City council talks local issues with state elected officials
WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Wilmington city leaders logged on this morning to speak with state elected officials about issues we are facing locally.
Representatives Ted Davis and Holly Grange and State Senator Harper Peterson were on the zoom call.
Representative Deb Butler was not present, but her assistant Taylor Williams listened in in her place.
Mayor Pro-Tem Margaret Haynes addressed the city’s budget.
Haynes says the occupancy tax revenue is significantly short.
The city gives a portion of this to beaches for renourishment projects, and uses the bulk of it to support the Wilmington Convention Center.
Haynes says this will continue to decline until we are able to safely reopen our economy.
“We’re going to be suffering financially,” she said. “While we’ve always had a good savings account, we’ve been through so many really disasters in the past year.”
City staff says the lack of sales tax revenue is going to cause a loss as well, not to mention the delayed tax deadline.
All of these things combined could cause cash flow issues.
“We’re gonna have to have some alternative funding source or our services are going to have to be cut to the bare minimum potentially,” City Budget Director Laura Mortell said. “And it’s going to be difficult for us especially with the hurricane season coming up.”
City staff members continued to say the loss will be undetermined until the July 15 tax deadline.
A large portion of the city’s budget goes to public safety.
Interim Police Chief Donny Williams was scheduled to be on the call, but city employees said he must have been called away for an emergency.
It was later noted Chief Williams could hear the meeting, but was not connected to audio.
Assistant to the City Manger for Legislative Affairs Tony McEwen spoke on behalf of Chief Williams.
McEwen says Wilmington Police now respond to calls wearing masks and they have received around the same number of calls as they typically do.
But they have been down a few officers, as some have self-quarantined because of exposure or fear of exposure to the virus.
WPD confirms there is only one officer currently quarantined.
Mayor Bill Saffo says the city received a lot of calls about large crowds gathering on Palm Tree Island and Masonboro Island. In response, WPD and the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office teamed up to patrol those areas.
Councilman Neil Anderson and Transportation Planning Manager Mike Kozlosky addressed transportation.
Kozlosky says the Department of Transportation has been experiencing financial challenges even before the outbreak.
He says DOT projects a $300M budget shortfall by the end of the fiscal year.
As a result projects have halted, as well as employees being laid off, a hiring freeze going into affect, and budget cuts.
Projects affected include the Military Cutoff/Eastwood extension, upgrades to Highway 133 in Brunswick County, the Smith Creek bridge replacement on Castle Hayne Road.
Other improvements at Dock and 3rd Street and Carolina Beach Road near Walmart have also been delayed.
Kozlosky asks the state officials to support additional funding to the DOT.
Councilman Neil Anderson says the world is continuing to turn beyond COVID-19, asking the representatives to focus on transportation infrastructure.
Mayor Pro-Tem Haynes also addressed the issue of access to broadband.
She asked the state officials to support the Fiber NC Act to make high-speed internet more readily available.
She says this has been an issue for a while, but has become more prevalent as many are working and learning from home.
She says not everyone has access, and it’s not fair.
“Not only is it not fair, it has negative long-term ramifications,” Haynes said. “We want everyone to be educated. We want everyone to be able to access tele-medicine.”
Councilman Kevin O’Grady said he had a “grab-bag” of issues to bring to the representatives’ attention.
The “grab-bag” included many issues, but with a little less detail since there were more to address.
For example, film incentives, the opioid epidemic, affordable housing, clean water and coastal protection, and gang laws.
City Attorney John Joye says the city needs help with gang legislation.
“We’re still fighting a big fight with the gangs here, and we intend to win,” Joye said.
Councilman Kevin Spears and Communications Director Dylan Lee addressed communication in the midst of the virus.
Lee says they have been focusing primarily on answering frequently asked questions.
Councilman Rivenbark and Public Service Director Dave Mayes concluded the discussion with recycling.
Mayes says it is becoming too expensive to recycle, and something needs to change.