ONLINE UPDATE: North end property owners may bear more Masons Inlet costs

by Kelly Corbett
Thursday, July 11, 2013

On Monday, July 15, the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners will decide if the assessment of the Mason Inlet Waterbird Habitat Management Plan will be funded fully by Wrightsville Beach north end property owners up from a 50/50 split cost.

Since 2003, the $25,000 cost was split 50/50 between the county and property owners for the Audubon North Carolina contract.

During a July 11 agenda briefing, Commissioner Thomas Wolfe asked how many property owners would be included.

“All of this will go to northern Wrightsville Beach,” said Finance Director Lisa Wurtzbacher. “It’s 59 parcels, so it’s about $200 per parcel.”

The decision would affect 441 property owners with an estimated cost of less than $30 per owner.

About 81 percent of the assessment would go to Shell Island Resort condo owners, County Engineer Jim Iannucci said.

County Manager Chris Coudriet pointed out that the item is being brought back to the board for clarity after being discussed by the previous board in December 2012.

But county staff is proposing the cost also be fully assessed to property owners in future years.

In his opinion, Coudriet said the cost should be fully assessed to the benefitted areas and not from the county’s general fund.

When the 2012 contract, the one currently being discussed, came before the board, staff suggested 100 percent be assessed to the property owners, because the plan is required in the 30-year permit.

The board’s decision will impact the numbers for the overall Masons Inlet assessment to property owners, with the Aug. 5 public hearing about maintenance costs still taking place regardless of the decision made.

Chairman Woody White questioned the reasoning behind changing the funding method.

“If everyone is in agreement with it, why change it?” he asked.

Coudriet said the project’s intent was that it would be advanced from the Room Occupancy Tax and then from assessments to property owners who directly benefit from the change.

“Along the way things happened and 50 percent of the bird monitoring contract became a general fund expenditure,” he said. “My position is that there should be a commitment to being true to how the project was imagined and committed to, but that certainly is the board’s choice as to whether or not the general fund has some responsibility with the maintenance of Masons Inlet.”

Iannucci said the numbers are based on an assessment formula, and that the county and Masons Inlet Preservation Group members are working with the permitting agencies to reduce or eliminate some of the fees.

“There’s an education component, and there’s also a counting of the birds,” he said. “We’re trying to reduce some of those things as we do move forward.”

Some of those meetings are taking place in late July.

email kelly@luminanews.com

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