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New ferry plan gets funding
Five small towns in the state’s “Inner Banks” region are hoping to take better advantage of their waterfront locations around Albemarle Sound.
The recently passed state budget includes a $5 million grant to a group called Harbor Towns Inc., which for years has proposed a new passenger ferry service to connect the towns. The service will connect the towns of Columbia, Plymouth, Edenton, Hertford and Elizabeth City, with plans for a future stop in Manteo.
The money will fund the initial launch of the service next spring, covering the costs of two “fast” ferries and a dinner boat for special events. The hope is to bring tourists inland and spur development in towns that lack the visitors of their Outer Banks neighbors.
According to UNC Business School professor Nick Didow, who helped develop the proposal with local leaders, the hope is to attract Outer Banks vacationers who “might like a little change of pace from getting sunburned at the beach,” Didow said.
Former legislator leaves UNC Board
Former Rep. Leo Daughtry’s sudden departure from the UNC Board of Governors left some wondering if he was forced off the board. He said that he wasn’t asked to resign but alluded to the recent controversies he’d spoken out about.
“I believe I had done about all I could do on the Board of Governors, my influence had waned,” the longtime Johnston County legislator told me.
House leaders offered him a spot on the N.C. Board of Transportation, which he accepted.
Daughtry’s exit from the UNC board comes after he strongly criticized the UNC System Office’s move from Chapel Hill to downtown Raleigh — something that was mandated by legislative leaders without much discussion by the BOG. It’s part of a $250 million project to also house offices of the community college system and the departments of Public Instruction and Commerce.
Former BOG Chairman Harry Smith said legislative leaders “pressed [Daughtry] out because he was making the right points and asking the right questions.”
New source for transportation funding
For years, state leaders have discussed how to handle declining revenues from the gas tax.
Legislative leaders want to address the issue in the state budget by shifting revenue from the sales tax to fund transportation needs. They’d start small, redirecting 2% of sales tax receipts in fiscal year 2023 (generating around $193 million), bumping up to 4% the following year and 6% in subsequent years. That would mean an estimated $628 million by 2025.
For comparison, the gas tax brought in $1.9 billion during fiscal year 2020. The N.C. Chamber worked with legislators on the proposal.
Federal dollars jumpstart small downtowns
Gov. Roy Cooper recently announced the first $20.1 million round of Rural Transformation Grants, aimed at helping communities spruce up their downtowns and neighborhoods.
The list of recipients shows that places like Valdese, Old Fort and Spencer are getting similar grant amounts as larger communities like Greenville.
For Spencer, the $900,000 downtown revitalization grant could be a major catalyst.
Located near Salisbury in Rowan County, Spencer draws lots of visitors to the N.C. Transportation Museum, but it struggles to convince them to stick around for shopping, dining and other activities. Town leaders want to change this by converting a strip mall parking lot directly across from the museum into a park and event space. ■