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City Officials To Vote On WDI's Role In New Downtown Tax District

By Cece Nunn, posted Jun 2, 2017
Wilmington Downtown Inc. is the only organization in the running to provide extra services in a special downtown tax district that city officials established in December.

The district is expected to generate $377,000 to go toward services in the city's new Municipal Services District (MSD) -- $107,000 more than anticipated because of the latest New Hanover County tax revaluation.

The Wilmington City Council's meeting agenda for Tuesday includes a public hearing and two votes related to awarding the MSD contract to WDI, the only entity to respond to the city's request for proposals, according to city officials. The district will be implemented July 1.

Those within the MSD, owners of property in downtown's Central Business District, will pay an additional tax of 7 cents per $100 in property value in exchange for additional services that aim to improve safety and cleanliness and enhance economic development and marketing efforts in the area.
 
Ed Wolverton, president and CEO of WDI, said Friday that there are a number of reasons why WDI would be well-suited for the job.

"One is that we have been an organization dedicated to improving downtown for over 35 years. We already have a very large and representative group of stakeholders that are part of our board of directors – 37 members. We also have four committees that include additional people with an interest in downtown, which is about another 50 people or so," Wolverton said.

WDI has existing relationships with governmental entities, from the police department to city landscaping, he said.

"Those relationships already exist so we’re able to quickly position our services to enhance what the city’s already doing," Wolverton said. "And lastly, from a staff perspective, I have directly managed two MSDs and was an associate director for an organization that had three MSDs. I’ve got experience with managing and directing these types of services and programs."

In addition to the RFP for service providers, the city has been working on establishing an MSD advisory panel, and most of the panel's members were officially appointed in May. The panel can provide suggestions, but the City Council has the ultimate say in how the MSD money is spent.

Under the proposal, 15 percent of the MSD's budget would be used by WDI for administrative overhead costs, according to city documents.

Meanwhile, WDI overall could be facing a potential funding shortfall next fiscal year of about 10 percent less than its current budget of nearly $420,000, if proposed cuts to New Hanover County's budget end up in the final spending plan. Wolverton said the MSD contract, if approved, would not make up the difference.

"Essentially the whole purpose of the MSD [based on state legislation] is to provide services above and beyond what's already being provided. So it's not intended to become a funding source for the city or the county to shift things that they were currently doing, to shift those costs to the MSD," Wolverton said Friday. "Again, the MSD is supposed to be above and beyond what's [already] being done."

Whatever happens with the county's budget, Monday's city votes could be a major step forward for an MSD whose roots can be traced to the Vision 2020 plan that city officials adopted in 2004.

If the City Council awards the contracts to WDI, the organization can then enter into a contract with California-based Allied Universal Security Services for the enhanced safety and security elements of the MSD plan, including at least five full-time equivalent positions for workers to serve as "Downtown Ambassadors." The ambassadors would work every day and some holidays to provide safety and cleaning services, the proposal says.

Other services the MSD would aim to provide could get started even sooner than the ambassadors program, such as increased marketing and economic development efforts and physical improvements.

"Some of that's going to get underway almost immediately, working through our committees to identify specific opportunities," Wolverton said Friday.

In October last year, Wilmington Chamber of Commerce officials said in a statement that they support WDI managing the MSD. In agenda documents for next week's meeting, City Manager Sterling Cheatham said passage is recommended of the budget ordinance and resolution to award the MSD contracts to WDI.

Wilmington City Council is scheduled to meet at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.
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