Havelock commissioners balked at the idea of spending $25,000 up front to participate in a joint economic development organization with Craven County during their meeting on Tuesday.
“It’s not a lot of money, but it’s still money,” Havelock City Manager Frank Bottorff said.
Timothy Downs, director of economic development for the county, said the organization would have 21 members, including three from Havelock, three from New Bern and four from the county. The other 11 would be from the private sector.
The mission of the group would be to develop a plan to attract businesses to the area and create jobs.
In the past, Havelock commissioners have spent $30,000 with the firm Davenport Lawrence to develop its own economic plan, mainly as a way to diversify the economy should Cherry Point downsize and to attract other businesses to the area.
Downs said the benefit of a single economic development entity in the county would breed trust and credibility with the community, have greater flexibility and demonstrate unity between the areas involved.
While generally supportive of the concept, commissioners questioned a proposed funding structure that would require the city to pony up $25,000 as an initial buy-in on top of the $11,250 annual contribution.
“Why hit us up front?” Mayor Will Lewis asked Downs and New Bern businessman Owen Andrews during their presentation.
“What do you get from the buy-in? The perception of the citizens,” Andrews said. “People want to know that the city of Havelock is committed to this. Otherwise, it won’t work. It shows that we have the city behind us.”
Commissioner Danny Walsh asked about up-front costs for other cities such as Vanceboro and Cove City, where more land would be available for large businesses.
“Other communities are going to benefit,” Commissioner George Liner said. “They’ve got the land. We’ve got 43 acres unless we tear down some of the old buildings.”
Liner pointed out that the money contributed to the Economic Development Organization from Craven County came in part from Havelock residents and Cherry Point workers already.
“To say that we don’t have buy-in is wrong,” Liner said. “It’s not Craven County’s money. It’s our money, too.”
The $25,000 would be equivalent to a penny added to the property tax rate in Havelock.
“For a penny from Havelock is significantly different than a penny from New Bern,” Bottorff said, comparing the difference in size and tax base between the two cities.
Liner came right out and said that he didn’t trust Craven County.
“There is a lack-of-trust factor that has to go away,” Andrews responded.
Commissioners did say the benefit of the organization would be that the city would not have to pay for its own economic developers.
“There’s cuts that could be made and it could be Davenport (Lawrence) and the lobbyist,” said Commissioner Jim Stuart. “Just for two or three years to see how things go.”
“I think economic development is a huge piece for this area and we’re going to have to have something to bring jobs and to bring businesses to Havelock,” Commissioner Brenda Wilson said.
Liner wasn’t convinced.
“As far as I’m concerned, there’s a lot of work that has to be done,” he said.
Lewis proposed that two commissioners and Bottorff meet further with Downs and representatives from Craven County to hammer out an agreeable arrangement.
“I don’t want a number to be what keeps this from happening,” Downs said.