By Joy Crist
Hatteras village residents will want to head to the polls on May 8, as there’s a special referendum on the ballot that’s been a long time in the works.
The “Pathway Referendum” will appear on ballots for Hatteras village residents only, and is a special “for” or “against” question that asks residents if they want to redistribute collected funds towards a new but long discussed project for the village – a multi-use walking path.
There’s a couple things to know about this referendum before casting a vote.
First and foremost, voting “for” the pathway referendum will not raise taxes. It simply allows money that was and is collected for one specific purpose, (i.e., the Community Center in Hatteras village), to be used for something new.
Here’s a little background on how this all works.
The Hatteras Village Community Center District is a special tax district in Hatteras Village that was established in 1981. The district is subject to a special ad valorem tax on all taxable real property for the purpose of maintaining and operating the Hatteras Community Center and other district owned properties.
Until recently, this money could only be used towards these properties alone, and not for other projects like the proposed multi-use pathways.
In 2017, House Bill 415 - which was championed by Senator Bill Cook and Representative Beverly Boswell – was drafted to address this issue, and to expand the ability to use these collected funds for other projects, with the multi-use pathways in mind. The Dare County Board of Commissioners also passed a Resolution on March 6, 2017, supporting this legislation.
The bill did not change the current maximum tax rate that may be imposed for the district, either. “Taxes are not going to be raised,” said Ricki Shepherd, a Tax Trustee for the Hatteras Village Community Center District, at a 2017 press conference on the topic. “Now that major repairs to [our] buildings are done, we have monies that we can start budgeting towards this [project.]”
The bill, which was originally filed on March 21, 2017, passed unanimously and was ratified on June 26, 2017. (The bill in its entirety can be viewed here: http://www.ncleg.net/gascripts/BillLookUp/BillLookUp.pl?Session=2017&BillID=H415.)
And once the bill was passed, all that the stakeholders in the pathways project had to do was wait. The special election that is authorized under the bill was slayed to occur at the same time as a county general election – which, as it turns out, is 2018’s May 8 Primary.
If a majority of voters in the upcoming election vote in favor of expanding the uses of the property tax, then the local session law that established the special district in the first place will be amended to expand the powers of the district and its governing body to allow the use of the property tax revenue for this purpose.
So, simply put, voting “For” the pathways referendum isn’t going to change much, and certainly won’t hurt your wallet. It will just make it easier to get the pathways project rolling for a number of reasons.
The Hatteras village multi-use pathways will be the next step in a series of pathways that have been implemented throughout the island through initiatives by the Outer Banks National Scenic Byway Advisory Committee. The Buxton pathway from the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse to the school was the first installment, followed by the multi-use pathways in the tri-villages and in Avon.
But it could be argued that Hatteras village may need these pathways more than most communities, simply because of its village aesthetic and layout.
“It’s desperately needed,” said Dennis Robinson, a Tax Trustee for the Hatteras Community Center District. “Hatteras is the most village-centric community on the island, and pathways will increase people’s ability to get out and walk, ride their bikes, pop into businesses, and explore.”
“Hatteras is such a walking-oriented village, and the pathways will create a safer environment, more foot traffic into the village, and create a healthier environment overall,” he added.
There’s a couple other points to keep in mind, too.
If Hatteras villagers vote “for,” it shows that they have “skin in the game,” so to speak, which will make it easier to reach out and obtain funds from other organizations that will ultimately pay for the bulk of the pathways.
“It will make it a lot easier to get funds for asphalt on the ground,” said Robinson. “…This will position the project in a more favorable light with the multiple agencies needed to bring the project to fruition.”
The timing is also enticing. The new passenger ferry from Hatteras to Ocracoke is slated to be up and running in the summer of 2018, which means that there will be a lot more foot traffic in Ocracoke village, but there will also be an increase in foot traffic in Hatteras as well. So it’s a good time to support the pathways project to handle an uptick in people who head to Hatteras village, without a vehicle.
Early voting is already underway, and residents can head to the Fessenden Center now to cast their votes at their convenience. (A complete schedule of when and where early voting is available can be found here - https://www.darenc.com/departments/elections/upcoming-election/one-stop-early-voting.)
And if you live in Hatteras village, the primary election is a uniquely important one. With the pathways referendum on the ballot, residents may be one step closer to getting a collection of safe, multi-use pathways that the undeniably walkable village needs.