Port City Daily: Downtown group makes sole request for funding in county budget hearing

June 3, 2014 By

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Just five people spoke in a hearing Monday evening on New Hanover County’s proposed fiscal budget, and only one of those requested more funding than allotted.

It was a stark contrast from last year’s hearing, which drew more than 30 speakers on behalf of outside agencies that are eligible for non-departmental funding from the county.

A reason could be the increase in this year’s total allotment, from about $262,000 in the current budget to $380,000 in the recommended budget for the fiscal year that starts at the end of this month. County Manager Chris Coudriet has said that increase is due to an effort to fund programs that address commissioners’ stated goal of reducing gang violence and youth recidivism.

Related story: County budget hearing Monday; proposal would increase funding for outside agencies

But another goal stated in the county’s budget message is continued support of economic development—a point noted by Clark Hipp, board chairman of Wilmington Downtown Inc., which is slated for a decrease in funding this year from $37,500 to $25,000.

Hipp said the reduction would impede the group’s efforts, including implementation of recommendations included in the recently received Garner Economics report, which the board would formally accept that night.

Clark Hipp, board chairman of Wilmington Downtown Inc., addresses commissioners in Monday's budget hearing. Image courtesy NHCTV.

Clark Hipp, board chairman of Wilmington Downtown Inc., addresses commissioners in Monday’s budget hearing. Image courtesy NHCTV.

“We respectfully submit that now is not the time to reduce WDI’s ability to succeed in implementing the Garner recommendations and our continued economic development efforts,” Hipp told the board, listing numbers such as 95 new jobs downtown and more than $9 million in new investment, including the new Courtyard Marriott hotel.

The county’s recommended allotment for economic development is about one-third the amount in the current budget, which added several non-departmental funding amounts that had not been included in the previous year’s budget. But the recommended amount is comparable to that of that previous year, at just over $350,000.

While WDI is slated for less funding, down from $37,500 in the current budget and $50,000 the previous year, other economic development groups are recommended for increases. Wilmington Business Development would get about $52,000 more as proposed, for a total of about $189,000, and the Wilmington Regional Film Commission would see an increase of just under $2,000, for a total of just over $117,000.

The North Carolina’s Southeast regional partnership would receive $20,000 it didn’t receive this year, while other initiatives funded last year are not recommended for funding again.

WDI made a similar request to Wilmington City Council in a hearing last month. The group is marked for $65,000 in the city’s draft budget, but Hipp told council it needs an additional $30,000 to adequately conduct a city-commissioned study that would determine the value of implementing a downtown municipal service district.

Council has said it would set that money aside as part of $300,000 in additional funds the city manager is looking to add to the budget.

County commissioners could likewise tweak their budget before adopting it at their next meeting June 16. A workshop on the budget could be held before then.

Other groups that addressed commissioners Monday to thank them for their funding amounts were Elderhaus, Cape Fear Literacy Council, and the Rape Crisis Center of Coastal Horizons. New Hanover County Schools and Cape Fear Community College also gave presentations during the hearing.

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