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Fighting the Ferry Tax. Again.
Different year, same fight
July 24, 2023

onday morning, Commissioners from Oriental and Pamlico County held separate meetings to discuss the new ferry taxes included in House Bill 259 (HB 259) – the 2023 Appropriations Act.

Both groups voted unanimously to oppose it.

Cherry Branch – Minnesott Beach ferries passing by on the early morning commute.

Senator Vickie Sawyer, representing Iredell and Mecklenburg counties, is on the Appropriations on Department of Transportation Committee, and is a proponent of the ferry tax. She states “when I’m paying $25 for my family to be able to access the city of Charlotte, then these people who are going across the beautiful Pamlico River should be able to pay a toll as well.”

What she’s talking about is Interstate 77 in Charlotte. It’s undergoing construction to accommodate the increase in metro area traffic. Part of that expansion includes paid express lanes. The free lanes will remain, but commuters can pay for the option of using the faster, less congested lanes. Tolls from express lanes will help pay for the project, estimated at $2.1 billion as of February 2023.

The difference is Sawyer and her family can choose to pay for and take express lanes – or they can take the free lanes – on a highway they already use. The Cherry Branch – Minnesott Beach Ferry is the highway, completing Highway 306 from the banks of Minnesott Beach to Highway 306 as it continues at Cherry Branch.

The ferry is, in effect, Highway 306.

The Minnesott Beach – Cherry Branch ferry continues Highway 306.

The commuter ferries that this would affect, including Cherry Branch – Minnesott Beach and Aurora – Bayview, have been free for decades.

Oriental’s one-agenda item meeting was announced Thursday, July 20 and held Monday, July 24 at 8a. Two Commissioners were absent due to the short notice, but there was a quorum. Mayor Sally Belangia, Commissioners David White, Allen Price, and Frank Roe were present.

Nine members of the public were present, including Mayor of Arapahoe Ken Heath, Minnesott Beach Commissioner Patrick ‘Sarge’ O’Donnell, and candidate for Oriental Commissioner Breena Litzenberger.

Mayor Heath spoke saying he had “sounded the alarm about three weeks ago when they [the North Carolina Legislature] weren’t in session.” Sessions resume this week and Heath said he had set up appointments for Thursday at the General Assembly and would “be walking the General Assembly Hall and just pleading our case about this unfair ferry tax.”

Minnesott Beach Commissioner Patrick ‘Sarge’ O’Donnell addresses the Board.

Minnesott Beach Commissioner O’Donnell said tolls would have a great impact on his community. “It’s right there in our back door, front door, side door – it’s all around us. For those of us who have to go across to Havelock or Moorhead, it’s a heck of an inconvenience if we can’t afford or can’t get across the ferry. It’s twice the time, twice the gas. There are a lot of folks in town that are living on a fixed income. That would be a major, major deterrent for them to get around and do what they need to do, just to live.”

Oriental Commissioner candidate Litzenberger (who co-owns Inner Banks Canvas with her husband) read from a letter she plans to send to the legislature. While it included several points, she spoke to two: gas taxes and the financial burden on the rural working class who commute to jobs using the ferry.

“The argument for tolls being made on the premise that residents of smaller towns should pay to get to work ignores the fact that rural communities are already contributing significantly to state highway funding through the gas tax. In fact, 56% of state highway funding comes from non-users, indicating that rural working-class individuals are already paying more than their fair share,” she said.

Breena Litzenberger, who opposes the ferry tolls, reads from a letter she is sending to legislators.

The ferries are also already funded through the gas tax, explained Litzenberger. “People that would be using the ferry would be basically double charged.”

Oriental Commissioners thanked the speakers for their information and announced they were signing a resolution to oppose the ferry toll. The resolution will be sent to Representative Keith Kidwell and Senator Norman Sanderson.

Pamlico County Commissioners held a similar meeting later in the morning, and with the same results. All documents are in the links below.

A similar taxation tactic was attempted in 2013. Back then, TownDock.net launched TollFreeFerry.org. It brought awareness to the fact that our local ferries, specifically the Cherry Branch – Minnesott Beach Ferry, is Highway 306.

Arapahoe Mayor Ken Heath talked to TownDock.net about the issue and next steps:

There’s a committee of legislators handling the 2023 Appropriations Act, HB 259. But there are four legislators in particular you may want to contact to voice your concern:

Appropriations / Base Budget Committee Chair Senator Brent Jackson, R
District 9 (Bladen, Duplin, Jones, Pender, Sampson counties)
call (919) 733-5705 or email Brent.Jackson@ncleg.gov

• Appropriations / Base Budget Committee member Senator Bill Rabon, R
District 8 (Brunswick, Columbus, New Hanover counties)
call (919) 733-5963 or email Bill.Rabon@ncleg.gov

• House Majority Leader Representative John Bell, R
District 10 (Wayne county)
call (919) 715-3017 or email John.Bell@ncleg.gov

Representative Destin Hall, R
District 87 (Caldwell, Watauga county)
call (919) 733-5931 or email Destin.Hall@ncleg.gov

Related Links
Special Meeting Minutes
Litzenberger Letter opposing Ferry Tolls
Letter to Senator Sanderson with Resolution Opposing Tolls
Letter to Representative Kidwell with Resolution Opposing Tolls
Pamlico County Resolution Opposing Tolls

Posted Monday July 24, 2023 by Allison DeWeese

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