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Board of Elections hosts Election Expo open house

The Brunswick County Board of Elections held its first ever Election Expo Open House on Thursday, May 18, at the Commissioners’ Chambers for the public to learn more about the voting process and voting equipment.

In addition to learning about voting, participants were able to register to vote, enter a raffle to win a basket full of prizes and speak with those who run the polls.

Board of Elections member Robyn Beliveau and Board of Elections Director Sara LaVere noted that there are important steps every voter should go through before voting day, one of those steps is checking their voter registration online.

LaVere explained that folks are able to find out their voting sites and see their sample ballots online. She said people go to the wrong voting sites all the time and it can be avoided by checking online before they go to vote.

She noted that not everyone lives in a municipality, so some people don’t have a vote during municipal elections. She said that a lot of people don’t know that and see a voting site, walk in and realize they don’t have anything on their ballot.

Beliveau added that every voter should check their voter registration online prior to voting to ensure their information, like name and address, are correct as well.

“Most people are always ready to vote,” Primary Election Precinct Chief Judge Deborah Morrow-Ryan said.

Morrow-Ryan noted that when voters check in to their voting site, it can be challenging for poll workers to hear the voters say their name and address. Speaking up and being clear is important.

Expo participants were also able to hear about alternate ways to vote like curbside voting, absentee ballots and using a touch screen device to vote at the voting site.

Elections Logistics Specialist Ryan Childress said that curbside voting is something that many people know about, but not many use.

He explained that the action of going inside to vote can be difficult for some and that curbside voting is a great way to participate because it keeps the voters choice private and helps individuals who have health risks.

“Curbside’s a great way for folks to not risk themselves to vote,” he said. “They can still do it, they can still go out there on election day, if they want, but it’s just a way to help.”

He noted that people do get their “I voted” stickers if they choose to do curbside voting.

“That’s an important one, people love their stickers,” he added.

Assistant Deputy Director Adrianne Rushton reminded participants that absentee voting, or voting by mail, start to go out on Oct. 6. She said that people can go ahead and request an absentee ballot now if they want.

“We encourage them to request as early as they think it might be a consideration,” she said. “And they can request all the way through 5:00 p.m. on October 31.”

Bipartisan Duplication Team member Christy Souter said that people can change their minds if they decide to vote in person instead of through mail. She said the voter just has to rip up or shred the mail ballot.

Another alternate way to vote is through using the accessible voting device.

“We do have an accessible device that can mark a ballot for you,” LaVere said.

Election Computer Technician Butch Johnson said a touch screen device, a Verity Touch Writer, is available at every voting site in the county and isn’t only for those with visual or hearing impairments.

He explained that the touch screen device can be used by anyone and everyone and should be used more frequent. He said it can be very helpful for voters who have a tremor.

Johnson noted that the device also has headphones attached and buttons with braille. When the voter makes their vote, the machine requires the voter to review their answers before it prints out their filled-in ballot.

“It forces you to review,” he said.

He said he wanted the community to be aware of options the voters have, especially if they have difficulty with holding a pen or filling-in their ballot by hand.

Johnson explained that each and every machine used in voting is tested and verified by a bipartisan team before going out to voting sites.

Participants went through a mock poll that guided them through each step of the voting process. They were also able to learn about other aspects of voting, like buffer zones and the proper way to fill in their ballot.

Election Official Lloyd Young emphasized the importance of correctly coloring in the box when voting and that it is “you only.”

“That is your choice, your selection,” he said. “… Actually, it’s your responsibility to color in the box,” he said.

Young noted that they also have envelopes for people to cover their ballots as well if they want. If voters have a question, he said poll workers are there help.

He said poll workers are only there to guide people throughout the process. He noted that they often look up or away when people are voting to secure their privacy.

Beliveau said that they are always looking for poll workers, however, there are roles, requirements and responsibilities of a poll worker that may not be right for everyone.

She noted that they start poll worker training in September, so if individuals want to work the polls, they should start reaching out to the Board of Elections for more information.

More information, voter look up and important dates can be found on the Board of Elections website at

Savanna Tenenoff is the staff writer at the Brunswick Beacon. Feel free to reach out with comments, questions and tips at

One chef trying to change the world – one meal at a time

Healthy Families — Healthy Futures Program Director and Chef Instructor John LaTour is singlehandedly working to bring fresh food, good nutrients and healthy lifestyles into the homes of local students and families, one meal at a time.

Through teaching students the importance of cooking healthier and eating better, even on a budget or with dietary restrictions, LaTour hopes to instill healthy habits in the minds of kids and their families.

LaTour is a North Carolina native who moved to Oak Island during the Covid-19 pandemic. He has a culinary and Information Technology background and is a certified nutrition educator with a love of food and food education.

Healthy Families — Healthy Futures is a 501c3 nonprofit that he started in 2020 to help local individuals and communities gain health knowledge through free classes.

“A lot of the people that we worked with, and to this day, they’re on benefits,” he said. “They get Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) or they get the [Special SNAP for] Women, Infants and Children (WIC) or they hit the food banks right here. So, we try to teach them how to plan, shop, how to cook and how to eat.”

He said he believes that eating habits are learned behaviors. To teach folks those behaviors, he runs cooking classes, cooking demos, camps and workshops completely free of charge for students — or anyone who is willing to learn.

“Everybody has to have a mission in their world, and this is my mission,” he said.

He shared that he has experienced food insecurity twice in his life, once when he was a kid and another time years later. He said that during the time he experienced food insecurity as a kid, his Sunday dinner was his next-door neighbors’ leftovers.

“My goal is [for] people to know that they can eat healthy without having to spend tons of money and not having to be embarrassed that you’re on benefits or that you get free lunch,” he said. “You don’t have to be embarrassed about that, there’s no reason for that… stuff happens…”

He said kids today are experiencing a lot of negative health conditions linked to poor diet. He added that children growing up today have a shorter life expectancy, so he wants parents and legal guardians to understand the problem and have as many tools as they can to help.

“… Our kids are not doing well if they’re not eating well,” he said. “They’re not going to do well in school, they’re not going to do well on the playgrounds, they’re not going to do well in life if they don’t eat right.”

His teachings range from reading nutrition labels on food items at the grocery store, to gardening and converting measurements, to portion control and to mealtime conversations, to cooking a quick, but nutritious, meal.

“I want people to be healthy and enjoy food in a great way without fat and sugar and things that they don’t need in their bodies,” he said.

Educating and raising awareness about the importance of health and healthy food are the most important parts of his mission, LaTour said. He said he has even gotten kicked out of a grocery store for teaching someone how to read a nutrition label.

“Education is more about just making people aware of what they’re eating,” he said. “… Food manufacturers don’t give a crap about you, or me or anybody. They care about the dollar they’re making so they’ll stuff anything in a can and sell it.”

LaTour partners with North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Brunswick County, Smart Start in Brunswick County, Smart Start in New Hanover County and Brunswick County’s 4-H youth development program. By partnering with programs and organizations, he is able to get some additional help with getting groups together and scheduling classes.

He is also able to teach students directly, whether it’s in Brunswick County, Mecklenburg County, Gilford County, Wake County, New Hanover County or Pender County. He noted that he has even worked with Wake County on how to promote good nutrition in the childcare setting through children’s authors.

“Kids today, they don’t know where food comes from — [they think] it comes from a grocery store,” he said. “I want them to start at a very young age [and] teach them about nutrition and healthy eating and talk about healthy eating and demonstrate healthy eating.”

He said he starts to see the wheels turn in young minds when he teaches them how to convert measurements and that they start to see how many ingredients they are consuming when they eat or drink something manufactured.

“When you can see kids get it and understand that doing things like that will make their life better, then cool,” he said. “Then you just go away and say, ‘I’ve done my job.’ ”

LaTour conducts classes online and in person. He said that online classes are typically around an hour and in person classes can last for two to three hours. All his classes are free, he said, noting that individuals or programs can donate money, however, that is not required to take a class.

“I don’t want people to think money is a barrier to learning how to do this,” he said. “It just shouldn’t be — it should never be… I want people to understand that this is out there…”

LaTour said he is going to start a young chefs club in the summer through Brunswick County’s 4-H program. He said there are competitions that they can do, and that the youth will have a lot of room for creativity if they participate.

On Monday, May 22, the Brunswick County 4-H announced a partnership with LaTour to form the Young Chefs Club.

The announcement notes that the club is “especially formed for youth, ages 13-18, wanting to pursue the culinary path in their futures.” The application can be found here:” rel=”nofollow noreferrer” target=”_blank”}

He said that he is also seeking to partner with more organizations and groups to help more folks and spread the good food and good mood.

“You can be healthy and need other help to get there,” he said. “And I just want people to know they matter and that the food they eat needs to matter.”

For more information, recipes and resources, got to or contact Chef John LaTour by phone at (704) 649-3175 or email at

More information on Brunswick County’s 4-H program can be found on the county’s website at

Savanna Tenenoff is the staff writer at the Brunswick Beacon. Feel free to reach out with comments, questions and tips at

OIB talks tax increase, future paid parking

At the Ocean Isle Beach Board of Commissioners budget workshop on May 16, the board approved a property tax increase of one cent above revenue neutral and discussed the possibility of paid parking.

Commissioners were given a drafted balanced budget for Fiscal Year 2023-2024. The new rate will be .1089 and due to the increase, town staff will have to go back and change their estimated revenues to adjust to the increased amount of funds available per appropriation. The town’s tax rate will now be 11 cents per $100 value.

With inflation continuing to lurk, the county’s population on the rise and the Town of Ocean Isle Beach growing, the board decided to raise taxes one cent above revenue neutral to keep up with the constant flood of people and skyrocketing costs.

“I understand this is a hard decision, this is why I balance this budget at revenue neutral,” Town Administrator and Finance Officer Daisy Ivey said.

Ivey told the board that she understands that property owners have expectations from the town. She said she runs a tight ship when it comes to the departments spending money and that the budget reflected what departments need to uphold those expectations, not what the departments wish they had.

The presented budget included the General Fund, Dredging Fund, Beach Renourishment, Water, Sewer, Accommodation and Airport.

She told the board that the total presented were estimates, not final numbers, that they need to get through the year. She noted that staff watches the estimates closely throughout the year.

The drafted report total revenue and total expenditure were both $25,626,849.00. The budget presented does not reflect the changes that will be made.

“Anything we take out this year is just going to be more expensive next year…” Ivey told the board.

Commissioner Wayne Rowell said he was concerned that the board will have to enact a huge tax rate increase in the future if it wasn’t increased now. A few of the commissioners said they forsee costs staying high for the next few years.

The idea of omitting costs or adding other sources of revenue was discussed briefly.

“I think it may be inevitable that we may have to look at charging for parking,” Commissioner Tom Athey said.

Ivey said she thinks that if the town were to implement paid parking in the future, the funding would go into the accommodations tax fund — not into the general fund.

The board also talked about not purchasing a new trash truck, however, the current one is constantly needing repairs and is in the shop.

Rowell said that there are expansions, like the ABC Store, that need to made sooner or later to accommodate the growth of the county.

“How do you expect to keep the same operation and pay those increase in fees if you don’t let taxes go up?” Mayor Debbie Smith asked the board.

Smith said that if the board were to increase their taxes to 12 cents, which is two cents above revenue neutral, they would still be at a lower tax rate compared to other beach towns.

“I want to do what’s right for the future of this town and for this town to be able to supply its services and the protections that we’ve all become accustomed to,” Smith said.

Commissioner Dave Green asked if the departments could be more frugal, Ivey countered that the departments get what they need to be safe a perform their job, that’s it. She said the board could ask to cut costs, but they will need to tell her where to cut.

“There is nothing in here that we’ve tried to put in that we didn’t present at the budget workshop and most of these costs coming to these capital outlay items and some of the things that we are replacing are things that we need to replace,” Assistant Town Administrator Justin Whiteside told the board.

Ivey asked the department heads if there was anything in the budget that were wishes or wants, not needs. The department heads said no.

“No wishes,” Chief of Police Ken Bellamy said. “Just needs, all needs.”

“This is not a want, it’s a need,” Whiteside added. “Because we understand that this is people’s money that we are spending.”

Ivey reminded the board that a lot of the increased estimates came from inflation — which is out of their control, she noted. She said it is just like going to the grocery store, items cost higher than previous years.

“If we tried to cut it even more than what they’ve already worked on, you’re going to come back in a year and have to increase it…,” Smith said. “So go ahead and make that plan today, that’s what we’ve always done before.”

There was a motion to increase taxes by two cents, but there was no second to the motion.

Then there was a motion made by Mayor Pro Tem Dean Walters to increase taxes by one penny, making the property tax at nearly 11 cents per $100 value; Green seconded the motion. Although commissioners Athey and Rowell voted against the one cent increase, the motion carried.

Commissioner Walters said he felt heart ache with any increase but voted in favor of the increase.

Ivey explained that the number will affect homeowners differently depending on their home’s value and that the boards decision will increase the amount of funds available per appropriation.

She noted that with the presented revenue neutral balanced budget, the administration’s budget went down $407,000, the fire departments budget went up $463,000 and the police department’s number went down $3,000.

“I think if we leave it at revenue neutral this year, we’re just delaying the inevitable that we’d have to increase it more,” Rowell said.

Since the budget must be done and passed before July 1, town staff must work quickly to rebalance the budget and present it to the board.

“I will be increasing the revenue line item for taxes and decreasing the revenue line-item Funds Available for Appropriations so a net zero total,” Ivey told The Beacon.

For more information or questions, contact Finance Officer Daisy Ivey at

Savanna Tenenoff is the staff writer at the Brunswick Beacon. Feel free to reach out with comments, questions and tips at

Sunset Beach first responders provide update on new roles

Early this year, the Town of Sunset Beach reassigned beach strand code enforcement duties from its beach patrol, which is operated by the fire department, to its police department. Now that the busy season is here, both departments are getting acclimated to their new roles.

The move stems from a variety of issues the beach patrol was facing in years past in trying to perform their code enforcement duties. The fire department made the request for the change in December 2022, and the police department backed the proposal.

Many of the code enforcement issues the beach patrol were dealing with were related to cabanas, it was noted during discussions about the situation.

The town council voted in February to station at least two police officers on the strand to deal with code violations from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. during the beach season — April 1 to Oct. 30 — going forward. Beach patrol remains on the strand performing its regular duties, minus code enforcement.

Additionally, the town now has a civilian staff, trained by the town’s police department, performing island parking enforcement.

During the May 1 town council meeting, Sunset Beach Fire Chief Richard Childres and Police Chief Ken Klamar provided an update on how the switch is going now that beach season has commenced.

For the beach patrol, the change has been a smooth and easy transition as the busy season has begun. “We’re really enjoying our new roles, most of staff is really enjoying that we can focus on some water safety and prevention,” Childres said. “Water safety and prevention — that’s the key for us this year.”

Childres told the Brunswick Beacon that the new roles have allowed beach patrol to spend more time monitoring the water, swimmers and environmental factors, things they were not able to spend as much time monitoring when they were tasked with code enforcement.

The fire chief also noted during the May 1 meeting that the changes have allowed beach patrol to spend more time training in the water early in the season.

For the police department, the new roles have resulted in some “growing pains” from an operations standpoint, Klamar said.

Regarding the parking enforcement aspect, the police chief said things have been running relatively smoothly since the season officially began last month.

Because the beginning of the beach season is less busy, particularly in the mornings, the police department has been using that time to train the parking enforcement staff.

“We’ve adjusted that as need be trying to get them trained up to make sure they understand where people can park, what constitutes a violation, training them on our ordinances and then on the system that we’re using to issue the violations, the SurfCAST system, training them to use that,” Klamar said.

By May 1, 99 handwritten parking citations had been issued and 74 parking citations had been issued through SurfCAST, for a total of 173 citations in less than a month, Klamar said.

The police chief noted that he feels having a staff dedicated to enforcing parking ordinances is more effective because doing so is their sole focus.

Concerning the code enforcement side of things, Klamar said Easter week was a challenge.

“Easter Week was a challenge with just two [officers] on the beach, he said. “As the fire chief had mentioned, they struggled with maintaining the cabana line with four employees, and we’re doing it with two.”

However, since the officers are already familiar with the town’s ordinances they haven’t needed much training to perform their new duties, the chief said.

Klamar added that as long as officers stay healthy they will be able to staff two officers on the strand each day. However, officers being unavailable for any given time could create issues.

“As people get hurt, as people get sick, we’re finding that there may be some times where we’ll have to pull resources off the beach,” he said. “Fortunately, right now, it’s not really that big of a deal because there’s not a lot of people out there. But in the summer months, we’ll deal with it day by day.”

Councilman Mike Hargreaves during the May 1 meeting asked Klamar what is the main code enforcement problem they’re seeing on the strand. Klamar said he didn’t have the numbers broken down to give a definitive answer but noted the primary issues are still related to cabanas.

A large reason for the changes was the way beachgoers were acting towards beach patrol staff when they were trying to enforce codes and ordinances. The police officers on the strand have not seen those sorts of issues this year.

“We haven’t had the pushback the fire department mentioned they had in the previous summer,” Klamar said. “It could be because we’re dressed like this [in police uniforms] and if they do decide that they don’t want to comply there’s a recourse where, before, there wasn’t.”

Klamar told the Brunswick Beacon that although the summer season is just beginning, he does not expect the type of compliance issues the beach patrol ran into in years past.

He also encouraged visitors and residents alike to familiarize themselves with the town’s island parking and strand ordinances. Those sets of rules can be found on the town’s website and in rental homes in town.

Previous stories from the Brunswick Beacon on the changes can be found at the following links: and

Dylan Phillips is the editor of the Brunswick Beacon. Feel free to reach out with comments, questions and tips at

Caswell Beach Sunset