prepared after commissioners voted against consolidation in November 2013.

Commissioner Jonathan Barfield, Jr. declined support of the plan, urging consolidation instead of collaboration.

“If you want to get lean, let’s get lean,” Barfield said.

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