State Sen. Lee briefs local officials on beach sand funds, sales tax proposal


North Carolina’s beach towns should be prepared to work with the state to develop a plan for coastal storm damage reduction that doesn’t include federal funding for beach renourishment, which state Sen. Michael Lee, R-New Hanover, said would eventually disappear.

“I don’t think it’s if they go away, it’s when they go away,” Lee said of federal beach renourishment funds.

Local officials of New Hanover County’s beach towns received updates from Lee and other officials Friday, July 24 on storm damage mitigation issues and the impact of the potential sales tax changes currently under consideration in Raleigh.

Wrightsville Beach Mayor Bill Blair was among the more than two dozen town, county, state and business leaders in attendance at the morning meeting at the Kure Beach Community Center.

“Even if we continue to get federal money, it will be reduced,” Blair said, adding that how the towns manage the change is what will be important.

Wrightsville Beach Alderman Hank Miller Jr. said the meeting was important to help get Wrightsville Beach, Kure Beach, Carolina Beach and New Hanover County on the “same page.”

“Who knows what’s going to happen?” Miller said of federal beach renourishment funding, adding that the biggest problem would be to “stick our head in the sand and not deal with it.”

He said meetings like this help build the coalition and keep local officials informed about the tenor of state politics on important issues.

Officials also received an update from Lee on the proposed state sales tax change, which would shift how the revenues are distributed. The change would significantly alter where the money goes, basing the formula more on population than on point of sale, with the result being more revenue for rural counties and less for New Hanover.

Lee emphasized that rural counties in North Carolina are struggling, with collapsing infrastructure, schools and prisons.

“There are parts of North Carolina that are suffering tremendously,” he said. “I’m not saying we don’t have an obligation to do something. This is not the way.”

However, with a majority of legislators representing rural areas, Lee said stopping the sales tax change would be difficult. North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory said he would veto the measure, but Lee said that might not be possible since the sales tax proposal is currently folded into the budget. And despite its importance to New Hanover County, he said sales tax reform is only the second most difficult budget issue being worked out in Raleigh, as medicaid reform is also extending budget negotiations.

Lee said an important consideration of any sales tax reform will be consistent statewide policies on how that money is spent. Some rural county officials have said they don’t know how the county would spend the additional money they receive, he said.

“The policy needs to address what to do with the money,” Lee said. “We need a solid policy for all of North Carolina, not just for the rural areas and not just for the metropolitan areas.”

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