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County manager unveils $89 million framework to address school, community safety, commissioners debate where funds will come from

Published: Oct. 18, 2021 at 11:47 AM EDT
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NEW HANOVER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - New Hanover County manager Chris Coudriet has unveiled a three-year, $89 million plan to address safety in county schools and to address violence in the community.

Coudriet presented the plan during Monday’s New Hanover County commissioners meeting — about six weeks after the county authorized his office to access funds from the sale of the hospital to address school safety following the Aug. 30 shooting at New Hanover High School.

The outline, which the county says is a “starting point,” is as follows:

  • $43 million to improve school hardscapes and education facilities:
    • Perimeter and facility ingress/egress modifications across the entire school district
    • Campus-based and district-wide communication, monitoring, and surveillance enhancements
    • Community-based and facility renovations for education, social, emotional, and life-skill enhancements
  • $19 million to enhance reporting, monitoring and security:
    • Develop a community-based reporting system that is confidential and secure, in coordination with robust social media monitoring capabilities, that all work together to allow for strategic information sharing of threats to the appropriate individuals, groups, and community at large.
    • Build relationships within schools and enhance on-the-ground school security and monitoring with:
      • At least one school resource officer at every school and an additional safety officer at all learning centers and middle and high schools, focused on perimeter management and campus-based interventions.
      • Adult school bus monitors to help ensure safe transportation, monitoring and trust building with students.
  • $15 million to coordinate community care and support services:
    • Provide wrap-around services, case management support, intervention, and prevention services to all students and families in a unified approach, including:
      • Expanding existing and effective evidence-based programs.
      • Place-based support services and coordination.
      • Non-profit capacity building and assistance based on community goals.
      • Comprehensive, unified, and coordinated service delivery.
  • $12 million to eliminate education barriers:
    • Double the number of high-quality pre-k opportunities to meet the community need.
    • Provide at-risk education intervention in schools.
    • Provide tuition support to qualified individuals for career and technical education certifications that meet the needs of the marketplace.

“We are beginning to create tangible plans and a framework for actual investment that will help improve school safety to make them physically safer in the near term and begin to address some of the foundational drivers of community violence,” said Coudriet.

County officials say the current framework was formed after conducting meetings and conversations “with more than 60 diverse service providers, community leaders, school personnel, students and parents, law enforcement, community advocates, and content experts that operate in this space.”

“These have been very intentional conversations that have led us to where we are today. And this is just our starting point, because we still have more information to gather, programs to develop, and additional community input to receive. As that is done, we will bring specific investment measures and program budgets to the Board of Commissioners for their review and approval. We are committed to keep our board and the public informed every step of the way,” Coudriet said.

New Hanover County is also launching a public input survey about school and community safety, reporting incidents and communication, and community programs and resources.

The survey is completely anonymous and will be open now through Monday, Nov. 1.

Commissioners clash on concerns about funding, implementation

After the presentation, elected leaders were able to ask staff questions about the proposal. While the commissioners have authorized staff to use of the funds from the sale of NHRMC, leaders didn’t see eye to eye Monday on how the community violence plan will be funded.

Commissioners Jonathan Barfield, Deb Hays and Rob Zapple cast the votes passing a motion that requires staff to submit a budget revision before any funds can be spent. Previously, the county manager was allowed to access the funds to get the programs implemented as soon as possible.

“It’s just not fiscally responsible for us to write a blank check,” said commissioner Deb Hays. “We want to see the proposals, we want to understand in detail what it is, this program this initiative and what its going to provide for our community.”

With state and federal support funds from COVID-19 still flowing, Hays and Barfield say they want to talk about first finding other ways to foot the bill for some initiatives before dipping into the hospital account.

Commissioner Barfield also brought up the point Monday morning that much of the $350 million fund had been put aside for other purposes. It was the first time the public was notified that commissioners had voted in June to invest those same funds the county manager was granted access to use.

“County staff has already invested $200 million of those dollars into investments to bring returns so we can invest those dollars into other things in our community, and that money is already gone,” said commissioner Jonathan Barfield Jr. “We’re fully committed to community violence, eradicating community violence, putting the resources there, we just need to figure out how to pay for it.”

County CFO Lisa Wurtzbacher confirms on September 3, when the board took their initial vote to utilize a portion of these funds, the county had $119 million of the $350 million already invested, meaning $231 million was available at the time of the vote.

“Based on the board’s vote, the investments have been managed in a way so those funds would be the source of revenue for the school safety and community resource investments,” said a county spokesperson in an email to WECT News.

The county has invested more of the hospital fund since then, but they’re able to access the money at any time.

Taking the amount expected to mature over the next three years into account, they expect to have $164 million in funding that will be liquid over the next three years. According to chairwoman Olson- Boseman, its more than enough cash to bankroll the three year, $89 million dollar community violence plan.

“It’s all short term investments like hundred day accounts, so right now there’s $150 million liquid that we can access. I mean the account is there for... we set that up for emergencies so we wouldn’t put it in long-term investments because what if a hurricane hits or something like that, or like what we’re having now with this violence epidemic in our community,” said Olson Boseman.

Olson-Boseman believes now that the majority of the commissioners passed the motion changing the process of getting the initiatives up and running, nothing is likely move forward until December. She’s also concerned about allowing the public to hear details about certain school safety proposals.

“We’re talking about safety measures here we don’t want everything that we do out in the public. I thought the way commissioner Barfield spoke to the county manager and county staff was embarrassing for me. They are professionals, they do this all day long every day and our job is to set policy, not to micromanage and get into the weeds and I felt like that’s a lot of what they’re doing,” said Olson- Boseman.

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