- Published on Wednesday, 18 September 2013 16:09
- Written by Super User
Crowds flocked to Freeman Park on the North End of Carolina Beach over Memorial Day weekend 2013. Recently candidates seeking election for Mayor and Town Council said they favor reinstating discounts for vehicle passes.
By WILLARD KILLOUGH III
CAROLINA BEACH - The Carolina Beach Town Council voted in October of 2012 to eliminate discounts for people purchasing annual vehicle passes to Freeman Park prior to April. Rather than getting the discount rate of $60, everyone now pays $100 a year. The overall purpose was to generate revenues of around $400,000 a year to help fund beach nourishment and inlet maintenance projects.
Freeman Park, located beyond the end of Canal Drive on the Northern End of Pleasure Island, is largely outside of the Town's jurisdiction. They have authority to manage the area as a park. That was granted to them by the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners some years ago. There is a fee charged for vehicle access to drive on the beachfront within the park. The Town, by it's own admission, doesn't charge people to walk into the park. They can only charge for four-wheel drive vehicle access. Permit applications are not required for daily passes. Daily passes may be purchased for $20.00 at the entrance of Freeman Park. Weekend passes are available at $40 for 2 days and $50 for 3 days. Credit cards are accepted.
Last week local resident Tamara Cairns posted a question on cbcandidates.com Facebook page to candidates seeking the office of Mayor and Town Council in the November election.
Cairns asked, "I would like to know if the candidates would revisit the North End rate schedule and reinstate the $40 price break that was given to those who purchased yearly passes prior to the cut off date that was changed last year. I strongly disagree with this and would like a straight answer as to if you would vote to change it back. Thank you."
Candidate for Mayor Dan Wilcox responded, "I thought the rate schedule we had in place when I was in office was a good compromise given several difficulties related to Freeman Park admissions and our obligations to the county. We charged $60 through the end of March, and then it went to $100. This gave folks a chance to buy early at a discounted rate, and most of the early buyers were locals. Then the folks that came in after paid the higher rate. This system seemed to work well, and if elected, I would request council to reconsider a similar rate structure."
Cairns responded, "Thanks Dan I appreciate the response and the position. Most of us who have been involved in the NE politics know that the policy stated above was a work around that did allow us locals a slight break and since charging at the NE was always supposed to be a fee for service proposition and not the cash cow that it has become, we would like to have that fee standard reinstated. I would really like to find out if the other candidates would be willing to change this back. It's an issue that will affect my vote.".
Rachel Soles Taylor explained, "What a privilege to be able to access both NE and SE. As much as we'd all love for it to be Free again! Reduced rate or not for early birds, what a wise way to help fund the renourishment of our beaches! Whatever the price is, it is well worth the access to our rare piece of Paradise! Hey, but please don't Increase it!"
Dan Wilcox responded, "Rachel, there is no question that beach renourishment is a great place to appropriate any additional revenues, but if that is being done, I hope those funds are being kept in a separate account so the money will actually be there when needed, and not mixed in with the general fund, or counted as reserve funds?"
Candidate for Town Council LeAnn Hedgpeth Pierce responded, "I am in agreement as well. I would like to see a discounted rate for early purchases. This will give the opportunity for those who did not purchase because of the price to do so in the future."
Marcia Russell responded, "This was the first year since we moved here that I didn't purchase a NE pass for that reason. I think residents should get a reduced rate also."
Cairns explained, "Me too. I love the NE but really couldn't afford the $100. I've been going out there for 20 years and had purchased a pass every year but this one. The town cannot legally offer a reduced rate for residents so that is why the "work around" was put in place so those of us that live here can beat feet down and shuck out our $60 before the price went up. It was kind of outrageous to me that it was done away with last year. I hope we can get it changed back."
Town Councilman Steve Shuttleworth responded, "Tamara the addtional money charged, $40 per annual pass is being set aside to help cover Carolina Beach's projected share of beach nourishment costs. Without that we may be forced to raise property tax by 2 [cents] on all property owners. Since an overwhelming majority of passes are bought by non-residents it seems like a reasonable way to have visitors share in sand costs. Last year of over 6,000 passes sold approx 700 were from Carolina Beach residents The attorneys tell us we can not offer a local discount to Carolina Beach or New Hanover County residents. However a shorter period of time for early bird purchase is possible. I proposed a 2-3 week period last year Dec 15- January 5 but town manager and retailers who sold passes felt like it was unworkable. I believe you will see that motion again in the next month or so. Now that the season is over we are reviewing the northend policies in total. Saving over a million dollars every 3 years for beach nourishment is a new and serious fact Council has to deal with."
Local resident Miles Bielec explained, "Beach re-nourishment (or whatever it's being called these days) is a necessity. With the local municipalities having to foot a greater share of the cost, I'm happy to pay the additional $40 annually to contribute. That said, I do realize the additional $40 may be a hardship for some. How about making the annual passes good for 13 months (January of the current year thru the end of January of the following year) - make the annual passes available in person only thru the town only (at town hall or the parking office) in January each year at a reduced rate. Allow on-line purchase and retail outlet purchases Feb thru Dec only (don't distribute the passes to the retail outlets until February)."
Candidate for Mayor Bob Lewis explained, "I am open to a short reduced price period for annual pass purchases for residents to get a discount. The former Mayor is the one who pushed the $100 annual pass and he also voted against a property tax reduction for 2012. I will support a change for 2014."
Cairns explained, "Thanks so much for responding Steve. We have differing views on several issues with regard to the NE but where we agree is in the suggestion and the possible proposed motion that there be a specified time period where passes are sold for decreased amount for an in person purchase. I think offering a six week time period to purchase the passes at Town Hall (retailers can get involved in sales after this period and sell for $100) would be suitable solution. Six weeks $60, Town Hall only, that would work. Many of us would be so pleased if you would support and spearhead this work around that had been in place but was overturned last year."
Candidate for Town Council Jody Smith responded, "I would like to work some more with the Freeman Park committee and council to see some fee structure change options that make sense to still generate revenue for storm damage reduction."
Dan Wilcox responded, "Steve, I'm not suggesting this council would not use those funds for the intended purpose, regardless of which account they are in. I just think if the funds are specifically intended for beach renourishment, taking additional measures of accountability and protection would not be out of order" and, "Our town needs to be diligently when looking for creative ways to raise money for renourishment, and I think it’s prudent to be
just as diligent in protecting those monies until they are needed."
Steve Shuttleworth responded to Wilcox, "The nourishment issue and related costs and cost sharing plans are all public and have been discussed for at least the past 2 years. The town has been looking at the issue of the 50 year federal program ending since before you were on council."
Shuttleworth explained, "What I asked for were thoughts, suggestions and ideas on how you or other candidates might solve a funding problem the town is facing. I'm interested in your problem solving ideas and process. One candidate has suggested he might support reinstalling parking meters that were removed from the CBD by you and your fellow council when you served. Other suggestions have been to seek additional room occupancy tax dedicated just to cover CB's share or redirecting current ROT funds. These are all suggestions by citizen’s not just council members. I am asking for broad stokes and big picture thinking not questioning commitment. Hands on is not a solution but a style. You have been involved in this community surely you have ideas on how we should raise this money."
Shuttleworth explained, "My question to candidates is how do you propose to raise the money for Carolina Beach's required share of
nourishment every three years? According to the MOU the amount could be 17.5% of the total cost which is anticipated to be $6, 000, 000 or more."
Wilcox responded, "Steve, as you well know, citizens and candidates do not have access to the same stream of information available to sitting council members. Of course we can request information from the town, if we know when and what to ask for, but it is not delivered to us, nor are we kept in the loop as details change and evolve - - - Council members have the distinct advantage of access to unpublicized information, discussion and meetings with our county and Raleigh partners, and real time support and updates from staff - - - So to ask the candidates for a solution to a problem that has yet to be clearly articulated by sitting council members, seems a bit disingenuous - - - None of us have all the answers, as I expect you did not when you were a candidate - - - However, what I can assure you is; I am 100% willing to work as hard as needed to obtain the necessary funding. Answers to these complex issues are seldom clear or simply, but I
believe my commitment to beach renourishment and inlet dredging, and my hands-on approach to problem solving, will serve our town well in future efforts to secure sustained funding for these important programs."
Candidate for Town Council Mike Worley commented, "Tamara I agree with you and would vote in favor of the $40 price break for the individuals that purchased their yearly passes prior to the cut off."
Candidate for Town Council Gary Doetsch commented, "Tamara I would support a reduced rate prior to a cut off date. I think it is important to look at the recommendations that the Freeman Park Committee put forward to Town Council for approval. I helped established the Freeman Park and wish to see it continue and provide enjoyment to the public. The additional revenue could be made up by issuing tickets for littering which would address two issues."
Candidate for Town Council Tom Bridges commented, "I would like to be able to reinstate the local discount for Freeman Park. As a member of the Freeman Park committee, we recommended shortening the time that the discounted passes could be bought.
We may still be able to offer the tickets at a discounted rate if we only offer them for the month of January. However, the extra $40 for the passes has been designated for our beach renourishment and that source of funding is important. Nonetheless,
I think that we can restructure our fees with campers paying an additional cost, and thus, offer a limited discounted rate. If we did not produce the necessary funds for beach renourishment with that change, then we could adjust the rates for the next year."