Commissioners clash over community violence prevention plans

NEW HANOVER COUNTY (WWAY) — Monday’s New Hanover County Commissioner meeting grew tense when the conversation turned to violence prevention in the Cape Fear.

New Hanover County commissioners took a look at a possible budget to solve community violence with a price tag of around $89 million over three years.

According to commissioners Jonathan Barfield and Deb Hayes, $283 million of the $350 million from the New Hanover Regional Medical Center sale has been invested to collect interest. That’s why Barfield said he brought up the option of using alternate funding from sources like the American Rescue Plan.

“If you can’t access the money, you’ve got to find alternative means to find out what you do,” said Barfield.

According to Chair Julia Olson-Boseman, up to the entire $350 million was dedicated solely to reducing violence in our community.

“My motion was very clear when we made it with the joint school board,” Boseman said. “We’re going to use this money from the hospital sale to address this. I don’t know why a couple of the other commissioners want to see the school board spend their fund balance.”

Monday’s meeting was originally slated as an information session, but commissioners Barfield, Rob Zapple, and Co-Chair Deb Hayes voted to present each individual item in the plan as a line-item budget.

“We love what we’re hearing so far,” Zapple explained. “We’d like more details and a little bit more focus on the amount of money these different initiatives will cost and then to bring them forward in a budget amendment that we can streamline and know exactly what we’re paying for.”

Barfield continued, “When you talk about $89 million, I as an elected official need to understand how they’re being utilized and spent. And not just having a blank check and not having any accountability.”

The vote came as a surprise to other commissioners. Boseman worried it could stop the process and delay help for New Hanover County Schools.

“It’s a delay, it’s a stall, and I’m so disappointed in those other commissioners,” Boseman said. “If something happens because of them, it’s just disappointing.”

Sending an email to the other commissioners this afternoon, Boseman wrote:

Jonathan, Rob and Deb,
I have never been more disappointed in the three of you than I am today. You blinked. Any violence that occurs in the community based on y’all’s vote today is on you.

The three-year plan would coordinate community care and support services, enhance monitoring and reporting, eliminate educational barriers, and improve safety in school facilities.

Commissioner Zapple likened the plan to a personalized version of Durham’s Bull City United program, which cut Durham’s gun violence in half.

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