The Cumberland County Business Council and the Fayetteville Area System of Transit dominated much of the discussion in the first of the Fayetteville City Council’s budget workshops on Thursday, May 15.
Annually, once the proposed budget has been presented, the council meets in a series of workshops to tweak the budget. The council uses these workshops to ask questions concerning budgeted items and funding sites, as well as to put more things in the budget and take things out. City Manager Dale Iman explained to the council that they would put items in either a “wish” column denoting items the council wanted to restore or put into the budget and a “hit” list, which indicated what programs would lose money to fund the new request. {mosimage}
    The council also received answers to a list of preliminary questions they had concerning the budget. At each budget workshop, the city staff will have responses to questions brought up in the previous meetings. One of the most debated questions of the evening concerned the city’s contract with the CCBC. The CCBC was formed in 2003 to bring the county’s fragmented economic development efforts under one organization. The CCBC receives funding from the city and the county to conduct economic development for both entities.
    In the Fiscal Year 2008-2009 proposed budget, the city has allocated $415,000 to the CCBC for the provision of the following services: maintaining an inventory of properties to market to new businesses, including office and industrial space; recruiting new businesses, with an emphasis on companies dealing in the realm of defense, automotive, biotech and pharmaceutical ; supporting existing industries; allocating grants through the Women’s Center; and creating a career/workforce development plan.
    Members of the council felt that the CCBC had not been held accountable in the past. Mayor Tony Chavonne noted that in some of the areas the city contracts with the CCBC to perform it is hard to measure success, but felt that the council was looking for greater accountability.
    Councilman D.J. Haire questioned whether any of the money given to the CCBC by the city was going to salaries. Iman noted that the city contracts the services of the CCBC and as such, they do not have oversight on the CCBC budget. He added that the CCBC has been without leadership for the past several months and that the upcoming months would prove critical to its performance. Iman said the ultimate goal of the city’s participation with the CBCC was to grow the tax base.
    Councilman Charles Evans asked whether or not the city could require the organization to provide a list of projects they are working on and how it benefits the city. “They are supposed to create employment situations. I would like to know in the last three to five years what businesses have come to the city because of them,” he said. “We have no jobs — Fayetteville is not being sold too well out and abroad.”
Iman concurred that the CCBC has not had a lot of success in attracting jobs to the county noting that the major stumbling block has been the work force and work force development needed to recruit the jobs the county would like to have.”
    Councilman Keith Bates noted that several industries that the county was vying for had recently gone to other areas – one to Asheville and one to Bladen County. He cited a recent study that indicated that Fayetteville did not have employees who were willing to work in those kinds of industries. As of March 2008, the Fayetteville Metropolitan Area had a work force of 146,687 according to the state’s Civilian Labor Force Estimates. Of that number, 137,718 people were gainfully employed, leaving the area with a 5.4 percent unemployment rate. The statewide rate is 5.2 percent.
    Chavonne added that Cumberland County does not receive as many state incentives to attract industry as do other areas with lower wealth. He said it makes it harder for the county to compete for industry.
Councilman Bill Crisp called the CCBC a “failure.” “We don’t need to look back over the past three to five years,” he said. “What’s critical is this year and the next year. We need an overview of what they are doing because of BRAC. We’ve seen industry get out of here and we need to get industry in here,” said Crisp.
Haire questioned whether the city could allocate funds to the CCBC on a benchmark basis meaning the funds would flow to the organization as they meet certain goals set by the city. Crisp countered that economic development was an “imperfect” thing, and that the council should give them the money, but then see what they do with it.
    Bates requested the city make it a stipulation that the organization give the council a quarterly report on its economic development activities.
    Councilman Bobby Hurst, who is the council’s liaison to the CCBC, said that the organization has already agreed to keep the council more firmly in the loop with quarterly reports.
    The FAST system also had its share of discussion at the meeting. At issue was a motion by Council Ted Mohn in an earlier meeting to add an additional $100,000 to the transit system’s budget. In developing the proposed budget, Iman and his staff added $100,000 to the proposed budget. Mohn maintains that his motion was meant to add an additional $100,000 to the current year’s expenditures. Chavonne noted that he had written the motion, which Mohn read in the council meeting and that it was to add the funds to the current year’s expenditures. The meeting’s minutes reflect the budget allocation. The difference in the motion has the council and city staff looking for an additional $122,000 for the system. That would up the city’s annual contribution to the system to more than $2 million dollars.
    The city staff budgeted $1.8 million from the general fund for the system; the additional $100,000 would bring the budgeted amount to $1.9. The current year’s expected operating expense from the general fund is in excess of $1.9 million.
    Council members put the extra $122,000 on the wish list, with the suggestions that a $100,000 allocation to GoodYear as part of an incentive program be used to fund the difference. GoodYear must meet several benchmarks before it receives the funding from both the city and the county. It appears that the company will be unable to meet the infrastructure improvements in the plant that would qualify it for the funding this year. Iman said that would allow the city to use the money this year for the bus system but they would not be covered in the coming budget years.
    Mohn suggested council members give up the proposed pay raise to raise another $10,000 for the transit system funding. No action was taken.

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