Local Politics

Budget battle looms over beaches, human services

Posted June 15, 2009
Updated June 16, 2009

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— In times of state budget crisis, the choice between cuts and spending can get personal.

People try to protect what they care about, and that sets up a serious debate over priorities.

One such debate involves a $17 million plan to put sand on North Carolina's affluent Bald Head Island, which has a severely eroded coastline.

Budget battle waged over sand or human services Budget battle waged over sand or human services

Bald Head Mayor Larry Lammert blames the exposed structures to help protect from erosion and 300 feet of lost beach on a state-sanctioned channel dredging. He said a village tax increase will cover most of the beach re-nourishment, but he wants the state to pay $5 million of the cost.

Funding for the beach project was included in budgets proposed by Gov. Bev Perdue and the state Senate. It is not in the House budget. Both chambers will reach a decision in conference negotiations over the next few weeks.

"I would love to see the $5 million stay in the state budget," Lammert said.

That is a point of contention when it comes to state tax dollars.

Bobbi Lewter-Mofield's son, Brendan, is nearly 3 years old. Born with Down syndrome, he learned to walk with the aid of a state-paid physical therapist and is learning to communicate through sign language and verbal training with a speech therapist.

Lewter-Mofield is worried that paying for sand comes at the cost of Brendan’s treatment.

"How can you put sand above these children?" Lewter-Mofield said.

"They would just say, 'Well hopefully, the child will get better,'" she said. "It's not going to happen. You need to get the services."

Advocates warn that more than 22,000 special-needs children could lose those therapies if projected cuts go through.

"There's no way to equate that – giving services to these children versus putting sand on a beach for people to go on vacation,?" Lewter-Mofield said.

But Lammert said human services can be funded by way of the tax revenue that comes from the tourists.

"It comes from the beaches," he said.

According to 2007 state Department of Commerce statistics, tourists spent more than $2.3 billion in North Carolina's coastal counties. That produced $107 million in state tax revenue.

Lammert credits the beaches.

"Every dollar that's invested in the beach turns $320 back in the form of taxes, sales taxes and revenue from tourism," he said. "It's a good investment in bad times to make an investment in the beach."

And it's not just Bald Head Island that's benefited.

In the past five years, nearly $50 million in state and federal tax dollars paid to restore dozens of North Carolina beaches. About $25 million worth are under consideration now.

Dr. Doug Rader, an oceans scientist with the North Carolina Environmental Defense Fund, argues that dredging and beach refill, not only damage natural ecosystems but are a waste of tax money.

"Moving sand around the beach costs tons and tons of money and is only temporary," he said. "Sand put on the beach today might be there tomorrow. It probably won't be there in a month."

"That's the only way we're going to protect this island," Lammert said.

And in state budget crisis, it could come down to choosing sand or services.

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  • jnrobrien Jun 16, 2009

    Most children with disabilities or specail needs DO NOT qualify for private health insurance. The insurance companies WILL NOT cover them. Explain to me how they are supposed to receive benefits if the parents can not get them health insurance and life insurance? I guess that is somehow their fault? Know what you are talking about before you blah, blah , blah all over the boards....

  • whatusay Jun 16, 2009

    I don't live at the beach, I don't own a home at the beach, I don't go to the beach. Why should I be taxed to haul in sand at the beach?

  • tgw Jun 16, 2009

    WOW-you guys are COLD today. Actually, I agree with you. Oh that's right, we're talking about real money. OUR MONEY. Now, if we can get the legislature and the Governor(blue eyed Bev) to understand that it's OUR MONEY-NOT THEIRS, many issues would solve themselves.

    As for Bald Head, I do not want to see their island wash away. If our state was rolling in money, we might ought to consider this little $5M request. Howsomeever, when folks-good honest-middle class folks-are getting laid off, FORGET IT!!

    Plan B-Comrade Obama might go for it-as long as you promise to vote for everything he wants in the future. In other words, he might agree if you sell your sole to the devil!!

  • FoxtrotUniformCharlieKiloakaCALM Jun 16, 2009

    i love how people think government AID is their right to have forever and ever. I thought the purpose of AID was to HELP not to SUPPORT. This guy needs to get his own health coverage like the rest of us would have to do if we had a kid that had health problems. It's expensive but as are ALL diseases. In any case, yes we should invest money into a natural resource that we helped make worse off.

  • cbarnett Jun 16, 2009

    DON'T SPEND MY TAX DOLLARS TO PUT SAND ON RICHIE RICH'S BEACH. LET HIM PAY FOR IT HIMSELF IF HE NEEDS IT SO DESPERATELY. HOW MANY OF N.C. TAXPAYERS ACTUALLY GO THERE, ANYWAY

  • ladyenlightened50 Jun 16, 2009

    The Punsisher must have a home on Bald Head island.
    Why else would they have made such a stupid statement.
    four oaks girl

  • Even Jun 16, 2009

    Don't worry, we'll get all three. Sand, welfare and tax increases. Have you forgotten who owns a beach front restaurant in the legislature.

  • MakoII Jun 16, 2009

    So let me get this straight, they figure they can cut Assistant Principals and save 17.6 Million, but they're agonizing over moving sand for 17 Million?

    Most of these beach developers, real estate owners and very well off pumped their money into beach front property when the last recession hit driving prices on some places from 100 to 350k.

    It's where people put their money when the markets go bad. Why should I subsidize their "retirement" money?

    They bought, they should pay with their local taxes. And charge the beach goers who vacation there for that portion.

    Beaches are SUPPOSED to erode. It's part of the outer bank life cycle. DEAL with it.

    Do we similarly push dirt back onto our mountains because streams are eroding our valuable mountain property?

    Hey everyone, I want YOU to pay for more soil on my land so I can have a hill and effectively increase my acreage!

  • Bob3425 Jun 16, 2009

    Bendal1-- It sad about the childred, I would agree a US child welfare should place before sand. On the other some services have to be cut, we need to spend the money wisely and some program will have to be cut and some family will feel the effect of the cut more than others.

  • foleykathatar Jun 16, 2009

    Um, has Bald Head Island thought about doing a $12 million nourishment project instead? If they want it that badly, that's what they should do. The only reason BHI wants a $17 million project is because that's what the coastal engineer they hired said they should do (and, as we all know, coastal towns do whatever their coastal engineering consultants tell them to do).

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