Lifeguards, Ballfields, and Advertising

Sundae Horn

… or, What you missed at the Occupancy Tax Board meetings.

What does this town need most?
What does this town need most?

The gist? The OT board is going to spend $30,000 on spring advertising, fund up to $78,687 to the Community Park to get the ball field completed this summer, continue considering giving money to the library and day care, and possibly pony up the extra money needed to pay for lifeguards this summer if NPS won’t do it themselves. Wow.

Now for the details – lots of them….

The Occupancy Tax Board met on February 20th and again on March 19th to discuss the possible funding of special projects. The board, which is comprised of Wayne Clark (chair), Clayton Gaskill, Frank Brown, Martha Garrish, and Trudy Austin, hears requests for funding each year from local non-profits. The board usually doles out about $350,000 of OT funds to such worthy recipients as the fire department, day care, and health center.

Years ago, the OT board managed to accumulate some extra money – call it saving for a rainy day – but more recently, the board has chosen to spend all they take in each year. In fact, they even want to spend some of the accumulated funds, which are now up to roughly $875,000. If they set aside the 350K (that they would normally spend in a year) for a cushion just in case things get worse, that still leaves a pretty good chunk of change. Enough that at the February meeting, the OT board voted unanimously to identify and sponsor some special projects in the community, up to $350,000, in addition to the regular annual funding.

Chairman Wayne Clark made it clear that the board should give themselves time to weigh their options.

Ad created by Lewis Advertising
Ad created by Lewis Advertising

“We need to determine the best direction for projects,” he said. “This is important to the community, and we don’t need to rush into anything.” 

Previous to the February gathering, Wayne had dispatched his board members to canvas the community and come back with some suggestions or requests for these sponsored projects. They reached out to businesses, homeowners, non-profits and other organizations, and the community at large. Wayne’s plan was to hear all the ideas at the February meeting, then mull those over and leave with five solid projects to discuss again in March. These made the cut: Life Guards for the Beach, 2014; Ocracoke Child Care; The Community Park; Friends of the Library Expansion Project; Professional Marketing for Ocracoke. (Public restrooms and fireworks were two suggested projects that did not make the Final Five.) 

The OT board also had some brief old business: Should they purchase spring advertising campaign with Lewis Advertising again? (Let’s talk about it in March) Can we admit we are over the idea of a trolley system and un-appropriate that money and put it back in the mix? (Yes! All agreed.) Will they give the county $7500 to help pay for our lobbyist, Joe McClees, who is fighting the ferry tolls on our behalf (Yes again!) 

The March 19th meeting began with the decision about advertising: Wayne explained that the Lewis Advertising campaign would bring Ocracoke similar exposure as last year. The majority of the ads are digital display ads on and, which will click through to In addition, there will be some TV spots on WRAL and WAVY, and some pre-roll ads on video stories on This would be the third year the OT board has purchased advertising with Lewis. All approved the 30K pricetag for another year.

Then the discussion moved on the special sponsored projects: 


Martha Garrish reported that she called Cape Hatteras National Seashore superintendent Barclay Trimble to ask about getting lifeguards for Ocracoke. He told her that he’s going to contract out the lifeguards for 5 days a week. Martha asked the OT board if it would be possible for them to fund the remaining 2 days, so that Ocracoke has fulltime lifeguards from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Mr. Trimble told her that the cost to Ocracoke would be $10,000 to fund 2 days/week.

“I know a lot of people don’t want to see us pay it,” she said. “They think it will start a bad precedent. But we’ve had cancellations over [the lack of lifeguards] already, and lots of emails about it at Ocracoke Island Realty. I think we’ve lost $10,000 in gross rents already.”

Hyde County PIO Sarah Johnson spoke up saying that the commissioners passed a resolution at their March 10th meeting that says they support the Park Service fully funding the lifeguard program. Sarah had just mailed 450 letters to off-island property owners asking that they contact their elected representatives about the lifeguard issue. Rep. Walter Jones, in particular, seems willing to help us out.

NPS lifeguard crew from 2012.
NPS lifeguard crew from 2012.

Someone from Ocracoke Civic and Business Association (full disclosure: it was me) mentioned that OCBA had started an online petition about restoring funding for lifeguards. The petition has over 800 signatures, and every time someone signs, Mr. Trimble gets an email, as does Sen. Kay Hagan, Sen. Richard Burr, and Rep. Walter Jones. In the week since the petition began, Mr. Trimble had gone from saying he had absolutely no money for lifeguards to saying that he could contract out for lifeguards five days a week. Coincidence?

Wayne said that perhaps the OT board could “wait and see what happens.”

“Ten thousand dollars is not a big amount of money, but we don’t have to make a decision tonight,” he said. 

Martha added that every day makes it harder to get the program running.

“We could get more than $10,000 out of it from the good PR when we say the community of Ocracoke is committed to providing a safe, family beach vacation,” she said.

Wayne still had some concerns about setting a precedent, though he felt, in spite of the commissioners’ resolution, that they would approve the spending. He felt it could wait until the OT board meets again in thirty days. 

Martha said, “We need seven days of lifeguards,” and made a motion to ask the commissioners to appropriate the $10,000, just in case we need it. The motion was passed with all in favor, with Wayne clarifying that the OT board would still need to meet again to complete the authorization. 

Ocracoke Child Care

Lifeguards, Ballfields, and Advertising

Wayne and Trudy met with OCC’s director Kristen Lucas and the new board president Rob King, and discovered that the center’s winter enrollment has been just 6 kids. That number’s not sustainable. In the summer, the center’s at its capacity of 44 kids with a waiting list, but that still does not make up for winter losses, especially since the majority of summer students receive purchase-of-care discounts for low-income families.

Will the center have to close? It seems a sad possibility. OCC works in the negative most of the time and does its best to cut costs. Wayne asked them about raising tuition, but understands that raising tuition may cause enrollment to drop. He said that the OCC board wants to do fundraisers but doesn’t even have the money to seed fundraisers. They feel they need a $30,000 cushion if they want to try to increase revenue with tuition. 

“We’re concerned about their viability,” Wayne said. “We don’t want to just put in money to subsidize people’s kids going to daycare.” 

Wayne did suggest, however, that the OT board could fund some professional financial help for the center.

“They need a new plan,” he said, adding, “They’ve got good people on the board who are open to ideas.”

There was no motion made as the OT board is waiting to hear back from OCC.


Ocracoke Community Park

Bob Chestnut represented the Ocracoke Youth Center and its Community Park project. His professional big-picture presentation (Pie charts! Graphs! Figures!) was concise and persuasive. The OYC board faces a dilemma: do they spend the money necessary to make the park usable now and then possibly not have enough when their big balloon payment is due next year OR do they save the money and tell the little sluggers that it may be 2016 before they play ball on Ocracoke?

…and after
…and after

Bob suggested a third way: the OT board funds the ball field’s completion (fencing, irrigation, sodding, clay), the field gets completed this June, and the kids play home games in the spring of 2015. And OYC makes their payment on time! Win-win! 

Wayne commended the huge effort that the Community Park supporters have put into the project, Bob praised all the people who’ve contributed time, money, expertise, and free labor, and all agreed that the OT board should pay for the actual costs up to the ball-park figure (get it?) of $78,687 to finish the field of dreams.

Library Expansion

The Ocracoke Friends of the Library project is “small and do-able and valuable to the community” according to OT board member Clayton Gaskill. He invited FOL president Scott Bradley to make the case for the rest of the board.

Scott explained that FOL wants to improve the library in two phases. Phase 1 would be a simple fix: to convert the periodicals room to a computer room to open up space for school library classes. Phase 2 involves enclosing the small area of the screened porch (the Back Road side), turning it into heated space. That would allow room for the circulation desk to be moved, opening up more room for shelves and tables and students. 

Sweet little library needs some love
Sweet little library needs some love

Hyde County Schools is willing but unable to help with the funding, but FOL might get some support from the Outer Banks Community Foundation. Garick Kalna will draw up the plans for FOL, and Scott will have a more precise funding request in the next 30 days. As it is, his estimate is that $50,000 would cover both phases.

“We’re definitely interested,” Wayne said. “And the good news is that we have some money.”

Professional Marketing

The OT board will discuss again this at a later date. Hyde County manager Bill Rich wants the county to make a presentation, but they weren’t ready yet. Wayne reports that Bill is investigating starting a county tourism authority, which would be a consolidated marketing effort affiliated with the county. 

Bill is checking into what other counties are doing.

“The blueprint is out there,” Wayne said. “We’ve just got to scale it down to what we can do.”

Wayne also reiterated that the OT board does not have a set timeline to fund these special projects. 


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