Budget Meeting Backlash

Published in encore magazine, May 23, 2017

“One guy said, ‘You probably don’t give a crap what my opinion is…,’” Commissioner Skip Watkins said over the phone, as he quoted a recent voicemail from a constituent.

The constituent called in regards to changing the public comment period for the recent budget cuts reflected in New Hanover County’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2017-18.

“Close to the end, he used a derogatory term, and I’m thinking, You didn’t want to accomplish anything; you just wanted to blow off steam. . . . But most people have been very cordial and have gotten responses [from me].”

When NHC’s 2017-18 budget proposal was presented at the County Commissioners meeting on May 1, county manager Chris Coudriet reviewed how all funds, totaling $367.2 million (1.7 percent increase from 2016-17 revised budget), could be spent.

As of May 10 changes introduced to the board would include $135,000 cuts to 10 agencies, including Wilmington’s Residential Adolescent Achievement Place (WRAAP), which stands to lose $10,000, and $40,000 from Wilmington Downtown Inc. (All changes can be found at http://www.nhcgov.com/administration/budget.) While the cuts are concerning for the agencies and citizens who support them, another issue looms over this year’s process and board: A public notice was posted on NHC’s website on May 16 stating the June 2017 meeting schedule for the Board of Commissioners had been changed, as requested on May 15 by a commissioner for personal circumstances. They canceled the regularly scheduled board meeting for Monday, June 5, at 4 p.m. which was reserved to include a public hearing of the recommended budget comment period. Now, everything will be held on Monday, June 19, at 4 p.m., in the Assembly Room of the New Hanover County Courthouse: the budget meeting and the public comment section, immediately followed by a vote to adopt.

Rob Zapple said he first learned about the change of plans the day it happened.  “I was surprised,” he told encore. “The problem of compressing everything into one day on June 19 is the public hearing follows immediately and then the vote. So, any additional written material will be impossible to be read or absorbed prior to taking the actual vote.”

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