City eyes funding changePublished 9:36pm Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Washington’s City Council, during its meeting Monday, signaled a sea change in how it wants to approach economic development.
As the Beaufort County Economic Development Commission’s bylaws are in the process of being modified, the council is supporting one option that would reconfigure membership on the commission and how the EDC is funded. The council supports a nine-member EDC board, with three at-large members and one member from each of the six townships in the county. The three at-large members would be people with proven or demonstrated interest in economic development.
As for funding, Beaufort County would fund the EDC.
Currently, the city provides 35 percent of the EDC’s funding for operational expenses annually. The county provides the remaining 65 percent, with some of the other towns in the county paying about $6 per town resident to help with those expenses. Under the option supported by the city, the city would not contribute an annual amount to the EDC, but it would entertain requests by the EDC to help fund specific projects. Those requests would come each year as the council works on the next city budget. Funding from the city could be forthcoming if the council deemed a project or projects worthy of funding.
Councilman Doug Mercer, whose been working with the committee revising the EDC bylaws, provided the council information on several options regarding the reshaping of the EDC. He also discussed what he considers to be an inequitable system when it comes to city residents (who are also county residents) paying for economic development through the EDC.
“When we look at the current configuration, the county’s $190,000 for approximately 45,000 county residents is a little over $4 a person. The city, with 10,000 people, is putting in $90,000, or an additional $9 a person,” Mercer said. “So as a city resident paying both city and county taxes, we’re contributing about $13 and a half to economic development in the county. The (other) municipalities are putting in (smaller amounts). So, in essence, city residents are paying a larger per-capita share than any of the other residents in the county.”
Councilman Richard Brooks also noted that, under the current situation, city residents “are paying twice,” which he considers unfair.
Mercer said that during a meeting of the committee revising the EDC bylaws he told the committee that he does not believe city resident should pay a larger share than anyone else in the county.
“My recommendation was the county be the sole funding agency for the Economic Development Commission,” Mercer told the council about his remarks to the committee.
Mercer told the council the county is waiting to see what the city plans to do before it proceeds with revamping the EDC.
“This committee (bylaws committee) has met on couple of occasions, and at our last meeting the county commissioners that were present indicated they didn’t want to proceed any further until they got some indication as to where the city is headed with this project,” Mercer said. “They asked me to bring this to you tonight for your discussion and a vote as to what we would like to do.”
Mayor Archie Jennings responded by saying, “I would add to that that we leave our current budget allocation for economic development intact. That way we have funds set aside that if we are called upon — and we are not walking away from economic development. We are just not funding it the way we used to.”
Jennings, who only votes in case of a tie, said he supports the option approved by the council. Jennings said allocating money each year for economic development and letting the council decide how to best spend that money — possibly on EDC projects — makes sense.
Councilman Edward Moultrie Jr. expressed some concern the city “would be getting out of the EDC business” under its preferred approach to economic development.
Jennings told Moultrie that is not the case.
“That’s my point. We will leave our economic-development allocation in our budget and use those funds. For instance, we just committed no more than $30,000 to a retail recruitment and retention strategy. So, we’re staying in the economic development business. We’re just not going to fund the economic-development budget at the county level.”
For more coverage of the council’s meeting, see future editions of the Washington Daily News.