Town of Orchid doubles property tax to ensure funding for future beach repairs

Homeowners in the Town of Orchid will see their property taxes increase by 84 percent in the coming fiscal year, from $1,250 per $1 million assessed value to $2,300.

The Town Council unanimously approved the tough decision during its final budget reading and public hearing Oct. 3, mainly to establish a reserve fund to pay for future emergency beach repairs without having to borrow money.

The tax hike stems from the aftermath of last year’s Hurricane Matthew, when beach dunes between Sanderling and Wabasso suffered a massive wash-out and the Town was forced to take out a $350,000 loan from the Orchid Island Community Association to truck in sand and pay for repairs.

Although previous Town Councils frequently discussed ways to fund emergency beach renourishment, they never quite took the leap. This time, after lengthy discussion at both budget hearings and public input, the Council, to a man, agreed they were willing to “take the heat” a tax increase would likely generate, deeming it better to be prepared before an emergency.

Concerns expressed by residents included whether all residents should have to fund beach repair when most do not live on the beach.

But Mayor Harold Ofstie said that since the Town had “taken on the responsibility of beach renourishment,” building the emergency reserve “must be the main goal for the upcoming fiscal year.” Councilmember Howard Thrailkill agreed. “We need to be prepared for a $1 million event. I know we’ll take criticism, but we’ll only have to do it once.”

With Orchid’s 2017-2018 assessed taxable value of $414,208,291, the new rate will generate an additional $905,045.12, which will be used to pay off the Hurricane Matthew loan and begin to build a contingency fund. The reserve fund could be used for emergencies other than beach related events, if deemed necessary.

Ofstie is optimistic the rate will go down in a year or so, “assuming we don’t get hammered.”

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