Senator Tillis, state senators promise an investment in our coast

United States Senator Thom Tillis spoke about his promise to work for our beach towns in D.C. in an effort to invest in beach renourishment. (Source: WECT)
United States Senator Thom Tillis spoke about his promise to work for our beach towns in D.C. in an effort to invest in beach renourishment. (Source: WECT)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) - Leaders from across New Hanover County met with our elected state and U.S. representatives to discuss the future of our beaches.

Beach nourishment was a main talking point between town mayors and the representatives. In an state legislative update, town leaders learned there's a proposal to add $25 million to the Senate budget in mid-April -- all to fund beach nourishment across the coast.

Current funding for beach renourishment

Beach towns in the county rely on funding such as room occupancy taxes, expected to total $12.2 million by the end of June. These taxes are driven by the summer months as tourists use hotels and rentals in the county.

But beach town leaders fear a school calendar bill could lead to less money generated from the room occupancy tax. If passed, House Bill 53, would allow schools to bring children back into the classroom weeks earlier than usual.

"The earlier school starts there is going to be an impact on people being able to travel but also for local businesses to hire teenagers to support their business," said New Hanover County Manager Chris Coudriet. "But I can appreciate the New Hanover County School System asking for flexibility."

Redistribution of sales tax

Town leaders also expressed concerns about a proposed bill that could take millions of dollars from the county. Senate Bill 126 changes the dynamic of sales taxes state-wide. If passed, a portion of sales tax revenue would be taken from New Hanover County and redistributed to counties in need across the state.

"Those dollars that are collected locally, should stay locally. We have services and obligations to meet for folks," said Coudriet. "Even if they {tourists} may not live here they are coming here, they are shopping, they are putting an impact on the infrastructure of the city, the beach towns."

Kure Beach Mayor Emilie Swearingen echoed Coudriet's concerns. She said the town's finances are already tight and any more restrictions could put a higher tax burden on homeowners.

"Kure Beach's budget hurts and when we have a decrease in revenues that means we have to have an increase in property tax," said Swearingen.

The bill would be implemented July 1 of this year if passed. The redistribution of sales tax revenue would start Sept. 1, following popular tourist months.

Preparing for growth

Drive around New Hanover County and you are bound to see a new apartment complex, construction site, or shopping center in minutes. As the county adjusts and prepares for years of expected growth, beaches must do the same.

Swearingen fears beach towns will have to shoulder the cost of higher foot traffic on their beaches without much-needed financial help from the state and federal level.

"How are our three beach towns going to pay for this influx of tourists when we don't have the revenues?" asked Swearingen. "We can't continue to put it on the backs of our property owners.'

Swearingen added, if the growth continues, her town will have to bring in more law enforcement officers -- another added cost she said the town needs help with.

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