In a surprising turnaround, Oak Island Town Council agreed Tuesday to adopt a lower base tax rate and continue to tack on a few cents for beach improvements. The adopted base rate for fiscal 2020 will be 24-cents per $100 and another four cents for the beach, bringing the total to 28-cents per $100 taxable value.

The current total rate is 31-cents per $100, with two cents going toward the beach.

The 24-cents reflects a “revenue neutral” rate, taking into account overall higher property values because of this year’s revaluation by Brunswick County.

Council Member John Bach argued that with major sand projects in the works, “regardless of what we have, we’re going to need more.” Bach said he could live with the 28-cent rate but said the original proposal to maintain the 31-cent rate and boost the portion for sand made sense.

“Suddenly we have tax fever,” Bach said.

Council Member Jeff Winecoff argued for cutting the base rate to 24-cents and keeping the beach contribution at two cents. His was the lone “no” vote on the final budget. The motion, by Council Member Sheila Bell, was supported by members Charlie Blalock, Loman Scott and Bach.

Former council member Dara Royal, during the public hearing, made the case for adopting the revenue neutral rate of 24-cents. Brunswick County opted to maintain its current tax rate to help pay off school bonds. By maintaining its rate, the county is extracting an additional $3.5-million from Oak Island taxpayers in fiscal 2020, she said.

The town has sufficient funds to cover sand projects planned for the winter and almost $19-million in the bank, Royal said.

“You don’t need more money,” she said, adding that a total rate of 24-cents would be adequate for fiscal 2020.

Impervious surfaces

Council seemed inclined to adopt new rules about restricting impervious surfaces but opted to hold a second public hearing on the matter at the regular July 9 meeting. Its policy has been to hold two hearings on major policy decisions.

The proposal from staff is to limit total impervious surface areas to 45-percent on the construction of new homes and require an engineered stormwater plan for anything covering 30-percent or more. Currently, there is no limit, although engineered plans are required for construction that exceeds 45-percent built-upon area.

Builder Kevin Tittle said the restriction was wrong and making the town more like a homeowners association and too restrictive. He questioned whether some owners could rebuild if their property were damaged from a disaster.

“Forty-five percent is wonderful,” said resident Betty Hupp. She asked that the town consider the water area of swimming pools as impervious surfaces, which is not now the case.

“This is an opportunity to limit impervious surfaces,” Royal said. She said it was better than nothing but would prove insufficient in the future as owners redevelop existing properties.

Bach suggested that the 45-percent restriction accommodated the outliers among available statistics and that a 40-percent limit “might be a better target.”

Chickens in town

Katie Vinson and two members of her family asked council to adopt rules to allow homeowners to keep up to 10 hens in their backyards, with certain restrictions. “They are important members of my family,” she said. Resident Leslie Angier echoed her remarks.

Resident Glenn Baker said the town needed to do a better job enforcing existing code rules. He said he was not against chickens but didn’t believe they belonged inside the town limits.

Bach said the proposal was inconsistent with most residents’ vision of the island and could become a “slippery slope” for other exceptions.

Winecoff said he wanted a more specific ordinance that spelled out what animals were and were not allowed in town. Council continued the public hearing until July, with Bell dissenting.

Council unanimously rejected a request to allow six-foot-high fences along parts of some oceanfront lots between SE 58th Street and SE 74th Street, where some lots are hundreds of feet long. Bach called it another example of allowing an individual property owner to have “one-off” relief from the rules, even after being denied by the Board of Adjustment. “Be consistent,” he said.

In other business, council:

n Reappointed Margaret Johnson, Mike Pratt and Maureen Burns to the Environmental Advisory Committee.

n Recognized the Oak Island Senior Center’s record of service and upcoming 40th birthday.

n Accepted recognition from ATMC for having fiber optic-based high-speed Internet service.

n Heard a complaint about the poor condition of the marsh walkover at 19th Place East. Town Manager David Kelly said the new budget included funds for repairs or rebuilding.

n Heard a complaint about the steep slope of the beach access at SE 71st Street. The town may be able to add a mat to the walkway, but flattening the dune would go against the town’s beach protection efforts, said Development Services Director Steve Edwards.

n Heard a request by former mayor Helen Cashwell to conduct a capacity audit of the sewer system.

n Heard a request for an additional stop sign along Yacht Drive to deter speeders.

n Agreed to allow free fishing at Oak Island Pier for one day when it re-opens for anglers on July 2.

n Asked staff to develop possible rules for weddings on the beach, including ways to minimize trash and things like plastic flowers.