The prospect of a slight property tax increase wasn’t in focus during a public hearing on Wilmington’s proposed new spending plan Tuesday.
Of the few residents who turned out to speak, most were spokespersons of local agencies either thankful for the city’s financial support or hopeful for allocations.
For Anne Brennan, director of the Cameron Art Museum, it was a chance to say thanks for the $10,000 the city included in the draft to support the museum’s programming. She called it a volunteer-supported cultural destination that draws money to Wilmington and employs artists, writers and performers and educates youths.
For downtown business owner Joan Loch, it was the opportunity to ask the city to restore funding for the Bring It! Downtown marketing campaign that encourages downtown commerce and promotes the free hour of parking the city’s decks offer.
“We need to keep downtown vital through these funds to keep businesses downtown,” Loch said, adding she could offer reports and statistics to prove the marketing campaign’s worth.
Past funding for the campaign has come not from the city’s general fund but through its parking fund, which feeds itself through fees. Bring It! Downtown received $30,000 from the city in March to continue marketing, but the new budget draft does not offer support.
Another downtown entity, economic development group Wilmington Downtown Inc. (WDI), is funded in the budget draft at $65,216. But WDI board chairman Clark Hipp at Tuesday’s public hearing requested the city consider granting some supplemental money that would benefit a project the city recently engaged WDI to perform.
That’s an evaluation of how a municipal service district and special taxation over specific areas might benefit downtown. WDI is expected to produce its report in early 2015, but Hipp said Tuesday the agency’s president, Ed Wolverton, could do a much more careful job if funds were available to move a part time worker at WDI to full time status, creating more freedom for Wolverton to focus on the task.
City Manager Sterling Cheatham made his budget draft public at the city council’s May 6 meeting and included financial support for a number of the city’s “civic development partner agencies,” as Cameron Art Museum and WDI are described.
The Cucalorus Film Foundation, for one, is in line for $12,000; for the Arts Council of Wilmington, $20,000; for the UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, $70,000; for the Wilmington Regional Film Commission, $117,502.
Another economic development group, Wilmington Business Development, is marked for $86,087. And the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce’s Cape Fear Future program–initiated to develop the regional knowledge-sector economy–is slated for $15,000.
In all, the budget proposal provides civic development partners $395,805 from the general fund.
That’s separate from the menu of local nonprofits and public service agencies–like the Cape Fear Literacy Council and the Community Boys and Girls Club–funded partly through federal grants and other competitive sources allocated by the city.
In looking at the spread, one resident at the hearing, Valerie Arroyo (who said she was with a group called One Love Community Center), opined the budget draft paid too much attention to special-interest or exclusive purposes and not enough on the shared needs of the city’s residents and youths, though she did not cite specific examples of where she’d like the money to go.
She also accused the city of putting too much money toward beautification and good impressions for tourists, saying, “There is more to Wilmington than the beach, the port.”
While the city’s budget doesn’t directly fund the beaches or the Port of Wilmington, Arroyo said she’d like a meeting with the city’s leadership to learn how money is prioritized.
The budget nutshell
As proposed, the budget draft includes a general fund worth $91 million running on a 46 cent property tax rate, a 1 cent increase from the current.
If approved, the owner of a $200,000 home in Wilmington would pay $1.67 more per month.
The plan, among other things, affords raises to the city’s roughly 1,000 employees, who generally aren’t earning salaries on level with peer cities.
Adjusting salaries to market rate is the city’s top priority, which officials have reiterated over numerous budget workshops since late last year.
Click here for a recent story explaining the budget’s anatomy.
The plan isn’t final; another work session to tweak the particulars is set for June 2.
Final adoption is expected June 17.
Click here to view the full recommendation.