August 8, 2017

MEMO TO:           Mayor Barber and Board of Commissioners

FROM:                  Frank A. Rush, Jr., Town Manager

SUBJECT:           Golf Cart Program Issues - (Summary & Suggested Motions)

The Board of Commissioners is scheduled to consider two new initiatives aimed at improving golf cart accessibility and golf cart safety and compliance at the August 8 meeting. 

One initiative is a “pilot project” for the construction of a new golf cart path to serve the Olde Cove subdivision that would enable registered golf carts in this subdivision to legally access other areas of Emerald Isle via golf cart.  This initiative includes the establishment of a new “golf cart infrastructure fee” that would be applied only to registered golf carts within a designated geographical area – in this case the Olde Cove subdivision – to cover at least 50% of the cost of construction of a new golf cart path.  If this initiative is successful, this model could be applied to other areas of Emerald Isle that are currently geographically isolated from participating in the Town’s golf cart program.

The second initiative is aimed at better educating registered golf cart owners about golf cart safety and the Town’s regulations for golf cart operation.  This initiative includes a slight increase in the annual golf cart registration fee (from $75 to $100), with essentially a new $25 “discount” (to reduce the fee back to $75) if the owner attends a golf cart education program sponsored by the Emerald Isle Police Department.  Additionally, any additional golf cart registration fee revenues generated by the fee increase (derived from those who don’t attend the education program and pay the $100 fee) would be earmarked specifically for future golf cart path construction (at the Board’s discretion). 

Golf Cart Path Construction – Olde Cove

As you know, the Town’s golf cart regulations prohibit golf cart operation on NC 58 and Coast Guard Road (and the bicycle paths along these roads), but allow golf carts to cross over these roads to access other public streets.  In the vast majority of cases, public streets on the soundside line up directly with a public street on the oceanside, and it is legal for golf cart operators to access the beach and other areas of Emerald Isle.  In the case of Olde Cove subdivision (and a few others), the soundside street does not line up with a public street on the oceanside, and the nearest public street on the oceanside is Whitewater Drive, approximately 300 feet west.  Thus, it is technically illegal for a golf cart to travel outside of Olde Cove, as such travel would require illegal operation on either NC 58 or the bicycle path. 

There are currently 5 golf carts registered to property owners in the Olde Cove subdivision, and I have been working with these golf cart owners to identify a solution that would enable them to access the oceanside and other areas of Emerald Isle.  The proposed solution is to construct an approximately 300 ft. long golf cart path along the north side of NC 58 between Olde Cove Road and Whitewater Drive.  The estimated cost of this new path is approximately $15,000, and it would be constructed to similar standards as the Town’s bicycle paths.  In order to finance 50% of the construction of the new golf cart path, the registered golf cart owners in Olde Cove would pay an additional “golf cart infrastructure fee” of $300 per year for a 5-year period (or any other fee amount and duration, as determined by the Board of Commissioners).  This additional fee, which would be applicable to the 5 currently registered golf cart owners and any additional registered golf carts in Olde Cove (there are a total of 16 property owners in Olde Cove subdivision), would generate at least $1,500 annually, or a total of $7,500 over the proposed 5-year period.  At the end of the 5-year period (or at such time that the $7,500 total is realized), the Board of Commissioners would simply eliminate the “golf cart infrastructure fee” for this area.  Following a similar model as other Town projects, the Town would fund the remaining 50% of the cost of the new golf cart path from the General Fund (but likely derived from overall golf cart registration fees in the future; see below). 

I have discussed this approach with golf cart owners in Olde Cove, and they are supportive of this initiative.  If the Board is comfortable with this initiative, I would consider it as a “pilot project”.  If the Town’s initiative in Olde Cove is successful, this approach could potentially be applied in other areas with the support of golf cart owners in those areas.  If this approach does not work as intended, the Town would simply not undertake any new initiatives like the Olde Cove initiative.

The attached aerial photo map indicates the properties in the Olde Cove subdivision that would be subject to the new “golf cart infrastructure fee”, and also the location of the new golf cart path along NC 58.  If the Board approves of this initiative, I would anticipate the new fee being implemented on January 1, 2018, with construction of the new golf cart path occurring sometime this winter or spring.

Golf Cart Registration Fee Increase, Discount for Safety / Regulations Class Attendance

The annual golf cart registration fee of $75 was established in 2011, and this amount was recommended by the proponents of the golf cart program at that time.  This annual fee has not been increased since the program’s inception.  Over time, the number of golf carts registered in the program has increased significantly, with more than 800 golf carts registered in FY 16-17, resulting in total registration fee revenue of $54,300.  These revenues are credited to the General Fund, and cover the Police Department’s administrative and enforcement costs associated with the golf cart program.  (The FY 17-18 adopted budget conservatively anticipates a total of $52,500 from golf cart registration fees.)

As you know, safety has always been the Town’s top priority for the golf cart program, and all of the Town’s regulations are aimed at promoting the safety of golf cart operators, passengers, pedestrians and bicyclists, and other motor vehicles.  The Town has made several efforts to better educate golf cart owners and the general public about golf cart safety and the Town’s regulations since 2011, including the following:

  • every golf cart owner must sign a form indicating that they have read and understand the Town’s rules and regulations for golf cart operation when they register the golf cart each year,
  • the Police Department inspects each golf cart each year when the registration is renewed,
  • the Town has included all golf cart program information on the Town’s website, and periodically includes golf cart information in the Town’s email newsletter, 
  • a sticker is now affixed to the inside windshield of each registered golf cart, and the sticker includes the most important regulations, and
  • the Police Department devotes one of the monthly PEP (Police Educating the Public) information sessions to golf cart safety and regulations, and has also assisted with information sessions presented by local golf cart companies.

As is the case for all aspects of Town government, the Town is constantly seeking new ways to better communicate with our customers and better educate the public.  In this sprit, and in response to recent concerns about the golf cart program, Police Chief Tony Reese is planning additional public information sessions about golf cart safety and the Town’s regulations.  He also recently suggested that the Town consider providing those who attend the information sessions a “discount” on their annual golf cart registration fee.  It is our hope that a “discount” might encourage higher attendance at these information sessions, and ultimately promote a greater understanding of safety concerns and the Town’s regulations among golf cart operators. 

After considering all of these issues, I am now recommending that the Board consider increasing the annual golf cart registration fee from $75 per year to $100 per year, but also implement a $25 “discount” for golf cart owners who attend one of the Police Department’s information sessions.  Attendees at the information session would be documented and would receive a certificate that would entitle them to the $25 registration fee “discount”, and this would enable them to continue paying the historical $75 annual registration fee.  Those who do not attend an information session would be charged the $100 annual registration fee.  Any additional revenue generated by the higher fee would be specifically earmarked for future golf cart path construction, and could be used to provide the proposed 50% Town contribution for future projects like the proposed Olde Cove golf cart path (at the Board’s discretion).  To keep it simple, I simply recommend that the Board specifically earmark any golf cart registration fees that exceed $50,000 annually (or whatever amount is desired) specifically for future golf cart path construction.  (As noted earlier, the FY 17-18 budget anticipates $52,500, and the Town actually received $54,300 in FY 16-17.)

Budget Amendment – General Fund

The attached General Fund budget amendment appropriates a total of $7,500 of additional anticipated golf cart registration fees for the Town’s 50% contribution toward the Olde Cove golf cart path.  This additional amount is anticipated due to the conservative nature of the FY 17-18 budget estimate, continued growth in golf cart registrations, and projected additional revenues associated with the proposed fee increase to $100.  These additional funds would be transferred to a new capital project ordinance established for the Olde Cove golf cart path.

Capital Project Ordinance – Olde Cove Golf Cart Path

The attached new capital project ordinance for the Olde Cove golf cart path would account for all golf cart path construction expenses, the Town’s 50% contribution, and the annual “golf cart infrastructure fee” collected from golf cart owners in Olde Cove.  The attached ordinance establishes a project budget of $15,000 for the new golf cart path.

It is anticipated that the Olde Cove “golf cart infrastructure fee” would remain in effect for 5 years to fully recover the 50% cost assigned to the Olde Cove golf cart owners, and these fees would be credited annually to this capital project ordinance.  From a cash-flow perspective, the Town would essentially be “up-fronting” the funds for construction, but would recoup these funds from Olde Cove over a 5-year period.

Fee Schedule Amendment

The attached fee schedule amendment would be effective January 1, 2018 (for all 2018 golf cart registrations and beyond), and includes the following:

  • the establishment of the “golf cart infrastructure fee” for the Olde Cove subdivision (additional $300 per year for golf carts registered to owners in the Olde Cove subdivision),
  • the increase in the annual golf cart registration fee from $75 to $100, and
  • the establishment of the “discount” fee of $75 for golf cart owners who attend a golf cart safety / regulations information session sponsored by the Emerald Isle Police Department.

I look forward to discussing these issues with the Board at the August 8 meeting, and welcome any other suggestions aimed at addressing these concerns.