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County's Draft Plan For $45.4M In Federal Funds Includes Businesses, Economic Development

By Cece Nunn, posted Mar 31, 2021

New Hanover County is expected to receive an estimated $45.4 million from the American Rescue Plan signed into law this month by President Joe Biden, and some of that money could go toward economic development efforts and aid to businesses.

According to a draft framework county officials have put together for how to use the federal funds, nearly $4 million could be set aside for businesses, nonprofits and employment assistance.

The target active date for the initial spending in the proposal would be sometime in the first week or two of July, but that could change and those details would still have to be worked out, said County Manager Chris Coudriet on Wednesday. Getting money into the marketplace as quickly as possible, while reserving enough funds for unexpected expenses, is a priority, he said.

The funds have to be spent by Dec. 31, 2024, according to county officials. The largest category of funding -- $12.3 million -- is proposed to go to infrastructure and emergency management uses. Another $3.2 million is being considered for reimbursing sales tax revenue that didn't meet projections, and nearly $6.2 million in bonuses for county employees who worked during the pandemic and on vaccine response.

The proposal is included in the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners’ agenda documents for its April 5 meeting. In addition to responding to commissioners' input, the plan could change based on the final guidance the county receives from the federal government.

Addressing the business category, the draft plan stated, “New Hanover County’s leisure and hospitality sectors were particularly hard hit during the pandemic." As a result, nearly $4 million of the funding could be spent in the following ways:

  • $2.5 million for business grants, "scaled in size based on number of employees, focused on the retail, service, leisure and hospitality sectors and child care facilities."
  • $700,000 in grants to nonprofits "that have been negatively impacted and were not able to continue operations at some point during the pandemic."
  • $650,000 for two jobs programs, "to be administered in partnership with Step Up Wilmington, to include a six-week paid job training and placement program for 100 people, and a six-month paid internship and job placement for an additional 10 to 20 people to develop long-term skills and employment."
Coudriet said of the category Wednesday, "We can’t solve every problem that business has faced but we can certainly do our best to help put cash in the market to help them solve some of the problems that they’ve been facing."

Awarding the grants would likely involve some kind of lottery system, Coudriet said, but that's another decision yet to be made and will include the input of community partners.

In the realm of infrastructure, the American Rescue Plan allows some of the funds to be used for water and sewer projects, according to the county. Along those lines, the county proposes to use part of the funds for the following: 

  • A little over $4.1 million "to cover and pay for stormwater utility costs in the unincorporated county for all users for fiscal year 2021-22, to ease the burden of a new fee on residents but still provide this needed service," according to the draft plan.
  • About $4 million for water and sewer extensions for Sidbury Road “to ensure access to these vital services, aid in responsible growth and support the creation of affordable housing in northern New Hanover County. The intention is to lower development costs to provide affordable housing,” the draft stated. 
  • $3.6 million for the county-owned, 120-acre Blue Clay Business Park, which is currenlty undeveloped. The money would extend water and sewer infrastructure "to increase economic development opportunities in the area."

The framework also describes a more than $5.7 million program “to connect around 8,000 homes to broadband, focusing on households with children who qualify for Medicaid or Food and Nutrition benefits, for two years in order to increase access and affordability to reliable high-speed internet for students and families.”

The full draft plan is included in the agenda documents for Monday’s Board of Commissioners meeting, which starts at 4 p.m. at the New Hanover County Historic Courthouse, 24 N. Third St., Wilmington.

Correction: This version has been altered to reflect the correct total of the estimtated American Rescue Plan funding that could be coming to New Hanover County.

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