By Mark Jurkowitz | Outer Banks Voice on January 27, 2021
What a difference a year makes.
At his Jan. 15, 2020 “State of the County” presentation, Dare County Commissioner Chairman Bob Woodard delivered his remarks as he strolled through an overflow morning crowd at Captain George’s Restaurant wearing a circa-1870’s suit designed to reflect stylish sartorial trends in the period of the county’s founding.
One year later, at his Jan. 27, 2021 “State of the County” presentation, delivered virtually courtesy of the COVID-19 pandemic, a casually attired Woodard spoke from the county commissioners’ meeting room, with a live audience consisting only of his fellow commissioners and a handful of top county officials.
One thing that didn’t change was Woodard’s bullish view of Dare County, even as he acknowledged the dramatic impact of the pandemic.
“Boy did we have a lot of things planned” to commemorate the county’s 150th birthday in 2020, Woodard said at the outset of his roughly hour-long presentation. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t do any of them.”
After asking for a moment of silence for the victims of COVID-19, Woodard added that “I couldn’t be more proud of the way our community has responded to COVID-19,” and he particularly praised the work of Dare County Health and Human Services Director Sheila Davies and her staff.
“Believe it or not,” he continued, “we did have some accomplishments in 2020.”
A short video provided a collection of stats designed to highlight the work done by county officials and staff in the past year. Local election officials, for example, handled 5,025 absentee ballots during the November voting that saw a record-breaking Dare voter turnout of 80.67%. The county also recorded 5,342 land transfers and 275 new construction permits were issued throughout the county.
In addition, there were 737 marriage licenses granted in 2020, Dare EMS’ emergency notification system sent out 1.5 million text messages and 102,252 calls were answered by 911 Regional Communications.
During another part of the presentation, Woodard provided a more in-depth view of key projects that are in the pipeline. They include the construction of a new College of the Albemarle (COA) academic building in Manteo as well as the county earmarking $350,000 for scholarships to COA. The badly needed new SPCA animal shelter, also in Manteo, is slated for a late March ribbon cutting. The county has also partnered with Manteo to create its Town Common Project on property owned by the county.
To deal with the ever-present problem of keeping waterways open, the county has contracted for a new dredge currently under construction and Woodard lauded the ongoing construction of the Jug Handle Bridge in Rodanthe.
Other issues and initiatives discussed by the chairman included the county commissioners’ continued opposition to offshore drilling and seismic testing in the waters off North Carolina as well as the board’s efforts to develop more reasonably priced housing in the county through zoning amendments and a partnership with the University of North Carolina.
“Despite our challenges we faced we faced with COVID-19, the county’s got a positive story to tell,” Woodard said, noting that the Outer Banks ended up having a very busy tourist season in 2020. (Left unsaid on that subject was the controversy surrounding decisions about when to allow non-resident property owners and visitors back into the county.)
Still, the shadow of COVID was never far from the surface and toward the end of his remarks, Woodard wondered out loud whether the past year was the most challenging one ever for the county.
“One thing is certain,” he concluded, reverting to an upbeat message. “In times of crisis, the Dare County community never fails to come together and to rise above the challenge.”