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Currituck: No CCA members on boards

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By Sandy Semans Ross
Correspondent

Saturday, June 22, 2019

CURRITUCK — Currituck County seeks applications from county residents to fill seats on boards and commissions that advise the county on everything from planning, tourism and fire and emergency services to veterans, historic preservation and seniors.

Up until recently the only stated requirement for serving on one of the boards was to be at least 18 years old.

Currituck commissioners changed that last month, however, when they agreed that membership in the Corolla Civic Association — or marriage to a CCA member — is now grounds for disqualification from advisory board service.

The Board of Commissioners voted May 20 to remove all Corolla Civic Association members and their spouses from the county advisory boards and commissions, citing a lawsuit the group filed recently against the county over occupancy tax revenue.

Commissioners’ motion — which passed unanimously — was offered by Commissioner Paul Beaumont, according to minutes of the May 20 meeting.

Beaumont and County Attorney Ike McRee told the board that they had concerns about litigants involved in the Corolla Civic Association lawsuit and/or their spouses serving on county advisory committees and requested that they be removed. According to the minutes, McRee said that there are concerns about advisory members meeting with county staff while the litigation is pending.

Following the board’s meeting, the Daily Advance obtained an email sent to several county employees instructing them to identify Corolla Civic Association members and spouses who serve on boards that the employees facilitate. The email notes that those members to be removed will receive a formal notice of their removal.

Additionally, in response to a public records request, the county also provided other emails between an employee and members of an advisory board. The purpose of the emails was to find out if any were members of the Corolla Civic Association.

McRee said in an interview that thus far, four letters have been sent out thanking association members for their service, thus ending their appointments.

Corolla Civic Association President Barbara Marzetti said she and her husband have received letters from the county advising them their service on a county board has ended. Marzetti has been a member of the Ocean Sands North and Crown Point Stormwater District Board since its creation. The seven-member board is comprised of property owners and four have been removed because they are Corolla Civic Association members. Their removal means the board will lack a quorum for its meetings.

McRee said that particular board has no current projects and meets only quarterly so commissioners will have plenty of time to appoint new members.

Marzetti also has been removed from the Ocean Sands Water and Sewer District Advisory Board on which she’s been a member since it was reconstituted seven years ago. That board has five members, three of whom are property owners and two are representatives of developer Coastland Corp.

Marzetti said she and other Corolla Civic Association members who’ve been removed from the board are reviewing their response options with their attorney, Casey Varnell of Nags Head.

The lawsuit that sparked the county’s decision on association members’ board membership seeks to recover more than $40 million in occupancy tax revenues that the group claims were allegedly misspent. The association filed the suit on May 7, naming as defendants Currituck County, the Currituck County Tourism Development Authority, the Currituck County Board of Commissioners and County Manager Dan Scanlon in both his official role and as an individual.

The suit alleges that the county has violated the North Carolina Constitution, which mandates that taxes can only be imposed if the General Assembly allows them to be imposed and if the revenues are spent according to the restrictions put in place when they were authorized. A history of enabling legislation referenced in the lawsuit states that the last increase in Currituck’s occupancy tax rate approved by the General Assembly stated the funds could only be used for tourism-related and marketing expenses and for beach nourishment. The legislation also mandated that facility construction or county services such as law enforcement, garbage, or emergency medical services were no longer a permitted use of occupancy tax revenues, the suit claims.

According to the lawsuit, about 99 percent of the occupancy tax’s revenues have been collected in tourism-rich Corolla and the county’s four-wheel-drive area. However, the expenditures being questioned include a long list of services and projects on the mainland that are geared to serve county residents. Those expenditures questioned in the suit include economic development projects; a loan of almost $6 million to the Southern Outer Banks Water System; construction of facilities, services and mainland parks; and the funding of special tax districts. The suit claims the latter should have been funded by taxing property owners in the affected districts.

The lawsuit contends almost $23 million was spent on an assortment of projects, including water access to Veteran’s Park; the Currituck Rural Center and its operations; Maple’s multi-use fields; and parks and recreation. Some expenses and transfers to other funds don’t stipulate the purpose, the suit states.

Because Scanlon is retiring at the end of the month, commissioners recently agreed to have the county cover any legal fees associated with him being sued as an individual. The county requested a 30-day extension to answer the suit to allow time to work out the details on Scanlon’s representation.

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