This is the second in a series of bi-weekly reports from Town Manager Dave Gilbride. These reports will serve to inform both the Board of Aldermen and the general public on the progress of town projects.
USACOE Federal Project
Please see my October 9th Activity Report for background.
The difficulty facing the governing body in North Topsail Beach has been how to finance our participation in the project. The Board of Aldermen recognize that although the project will address only the southern four miles of town, the Army Corps of Engineers’ project would be a tremendous benefit to the entire town.
The staff, Board, and consultants have worked tirelessly to determine whether or not the Town can develop a strategy to put us in a position to move forward with confidence. At a meeting of the Board of Aldermen held yesterday, Mr. Doug Carter of DEC Associates presented the Board with financial scenarios to consider as options to move forward. The plan addresses new revenues, such as paid parking receipts and increased occupancy taxes, as well as the inevitable increases in property tax.
DEC Associates prepared a matrix for the Board’s consideration (attached below) that offered several scenarios and illustrated the tax implications of various alternatives. Simply put, the Town must generate an additional $3,000,000 per year in new revenues to pay the initial project cost of Corps of Engineers beach work, and accumulate funds to pay for the periodic beach renourishment required by the Corps over the 50 year life of the project.
DEC was asked to provide the Board, as a starting point for discussion, four scenarios – one taking into consideration parking, occupancy tax, and property tax, one using only parking and property tax, one using only 1% occupancy tax and property tax, and one using only property tax. Each was shown with the project area (Municipal Service District – Phase 5) bearing the full cost, and with that cost being shared 50% Town Wide, 50% Municipal Service District.
By way of illustration, Scenario #1 shows that with all revenue sources considered and only the MSD paying the costs, a $0.51 per $100 of valuation tax increase would be required for each home in the MSD. An alternative cost sharing proposal is also provided in this scenario that shows that with the 50/50 split, MSD residents would see a $0.26 increase, while the rest of North Topsail Beach residents as a whole would see an increase $0.11. If you look at Scenario #4, financing with just property tax, the MSD would see an increase of $0.73 per $100 of valuation.
The tax rate matrix at the bottom simply shows the effect of each scenario on the residents’ total tax bill.
It should be noted that these percentages were simply intended to start a discussion, and no decision has been made – in fact, the Board has requested DEC to come up with several additional scenarios (60/40, 70/30, etc … and a split MSD) to review prior to making any decision. It should also be noted that DEC has not, and does not, make any recommendation on the mechanism. That is a policy decision for the Board of Aldermen.
There remain additional concerns with some of the language in the Project Partnership Agreement with the Corps of Engineers which the town attorney will address with the Corps personnel. While the Corps is clearly not willing to make substantive changes to the PPA, it may be possible to clarify certain items with an addendum to the agreement.
The Board of Aldermen will review additional scenarios to be provided by DEC Associates with an eye toward a final vote on the project prior to month end.
Capital Improvement/Fire Station
While DEC Associates has been focused on the financing alternatives for the Federal Project, the additional capital requirements of North Topsail Beach remain an important part of their charge. Financing “hard assets” may be less problematic than the financing of sand.
The sandbag revetment repair project has been stalled waiting for the project engineer to assemble a bid package that would comply with North Carolina purchasing regulations. Early this week the engineer communicated some of the challenges he’s faced with assembling this package, but he expects to have this completed shortly at which point it will be presented to the Revetment Committee and subsequently put out for bid.
Town Park Repairs
We continue to monitor the effects of salt water overwash from the County beach access across the street on the new sod; hopefully, the damage and discoloration seen after recent flooding is temporary and the grass will bounce back. The installation of a cover for the sprinkler system pumping equipment and training on the adjustment of the sprinkler heads should be completed this week.
A bid opening was conducted Tuesday, Oct 13 @ 2:00 PM; however, only two bids were submitted due to multiple contractors experiencing difficulty meeting bonding requirements. As two bids are insufficient, neither was opened. The project has been re-advertised, and a second bid opening has been scheduled for 10/29.
Agreements for the project are being finalized, and the truck haul is expected to begin before year end once final FEMA review is completed and the project approved. This project will restore the dunes lost with Hurricane Florence from approximately the Myrtle Ave beach crossing north to the Topsail Reef Condominiums. A second phase will restore the engineered beach in Phase 5 during the 2020 – 2021 sand nourishment window.
The original charter for the Town of North Topsail Beach specifically prohibits the Town from annexing any properties across the Intracoastal Waterway, voluntarily or otherwise. As there has been some interest expressed in voluntary annexation, I have asked the Town Attorney to advise on how we can go about effecting a change in the charter to lift this restriction.
Beach Access #2
Restoration of Beach Access #2 was completed, and shortly thereafter offshore storm effects rendered the access unusable. One of the advantages of the Hatteras Ramp used here is that it can be removed or retracted easily, and this has been done. With the arrival of Autumn we will likely not fully restore the access until after the Florence truck haul project is completed.
Following the high tides and storm surge caused by an offshore hurricane last month we have been particularly attentive to the issue of high tides washing through the County property, over the street and flooding the recently restored Town Park. Construction materials are also washed onto and across New River Inlet Road.
The project itself involves the restoration of the Onslow County concession building and beach access due to damage sustained in September of 2018 with Hurricane Florence. In a meeting attended by Mayor McDermon, Commissioner Bright, Commissioner Royce Bennett, County Managers, and I on May 4th of this year, the two projects – the County Access and our Town Park Restoration – were discussed. We explained that our target completion date for the park was (at the time) July 4th Weekend. County personnel indicated that their project would be completed at the end of July. This target was also referenced by Director of Parks and Recreation Janis Steele in the Journal News on June 5, 2019.
While it is not for me to evaluate the County’s contractor, work proceeded at a snail’s pace, local permits were never obtained, local input on the proposed project design was never solicited, work was performed outside the scope of the CAMA permit, and no effort was made to mitigate damage to the dune protecting the county structure, the parking lot, New River Inlet Road, or the newly repaired town park.
With the forecast last week of unusually high “King Tides” for the weekend we again made efforts to protect our park investment by pushing to be allowed to build a protective berm, much as we did (without permission) in advance of Hurricane Isaias. The County refused to allow us to take any action due to concerns that any effort to do so would jeopardize their FEMA reimbursement.
Town personnel contacted both CAMA and FEMA personnel in an effort to resolve the impasse. FEMA personnel indicated that while creating a berm by pushing the parking lot (as in Isaias) might jeopardize reimbursement, pushing from the beach would not. CAMA indicated they could give us a permit to do so, but only with the permission of the property owner, Onslow County. NTB had a bulldozer on the beach ready to push this berm immediately upon receipt of the permission; despite our best efforts we could not get a response from the county, the bulldozer was withdrawn, and we crossed our fingers hoping for the best. As luck would have it the tides did not reach a level where flooding occurred.
Corps of Engineers: ICW Crossing and Channel to Jacksonville Dredging Inlet Dredge
Originally scheduled for the 2019-2020 environmental window, the dredge contractor was unable to complete the contract with the Corps. The contract remains open and active, with the contractor obligated to complete the project during the 2020-2021 environmental window. During a conference call/WEBEX meeting two weeks ago, the dredge schedule showed the project to take place between November 16, 2020 and April 30th, 2021, though the dredge contractor has some discretion in scheduling; Mayor Pro Tem Benson has asked for a more specific date for the commencement of dredging activities and the placement of sand on the north end beach. The expected volume of sand to be placed is 250,000 cu yds. We have not yet received an update on the schedule.