- FY 12-13 The Year in Review
TOWN OF EMERALD ISLE Making a Great Place Even Better! FY 2012-2013 - The Year In Review
We are all so incredibly fortunate to be able to enjoy all that Emerald Isle has to offer! The entire Town of Emerald Isle organization continued to work hard during FY 2012-2013 to keep Emerald Isle the great place that it is, and to make it even better in the future for our residents, property owners, businesses, and visitors!
The Town strives to provide quality services to sustain a high quality of life and to maintain a small-town atmosphere in Emerald Isle. Our services and community improvements are designed to make Emerald Isle an even better place for our residents to enjoy their lives, and are also strategically implemented to maintain and enhance Emerald Isle's desirability as a tourism destination, retirement location, and investment option. Our challenge is to accomplish all of this in the most cost-effective manner, and we continue to place a high priority on the maintenance of the lowest possible tax rates and strategic grant opportunities. We also strive to be an inclusive community, and the Town's leadership thoughtfully considers the input of all who live here, recreate here, make their livelihoods here, and invest here. Emerald Isle is a special place to so many people, and it takes everyone's input and contributions to achieve the Town's goals!
The Mayor, Board of Commissioners, Planning Board members, advisory committees, Town Manager, Town staff, and many concerned citizens remain committed to the continued success of Emerald Isle. We are proud of our collective accomplishments - for you - during the past year, and look forward to another productive year in FY 2013-2014!
Highlights of the past fiscal year (July 1, 2012 - June 30, 2013) included the following:
Major Beach Nourishment Project Completed
In conjunction with the Carteret County Beach Commission / Shore Protection Office, the Town completed the nourishment of approximately 4.5 miles of ocean beach to replace sand lost during Hurricane Irene. The nourishment of approximately 2.5 miles of beach in eastern Emerald Isle and 2.0 miles of beach in western Emerald Isle will provide greater protection from future storm events and a wide recreational beach.
The project involved the placement of more than 625,000 cubic yards of sand on the beach at a total cost of approximately $9.9 million. FEMA provided approximately $4.1 million of funding for the project, and the County and the Town provided the remaining $5.8 million from room occupancy tax and special district property tax revenues that were specifically reserved for beach nourishment activities. Construction occurred in February and March 2013.
The Town remains committed to beach nourishment to address erosion, and is pleased that overall the Town's entire 12 miles of beach remain in good shape. The Town seeks to be proactive and address erosion areas before they reach a critical condition. In addition to being the foundation of the Town's desirability and its tourism economy, the beach strand borders more than $800 million worth of property on the first row alone. The total value of the entire Town is nearly $3 billion.
Work Continues for Long-Term Beach Nourishment Activities
The Town continued to participate in the development of a long-term beach nourishment plan, environmental impact statement, and permitting mechanism with the Carteret County Beach Commission / Shore Protection Office and the other municipalities on Bogue Banks during FY 12-13. This first-of-its-kind effort in North Carolina is expected to result in a 50-year permit authorization for future beach nourishment and Bogue Inlet management activities when it is complete in 2014 or 2015.
This effort will ideally allow Emerald Isle (and the other municipalities) to nourish the ocean beaches on an as-needed, when-needed, where-needed basis in the future provided such projects adhere to certain guidelines, and should enable the Town to complete future projects in a relatively shorter timeframe at a relatively lower cost. This effort is also expected to allow the Town to periodically relocate the main ebb channel in Bogue Inlet (similar to the project completed in 2005) away from Emerald Isle, provide high quality sand for nourishment, preserve environmental habitat at The Point, and maintain sufficient channel depths for navigation.
Additional Beach Nourishment Funding Source Approved
In light of the continued absence of Federal funding for future beach nourishment activities, and growing uncertainty about the future availability of State funding assistance, the Town continued to work to establish an alternative funding source for future beach nourishment activities during FY 12-13. The Town had previously pursued authority for a new 1% sales and use tax for beach nourishment, however, that option was not approved by the NC General Assembly in the 2012 legislative session. The Town then worked in conjunction with Carteret County and the other municipalities on Bogue Banks to increase the Carteret County room occupancy tax to provide additional revenues for future beach nourishment projects.
With the helpful assistance of NC Representative Pat McElraft, the NC General Assembly approved legislation in the 2013 legislative session to increase the Carteret County room occupancy tax from 5% to 6%, with proceeds of the additional 1% specifically earmarked for future beach nourishment activities in Carteret County. This increase, which is effective January 1, 2014, will generate an additional $900,000 +/- annually for nourishment in Emerald Isle and the other municipalities on Bogue Banks in the future. This increase is expected to enable future beach nourishment projects to be funded exclusively by a combination of County room occupancy taxes and Town special district property taxes. Exact ratios have not yet been finalized, but are likely to be either 75% County - 25% Town, or 67% County - 33% Town in the future. The Town's existing special district property tax rates of 4.5 cents for all oceanfront and inlet-front properties and 1.5 cents for all other properties are expected to be sufficient to meet a 25% Town contribution, and perhaps greater.
Bike Path Network Continues to Grow
Thanks in part to the great fundraising efforts of the Town's Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Committee and generous donations by our residents, property owners, and businesses, the Town extended the Coast Guard Road bicycle path from Ocean Oaks Drive to Dolphin Ridge Road in spring 2013. This extension brings the total length of dedicated bicycle path along Coast Guard Road to nearly 1 mile, bringing us that much closer to achieving the eventual goal to extend the path to The Point. The total cost of this 0.2 mile extension was approximately $100,000, of which approximately $50,000 was generated through fundraising and donations.
The Town also secured a $100,000 grant from the NC Department of Transportation, and provided $90,000 of matching funds to construct a new 0.4 mile bike path extension along NC 58 between Hurst Drive and Fairfax Road. Construction began in June and was completed in August 2013. The Town now boasts approximately 4.6 miles of dedicated asphalt bicycle path along NC 58, with plans to construct another 4 miles to the eastern Town limits.
The bicycle path network continues to experience heavy usage, with numerous residents and visitors using the paths for exercise, transportation, and leisure.
"Community Improvements Package" Approved; Storm Water and Bicycle Path Projects to be Constructed in FY 13-14
The Town spent several months conceiving, soliciting public input, debating, and adjusting the 2013 "community improvements package during the winter and spring of 2013, culminating in approval of the package by the Board of Commissioners in June 2013 in conjunction with the FY 13-14 budget.
The "community improvements package" includes $2.65 million for new storm water projects along Coast Guard Road (for The Point and Lands End), full completion of the Coast Guard Road bicycle path (1.1 miles to The Point) and the NC 58 bicycle path (4 miles to the eastern Town limits), a new aerobics exercise room at the Community Center, and new playground equipment at Blue Heron Park. These improvements will be financed over a 10-year period, and a 1-cent property tax rate increase beginning in FY 13-14 will fund the debt service associated with these improvements. The 1-cent property tax rate increase will "sunset" after full retirement of the debt in 10 years.
The Town solicited and received significant public input from our residents and property owners on the merits of this approach. The "community improvements package" was discussed at 5 public Board meetings and public comments were received, and the Town also published detailed information on the Town's website, in electronic newsletters, and in the Island Review print publication. Approximately 70% of those providing feedback indicated support for the "community improvements package", and the Town is moving forward with construction of the various projects in FY 13-14.
The Board decided to move forward with these projects due to strong community support, current low interest rates, and the current competitive construction environment. We look forward to completing these beneficial projects in the coming months.
Emerald Isle Public Boating Access Area Experiencing Steady Use; Grant Awarded for New Soundfront Pier
With the recent closing of the privately owned Island Harbor Marina, the Emerald Isle Public Boating Access Area continues to meet the demand for boating access by Emerald Isle's residents and visitors. The new facility includes 4 launch ramps and parking for 112 vehicle-trailer combinations, and is heavily utilized, especially during holiday and weekend periods.
The 23 acre facility is envisioned as a comprehensive soundfront park facility, and now also includes benches, a small picnic shelter, and Veterans Memorial in a beautiful soundfront setting. In fall 2012, the Town was awarded a $75,000 grant from the NC Division of Coastal Management (to be matched with $25,000 from the Town) to construct a new 1,000 ft. long soundfront pier at the facility. The new pier will be located along the west side of the entry canal, providing a brief mooring option for those waiting to access the ramps, and also enhancing the public's ability to access Bogue Sound's waters and views. The new pier will be constructed in fall 2013.
Town Continues Work on Future New Ocean Fishing Pier; Grant Funds to be Transferred to Town
Due to State budget challenges and shifting State priorities, the Town was informed in fall 2012 that the NC Aquariums would no longer partner with the Town on a planned new ocean fishing pier at the Eastern Ocean Regional Access (site of the old Emerald Isle Pier). Due to the Town's heritage and the important public access opportunities provided, the long-term existence of an ocean fishing pier remains an important Town goal. Despite this setback, the Town continues to work on a long-term goal to construct a new 1,000 ft. long concrete ocean fishing pier in Emerald Isle. Fortunately, privately owned Bogue Inlet Pier continues to thrive, and the Town's goal is simply to complete the new Town ocean fishing pier sometime before Bogue Inlet Pier ceases to exist (due to storm damage, economic factors, or other reasons).
Design work for the new ocean fishing pier was completed by the NC Aquariums, and all plans and specifications have been transferred to the Town. Additionally, the State has agreed to transfer approximately $700,000 of remaining grant funds to the Town for this project, and these funds will be utilized for site improvements at the future pier site. The Town worked hard to secure these grant funds in winter and spring 2013, and is pleased to be moving forward with the site improvements in 2014.
NCDOT Completes Major Bridge Construction Project
The Town provided regular information for residents and visitors regarding a major bridge construction project completed by the NC Department of Transportation between December 2012 and June 2013. The project included the resurfacing of the bridge deck and the replacement of all bridge joints, and is expected to extend the life of the bridge for another 30 - 40 years or more.
The work involved significant periods of time with one lane closed, and the Town worked closely with NCDOT and their contractor to minimize the inconvenience as much as possible and also provide timely updates to the public. Although the project resulted in periodic delays, the Town was generally pleased with the manner in which NCDOT managed the project.
Selective Clearing Near Emerald Isle Bridge Opens Up Views of Bogue Sound
The Town contracted to have undergrowth removed along both sides of NC 58 near the Emerald Isle bridge in early 2013 in an effort to create a more park-like appearance and open up the beautiful views of Bogue Sound in this area. Many residents and property owners have commented on the improved appearance. Town staff hope to gradually improve the park-like appearance of this area over time.
Town Maintains 2nd Lowest General Fund Property Tax Rate Among NC Oceanfront Towns
The Board of Commissioners adopted the FY 13-14 budget in June 2013 with a 1-cent property tax rate increase, increasing the rate to 12.5 cents per $100 of assessed value. Despite this rate increase, the Town's General Fund property tax rate remained the 2nd lowest of the 21 oceanfront towns in North Carolina. Only Sunset Beach, with a 10.5 cent tax rate, enjoys a lower rate than Emerald Isle, with other NC oceanfront communities' rates ranging from 12.7 cents to 59 cents.
As noted above, the 1-cent increase for FY 13-14 is associated solely with the "community improvements package". All other Town operations are funded by the previous 11.5 cent property tax rate. The Town's elected officials and staff place the highest priority on a low tax rate, and work hard to minimize expenditures as much as practical.
Existing Debt Refinanced to Achieve Savings
The Town is fortunate to have a relatively small amount of outstanding debt, with a total of $1.4 million outstanding as of June 30, 2013. In January 2013, the Town refinanced 4 separate debt instruments (with annual interest rates ranging from 3.25% to 3.60% over remaining terms of 4 - 8 years) into one new instrument with a 6-year term and 1.59% rate. This refinancing resulted in net interest cost savings of approximately $83,000 over the remaining terms of the 4 previous agreements.
The Town's total outstanding debt of $1.4 million as of June 30, 2013 is equal to approximately 0.05% of the Town's total assessed valuation of nearly $3 billion. The annual debt service payments (approximately $247,000 annually) associated with this outstanding debt equate to approximately 3% of the Town's annual operating budget.
Privilege License Requirement Repealed
In an effort to relieve local businesses of a burdensome and obsolete requirement, and in light of the relatively small amount of revenues generated annually by the program (approximately $14,000) for the level of effort required, the Board of Commissioners repealed the Town's ordinance requiring businesses to secure a privilege license in Emerald Isle and eliminated all associated fees in September 2012. The change was effective July 1, 2013.
Yard Debris Collection Program Improvements
The Town's yard debris collection program continues to experience high demand, with nearly 8,000 collection points and more than 500 loads disposed of in FY 12-13. In response to the popularity of the program, the Town began implementing weekend collections when necessary to keep up with demand, and also eliminated the need for property owners to call in to be placed on a list. The Town now operates a continuous route through the entire Town, with a goal of collecting all yard debris within one week.
The Town also took delivery of a new yard debris collection truck in September 2012, replacing the previous 10 year-old collection truck.
Recycling Volumes Continue to Increase; New Container Requirements Implemented
Residential recycling volumes continue to increase in Emerald Isle, with a total of 657 tons collected in FY 12-13. This compares with a total of 444 tons in FY 06-07. In response to the increasing demand, the Town implemented new recycling container requirements in December 2012. All permanent homes and second homes are now required to utilize at least one 40-gallon roll-out container, and all vacation rental units are now required to utilize at least one 90-gallon roll-out container for each 3 bedrooms.
2013 St. Patrick's Day Festival Was Biggest Ever!
The 22nd annual Emerald Isle St. Patrick's Day Festival was held on March 16, 2013, and brought out a record setting crowd estimated at more than 25,000! Great weather, great attractions, and great people made it a great kickoff for the 2013 season. Please join us on March 15, 2014 for the 23rd annual event!
Emerald Isle Golf Cart Program Continues to Grow
The Town's local golf cart program was initiated in 2011, and there are now more than 300 golf carts registered and eligible to operate on Town streets in Emerald Isle.
For safety reasons, golf carts are not allowed on the Town's bicycle path network on NC 58 and Coast Guard Road, and are not allowed to operate on NC 58 and Coast Guard Road. Golf carts may cross NC 58 and Coast Guard Road. In an effort to allow golf carts from central Emerald Isle to travel to the main commercial area, the Board of Commissioners did approve the use of the Ocean Drive "connector paths" for golf cart use in April 2013.
The Town continues to add special golf-cart-only parking spaces at neighborhood beach accesses to make it easier for our residents and visitors to access the beach.
Comprehensive Review of Town Ordinances
Town staff and the Board of Commissioners continued to review each chapter of the Town's Code of Ordinances during FY 12-13 in an effort to clarify confusing ordinance provisions, eliminate unnecessary provisions, and simplify the Town Code. The Town Charter and 6 chapters have been completed thus far, and the Town hopes to complete the entire review in FY 13-14.
New Legislation Clarifying Municipal Authority on the Public Trust Beach Strand
A 2012 NC Court of Appeals decision involving the Town of Nags Head resulted in some uncertainty regarding oceanfront municipalities' authority to regulate activities on the public trust beach strand, and the Town of Emerald Isle coordinated an effort to secure new legislation clarifying municipal authority. NC Representative Pat McElraft introduced legislation to achieve the Town's goal, and these efforts ultimately resulted in the desired clarification being included in SB 151 that was signed into law by Governor McCrory after the 2013 legislative session.
The Town (and all other NC oceanfront municipalities) has adopted several ordinances over the years to protect the public health, safety, and welfare on the public trust beach strand. Town ordinances regulate various activities on the public trust beach, including regulations regarding dogs on a leash, unattended beach equipment, driving on the beach, and several other beach activities. The Nags Head decision called into question the validity of these ordinances, and it was important to the Town to clarify the existence of this authority.
Town Joins in Efforts Regarding Excessive Coastal Insurance Rates, Additional Turtle Habitat Designation
The Town is working with other coastal local governments and has taken an official position against the unfair disparity in coastal insurance premiums and the proposed designation of additional critical habitat for loggerhead sea turtles.
Homeowners in Emerald Isle and other coastal areas pay premiums more than 5 times higher than other areas of North Carolina, and have been hit with several significant increases in recent years. The Town continues to work with other coastal local governments on this issue, and supports efforts by the NC General Assembly to reform rate-setting processes for coastal insurance. We remain hopeful that reform efforts will at least halt the continued unfair premium increases if not reduce premiums in the future.
The Town is highly supportive of efforts to protect sea turtles, and expends significant Town staff and financial resources on such efforts. The Town is also fortunate to be served by an excellent volunteer sea turtle program. However, the US Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed the designation of Emerald Isle's beaches as "critical habitat", and the Town is concerned that this designation will lead to additional costly and burdensome regulation that will make it more difficult and more expensive to complete vital beach nourishment projects and may restrict public access to the beach in some areas or forms in the future. The Town continues to be engaged in this issue, and remains hopeful that the US Fish and Wildlife Service will abandon the proposed designation.
EmeraldFest Concert Series Expanded
The Town's free outdoor summer concert series was expanded to weekly shows each Thursday night for summer 2013, and continues to grow in popularity. A variety of great local acts from various musical genres performed to crowds ranging from 150 - 400 people each week at the Western Ocean Regional Access. Look for more great shows in summer 2014!
Other Notable Accomplishments / Items of Note During FY 12-13:
- The Town mourned the passing of Emerald Isle resident and former NC General Assembly member Jean Preston in January 2013. Senator Preston was a great friend and supporter for Emerald Isle during her two decades of service in the NC General Assembly, and she will be missed.
- Town contractors, staff, and volunteers constructed a new pedestrian walkway over Archers Creek at Live Oak Street to enhance access to the ocean side and the commercial areas for property owners in this area. The new walkway is similar to existing walkways over Archers Creek at Holly Street and Loblolly Street.
- Mayor Schools served as the President of the NC League of Municipalities, a State-wide advocacy group and service provider for NC cities and towns during FY 12-13.
- After a thorough and lengthy recruitment and selection process with more than 140 applicants, Jeff Waters was named the Town's new Police Chief in June 2013. Chief Waters is a 28-year veteran of the Emerald Isle Police Department, and is committed to the success of the EIPD and the Town.
- Replacement beach access walkways were constructed at Edna Street, Tammy Street, and Alex Court. The Town maintains more than 60 beach access walkways, and strives to replace 2 or 3 walkways per year.
- The Town permitted the expansion of the Village Market and Reel Outdoors in the main commercial area, and it opened to the public in late 2012. The expansion matches the attractive appearance of the existing building, and both businesses continue to serve Emerald Isle's residents and visitors well.
- The Town permitted the construction of a new Dollar General store in eastern Emerald Isle, and it opened to the public in spring 2013. The new store is a welcome addition to Emerald Isle.
- In an effort to collect oceanside trash right before and right after the busy weekends and keep the Town looking as clean as possible, the trash collection schedule was adjusted to switch the 2nd weekly collection for the oceanside from Thursdays to Fridays. The 1st weekly collection remains on Mondays. Soundside trash collection now occurs on Tuesdays and Thursdays each week.
- The Town continued to experience a significant deer population, particularly in the Coast Guard Road area, however, did not take any action to reduce the deer population during FY 12-13. The September 2012 deer population count coordinated by the NC Wildlife Resources Commission indicated an estimated population of 141 deer. The Town will complete another deer population count in September 2013 and consider the need for further action later in 2013.
- The Town activated a new website, www.visitei.org , to provide information about accommodations, services, recreation activities, retail stores, restaurants, and other business in Emerald Isle ONLY.
- Town staff continued to remove direct storm water outfalls to Bogue Sound in eastern Emerald Isle during FY 12-13. Significant improvements have been made at 11 street ends, with 6 locations remaining. Town staff are installing storm water infiltration features to replace direct pipe discharges and direct sheet flow of runoff into Bogue Sound, and also improving public access and aesthetics.
- The area between the Atlantic Ocean and NC 58 near Bogue Inlet Pier and surrounding properties was officially rezoned to the Village East zoning district. This zoning district allows a mixture of commercial and residential uses in the same zoning district, and even on the same property and/or the same building. The new zoning district also includes more flexible development regulations.
- The Town's contractor, Simmons & Simmons Management, collected nearly 3,300 tons of residential trash and more than 650 tons of recyclables in FY 12-13.
- The Parks and Recreation Department, in conjunction with the Emerald Isle Business Association and committed volunteers, continued a strong tradition of quality special events, including the 7th Annual Day 4 Kids, 9th Annual Emerald Isle Triathlon, and the 9th Annual Christmas Parade.
- Parks and Recreation and Public Works staff worked hard to maintain an attractive and well-maintained NC 58 right of way all through Town. The Town strives to create a "park-like" appearance along NC 58 from the bridge to the Town Hall complex.
- The Planning and Inspections Department permitted a total of 18 new residential units in Emerald Isle during FY 12-13, and conducted more than 2,300 inspections during the fiscal year.
- The Police Department was involved in more than 8,500 calls for service during the entire fiscal year, with a significant increase in call volumes during the summer months.
- The Fire Department extinguished 17 structure fires in Emerald Isle during the entire fiscal year, with nearly all resulting in only minor damage.
- The Town continued its close partnership with the non-profit Emerald Isle EMS, Inc. during FY 12-13. EI EMS, Inc. continues to operate a high quality, professional service for the Town's residents and visitors, and took delivery of a new ambulance in summer 2012. EI EMS, Inc. responded to more than 730 calls for emergency medical services during the fiscal year.
- The Town's total General Fund balance at June 30, 2013 is approximately $2 million, a responsible level that considers both the Town's potential emergency needs and the desire to keep our property taxpayers' money in their own pockets.
The Town maintains a comprehensive website ( www.emeraldisle-nc.org ), an email distribution list (sign up in the top right corner of the website), publishes the monthly Emerald Tidings newsletter via the email distribution list and in the Island Review magazine, and also sends out Twitter updates. The Town strives to make sure our residents, property owners, and visitors are well-informed about the Town's services, projects, and issues.
Town Employees Strive to Provide Highest Quality Services
The entire Town staff is committed to serving you in the best way possible, and our employees work hard to maintain and improve our beautiful town. Although there is always room for improvement, the Town is fortunate to employ a quality staff of committed people. The various Town departments continued to provide the high quality, responsive, and courteous daily services that our residents, businesses, and visitors deserve in Emerald Isle over the past year, and will continue to do so in the future.