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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Beach towns pay less in new sand funding proposals

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New Hanover County’s beach towns presented three alternative plans for beach renourishment funding to the county’s board of commissioners on Monday, Nov. 16. Currently, only the federal and state government fund the project, with a percentage also coming from the county’s room occupancy tax, but the new proposals would require the beach towns to pay less into the fund.

New Hanover County Board of Commissioners Chairman Jonathan Barfield Jr. gave few specifics on the town’s proposal, but said, “We should all share in this process.”

Local officials anticipate the federal government to stop picking up costs for beach renourishment in the near future and the beach towns — Wrightsville Beach, Carolina Beach and Kure Beach — struck an agreement for funding, which has now expired.

The towns of Carolina and Kure Beach want to negotiate a new plan to fund beach renourishment that doesn’t require them to pay $1.5 million — about one-tenth of their yearly budget — per project.

The three alternative funding options, all of which require smaller contributions from the beach towns, were developed by a subcommittee with representatives from the three beaches and presented during the commissioners’ bimonthly meeting by county shore protection coordinator Layton Bedsole.

The alternative funding options are all back-up plans at this point, because federal and state dollars currently pay for beach renourishement, but those dollars could run out soon.

“I do recommend we have a plan B in place,” Bedsole said.

The subcommittee’s favorite option is letting the county’s room occupancy tax pay the entire cost of each $9 million project. A lot of the room tax is generated in the beach towns, the highest amount coming from Wrightsville Beach.

Commissioner Rob Zapple pointed out there is currently $43 million in the room tax fund so paying for one project for each of the beach towns would deplete half that fund. The county could raise room tax, Barfied said, adding that Myrtle Beach has a higher room tax and its tourism doesn’t suffer.

The subcommittee’s other funding alternatives involve letting room tax pay 82.5 percent while the county and beach town split the remaining 17.5 percent. That would still give the beach towns a better deal than the previous four-year interlocal agreement, signed in 2011, which required the beaches to pay the entire 17.5 percent.

Carolina Beach and Kure Beach leaders let that agreement expire in June in the hopes they could negotiate a better deal. Wrightsville Beach renewed its agreement, but Mayor Bill Blair said if the other beaches get a better deal he could terminate the existing agreement and opt for the new one, too.

Blair said Wrightsville Beach is in a better position to pay the 17.5 percent because the town raised parking rates to create its own sand fund. He said having a deal in place and a willingness to contribute is a better way to approach negotiations with the county.

“In order to have a robust conversation with the county, we felt like it was good business to be in the current agreement and work off that,” he said.

But, he added, if the beach towns get a better deal, Wrightsville Beach’s sand fund could be used for many of the town’s other expenses and prevent raising property taxes.

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