Emerald Isle’s decision to ask the N.C. General Assembly for permission to impose a sales tax to fund its beach management efforts is laudable. It clearly sends a message that the people who benefit from beach re-nourishment should pay for it.
That’s been the policy position of the N.C. Coastal Federation for many years. Beach re-nourishment is a good tool to help protect the status quo along our oceanfront beaches as long as proper sand is used, it’s not done too frequently and the people who benefit pay for it.
Putting the financial burden at the local level will result in a much more rationale cost-benefit decision by local leaders about when beach re-nourishment is worth pursuing. When it becomes too costly, other alternatives will be pursued.
Beach re-nourishment beats sea walls, groins and sandbags hands down. But eventually it is likely to become too costly to secure adequate supplies of sand to hold the line against the sea and protect existing oceanfront development.
Communities that are already experiencing rapid erosion are facing this hard decision currently, and every coastal community is vulnerable to catastrophic hurricanes or northeasters that can suddenly resets the beaches and destroy the front line of development.
Emerald Isle wants to hold a referendum to see if its voters will approve a one-cent sales tax to fund beach re-nourishment. The town recognizes that federal and state funds to manage its beaches are getting harder to get and it wants its own funds. It estimates that the sales tax will produce between $700,000 and $800,000 annually. The tax would set a precedent in North Carolina because counties collect all municipal sales and use taxes now.
It will be fascinating to see if the town’s voters approve the new tax if the legislature approve the referendum. Most residents don’t actually own oceanfront property, so they generally don’t feel as threatened by beach erosion as do people who have real estate investments along the oceanfront. An effort years ago to get Carteret County residents to support a bond for beach re-nourishment lost in a landslide vote, and clearly the further you own property away from the beach the less interested you are in paying for these projects.
Lawmakers should give the town the option to let its voters decide on the sales tax. We applaud the town for looking for ways to pay for its beach with its own money, and for giving its residents the option of deciding if that’s a good use of their tax dollars.