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Commissioners approve funding for first phase of multi-million dollar community violence program

NHC approves budget for community violence action plan
Published: Jan. 24, 2022 at 5:58 PM EST
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Monday proved to be a big step forward for New Hanover County’s multi-million dollar plan to tackle community violence.

Commissioners unanimously approved the budget amendments to fund the first phases of the plan at their regular meeting Monday morning.

The entire multi-year plan is expected to cost just under $40 million, however the cost of the 2022 phase of the plan approved this week will come in at $3.6 million.

This first phase has several facets that leaders hope will ultimately get them closer to their one goal of having a safer community.

The money will expand the footprint for existing programs like the sheriff’s office “Elements” program, LINC, and a program called “Too Good for Violence” to be used in high schools.

It will add a violence interruption program like Durham’s Bull City United and a community care coordination unit to be housed at an office on Chestnut Street

Money from this first cycle will also be used to start a 24-hour community call center for the public to report perceived threats, and add SROs to four elementary schools.

Additionally, $300,000 has been approved to design and help bring a full service grocery store to the northside of the city and address the area’s food deserts.

“I’m excited that we’re looking at partnering with the Northside Food Co-op in providing a layout, number one, a blueprint for a grocery store on that side of town and hopefully we can find the right partner to come in and actually make the thing happen. It’s been talked about for so long,” said commissioner Jonathan Barfield.

Funding questions

The money to foot the bill will come from the county’s general fund balance and interest from the county’s revenue stabilization fund, as well as American Rescue Plan funding.

To avoid dipping into county investments, commissioners asked to reallocate some of the American Rescue Plan funds on the books.

The plan presented Monday shows staff proposed pulling dollars from several under-utilized programs, including money put aside for COVID testing county employees, PPE and homeless sheltering funds.

One of the programs impacted by the reallocation was a $1.2 million New Hanover County Schools program for after-school transportation.

Staff proposed cutting the fund in half, taking $600,000 for the community violence program and leaving $600,000 for the district to use to keep the transportation program operating.

The issue is, Monday morning, no-one knows how much of that funding the transportation program is really using. The county has received one $10,000 invoice but it’s unclear how much of this taxpayer money remains unused.

Monday afternoon, a county spokesperson confirmed additional invoices are expected to be submitted in the coming days, but haven’t been handed over to county staff at this time.

A spokesperson for the district said they weren’t sure how much the program has cost to operate so far, but mentioned the after-school program began this fall and had to be paused in January due to a spike in COVID-19 cases.

“The district appreciates the continued support of the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners — and for keeping the best interest of students at the forefront of their conversations. We are confident that transportation for after-school programs will resume soon,” said a New Hanover County Schools spokesperson in an email.

In the meeting, commissioners Deb Hays and Rob Zapple asked if they could divert more money away from the under-used transportation program so more ARP money could be used for the community violence plan.

“That’s $1 million — actually is $1.2 million. If we even leave $100,000 in there, that will cover it for this year and we can use the rest of that money to appropriate for community violence, which is in fact also going into our schools and addressing school violence,” said Deb Hays.

The budget amendments passed unanimously Monday morning; however, commissioners say they plan to discuss the school transportation funds in the next month once staff could gather the data for review.

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