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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Towns discuss beach renourishment with shrinking federal funding

Officials from Carolina, Kure and Wrightsville Beaches were joined by New Hanover County and Wilmington leaders to strategize future beach nourishment projects

CAROLINA BEACH—If the feds back out, who will save the beach towns?

Elected and appointed officials from five municipalities met to discuss beach renourishment funding. State and federal legislators also attended, in hopes to hear a collective message to take back to Raleigh and Washington.

RELATED: Room occupancy tax: how tourism helps with more than just local business

Beach bailout

Officials from the beach towns hashed out strategies Friday to prepare for an anticipated pullback in federal and state funding.

“Not one of the beach communities could fuel and pay for consistent beach renourishment,” Craig Bloszinsky, Kure Beach’s mayor, said. “We need to be ready in case it does break.”

Bloszinsky was echoed by his pro tem, David Heglar, who urged officials present to find a single voice.

“That’s something that we’re not very good at as a group,” Heglar said.

Beach communities have leaned on the Army Corps of Engineers for beach nourishment projects, which have backed funding by 65 percent in recent decades. Officials have been warned to prepare for this support to disappear.

“You’re just driving up our costs to take care of the millionaires on the coast.”

Though a coastal storm damage mitigation fund was established by the state in October last year, Heglar said it was important Kure Beach wouldn’t need to be fully bailed out.

“The state did a great thing,” Heglar said. “If the feds aren’t in, we’re still in.”

New Hanover County Manager Chris Coudriet, optimistic that the state would step in, said the beach towns did not need to prepare for a worst-case scenario.

“Don’t discount state or federal assistance,” Coudriet said. “Whether its federal money, the color of money matters not.”

U.S. Representative David Rouzer said getting inland representatives on board with funding coastal nourishment projects was a “hard sell.” When he helped get the Water Infrastructure Improvements Act signed into law in 2016, he did so with pushback.

“I got a lot of grief about it at the time I was representing two inland counties, Johnston and Wayne, people in Johnston County told me, ‘What are you doing voting for that beach plan?” he said they asked. “‘You’re just driving up our costs to take care of the millionaires on the coast.’ That’s the rhetoric we had to deal with,” Rouzer said.

Redistribution of ROT

New Hanover County Commissioner Jonathan Barfield discussed the potential of cutting back on marketing dollars collected through room occupancy tax.

Through the county’s room occupancy tax (ROT), beach communities have created a safety net of renourishment funding. The room occupancy tax is generated by tourists and visitors who pay 6 percent of the cost of a room toward the county’s fund.

Of the revenue collected, some are attributed directly to nourishment funding, and some go to the Tourism Development Authority to promote tourism, depending on where the room was rented.

“When it gets to Raleigh, we can’t have the hospitality industry mad about the fact that we’re talking about taking some dollars from marketing if that’s what the plan says,” Kure Beach’s mayor pro tem Heglar said.

At this time, the county is unsure how much ROT it is missing out on. Though the hospitality industry is a solid contributor to ROT, privately rented rooms through other services are more difficult to track down. With new software, collections data will soon become clear.

On July 1, the county will launch its new software, Short Term Rental Helper. The county’s chief financial officer Lisa Wurtzbacher said the program will streamline how room occupancy taxes are collected.

“Right now we have a lot of management companies where they send us in a check but we don’t necessarily know all of the individual properties that are being collected for,” Wurtzbacher said. “So we’re changing the way that people are going to be filing.”

This program could ultimately result in more nourishment funding for the county’s beach towns.

“We would be able to compare them with the list that we have and start contacting property owners to make sure that they’re paying their fair share of room occupancy tax,” Wurtzbacher said.

Update: This article has been updated to correctly identify Jonathan Barfield


Johanna Ferebee can be reached at johanna@localvoicemedia.com or @j__ferebee on Twitter

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