Emerald Isle’s plans to increase beach access parking fees for non-residents is creating angst for county residents who find themselves being treated as tourists. This decision should be reconsidered, and in the process the four Bogue Banks municipalities should take note of the perception, inherent in this issue, that county residents aren’t being considered as part of their community.
Margaret McElwain, a Cape Carteret resident who enjoys regular walks on the beach, complained in a recent letter to the Emerald Isle town board that she and other residents, particularly retirees on fixed incomes, should be given consideration as permanent residents since they are year-round contributors to the county’s tax coffers. “Many of us living on the other side the bridge, in Cedar Point and Cape Carteret, will not be able to afford access to the beach if these changes are voted in on March 9,” she noted in the letter.
Under Emerald Isle’s new parking plan, to be managed by a third-party contract, all-day parking will increase from $10 to $16 during the peak season. The off-season hourly rate will be $2 per hour and increase to $4 per hour April 1-Sept. 30. Parking is provided free for handicapped or disabled veterans.
Ms. McElwain’s concern and subsequent perception is justified and deserves attention from the Emerald Isle town board. But this issue should also be noted by all the beach towns especially now that the county commissioners are being asked to change the sales tax distribution process which benefits the four Bogue Banks municipalities.
For the past thirty years sales tax revenues returned from the state have been distributed on an ad valorem basis which benefits Atlantic Beach, Pine Knoll Shores, Indian Beach and Emerald Isle due to the high property valuations on the island. Newport, the largest town geographically and second in population among the county’s 11 municipalities is, along with Cedar Point, pressing for a formula change in the distribution process based on per capita, which will reduce revenues for the beach towns and favor the mainland towns.
Considering the inherent value of our beaches as both a tourist attraction which has made tourism the county’s primary industry, and as a quality-of-life asset for our year-round residents, the current sales tax distribution formula should remain in place.
The immediate stress for services and infrastructure is greatest in the Bogue Banks municipalities. In addition to funding for storm water management along with water and sewer needs, these towns are providing beach life guards, beach maintenance and cleaning. These are very costly services that benefit the hundreds of thousands of tourists who visit the county eight months of the year and county residents as well.
But considering the dissent from the mainland towns about sales tax distribution, Ms. McElwain makes a point that all the Bogue Banks towns should heed. County residents should be appreciated for their support, tangential or direct.
Ms. McElwain is not asking to be treated the same as the town’s residents who unquestionably underwrite these various services that benefit visitors. But as a county resident she is also helping to underwrite other county expenses that also accrue to the beaches such as schools, and other countywide services and therefore should receive some recognition.
Emerald Isle and all the beach towns should take this opportunity as Ms. McElwain has asked, to show all county residents that they are appreciated as part of the broader community. By providing year-round residents a discount opportunity for parking or some other benefit, the towns will go a long way in building the political and community support they will need in the future as they face continuing stresses from a vibrant and demanding tourism industry.
Bogue Banks towns and businesses have always promoted the island’s beaches as the “county’s beaches.” A positive response to Ms. McElwain’s request will go a long way in proving this and in the process build a more supportive and cohesive community countywide.