Friday, June 21, 2024

New Hanover to again consider ‘community violence’ spending

The historic courthouse in Downtown Wilmington. (Port City Daily/File)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — The county has been at work on a spending plan to combat “community violence” for the past few months, prompted largely by the shooting at New Hanover High School in August. 

Source of funding for the strategy has been the major question, and originally it seemed hospital sale profits would fuel the spending plan. New details to be presented this coming week reveal the county now hopes to tackle the millions worth of improvements through various means, including repurposing nearly 25% of its federal Covid-19 relief dollars received through the American Rescue Plan Act into the campaign. 

The majority of the board of commissioners asked for more clarity in October when county manager Chris Coudriet presented an $89 million path forward — “full speed, full scale” — using money from the hospital sale. 

Chairwoman Julia Olson-Boseman, who vouched for immediate spending on security improvements and new programs, accused fellow commissioners of having “blinked” in the face of an epidemic level of community violence that required swift action. Still, three of five board members voted to slow things down and ask for more details.

In late November, during a joint meeting with the school board, Coudriet presented a significantly refined $36.5-million plan using Covid-19 relief funds and the county’s fund balance. It did not address physical improvements in schools. He indicated those would be rolled into the annual budget process. 

READ MORE: Are New Hanover commissioners ‘blinking’ on a 3-year, $89-million plan to make the community safer?

ALSO: County’s refined violence intervention plan includes social media surveillance, SROs, pre-K expansion

The price tag has risen slightly since the last meeting to around $39.6 million, according to the upcoming meeting agenda. Staff is proposing use of the capital projects fund and new debt to implement a host of new programs and personnel positions. 

The plan, which stretches through fiscal year 2025, calls for hiring school resource officers at four designated elementary schools, establishing a 13-person call center through which citizens can pass along information, hiring 20 community resource coordinators to serve seven schools, and more.

County staff are also proposing to use $10 million in Covid-19 relief money — part of the $45 million received through the American Rescue Plan Act — to partly fund the new measures. That money cannot be spent after 2024. 

If American Rescue Plan money was used, it would take $10 million worth of other projects off the table that were previously expected to benefit from the federal dollars. Plans for $370,000 worth of homeless sheltering would be axed, and expenditures for increased broadband access and afterschool transportation would be cut in half. 

The county also wanted to use $3.6 million of the relief dollars to move forward on building a business park on Blue Clay Road. That spending would be scrapped, too (though the county still hopes to move forward with the project; staff recommends funding the business park with debt to be issued later this fiscal year). 

The newest plan still involves using around $14.6 million in hospital sale money between now and 2025, as well as $4.9 million from the capital fund.  

One program would be a version of Durham’s Bull City United, a “violence interruption model” that involves a staff of nine (to be funded with ARPA money through 2024, then picked up by the county in 2025). Another program, Too Good For Violence, which is slated for expansion into high schools under the plan, would acquire four new employees. 

The board of commissioners will meet Monday, Jan. 24 at 9 a.m. in the historic courthouse downtown. The meeting can be watched online.

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