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Local Government Roundup - May 17, 2024

New Bern

At its April 9 meeting, the Board of Aldermen allocated $120,000 of American Rescue Plan Funds to construct a public fishing pier at the end of Broad Street in Downtown. According to the city, the total cost of the 225-foot pier would be $300,000, with additional costs for a parking lot. With just some administrative paperwork before the County Board of Commissioners left, the project is anticipated to begin in late Summer.

The newly minted Municipal Service District Advisory Commission has been active in its first year. The commission asked the Board of Aldermen at its April 9 meeting to reallocate $90,000 of MSD funds for repairs at the farmer's market on South Front Street. The building has experienced decades of wear and tear, according to a letter from the city's director of finance, Kim Ostrom. The request was passed unanimously and will go toward repairing gutters, garage doors, and restrooms.

New Bern considered changing the timing of its municipal elections. Currently, the city hosts elections every four years in odd-numbered years, per its charter. In a presentation to the board, City Manager Foster Hughes said switching to odd years could save money by offloading costs to the county elections board. All municipalities in Craven County run nonpartisan plurality elections, where the candidate with the most votes wins, except New Bern, which requires a candidate to gain a majority of voters and often requires an additional runoff election. If unchanged, the estimated cost for the 2025 election is $95,100, potential runoffs included.

Discussion of election changes highlighted a split among the board. Alderman Bob Brinson requested the presentation and argued for a change to even years, saying it’s the fiscally conservative thing to do. Aldermen Barbara Best, Hazel Royal, and Rick Prill did not see a compelling interest in changing the timing of elections but did seem open to adopting the plurality election that would not require an additional runoff election. However, Mayor Jeffrey Odham opposed adopting the plurality system, citing that he would not have won his previous elections for Ward 6 and mayor if it had not required a runoff. Ultimately, Alderman Johnnie Ray Kinsey made a motion to maintain the current system, which carried 5-2, with Odham and Brinson in the minority.

In May, the board took up several large items, including a presentation on next year's budget. The first big item was a $2.2 million loan from JP Morgan Chase for the purchase of 212 Kale Road. The city is looking to use the site as an "Electric operations building and improvements." The loan term is 15 years with a 4.21% interest rate. Final approval on the loan is set for May 28. The next items were approving projects to repair drainage systems damaged by Hurricane Florence. The board approved $1.2 million worth of contracts to improve stormwater systems throughout the Jack Smith Creek and Trent River drainage basins, which encompass from Downtown to the MLK-U.S.70 interchange and much of northwest New Bern. Many repairs listed require work in residential neighborhoods and along major roadways.

Lastly, the aldermen heard the first presentation of next year's budget, which was published online Wednesday. Takeaways include a 3-cent increase to the ad valorem tax — that is, property and sales taxes — and a near doubling of debt obligations since 2022 to pay for the Stanley White Recreation Center, as well as water and sewer projects. Budget workshops where the city's finance director will go into more detail are scheduled for May 21 and 22.


Early in April, the Greenville City Council continued its look at banning crypto mining facilities. At previous workshops and meetings, city officials weighed the legality of a ban and the effects different policies could have on other data-processing centers (sites that store lots of computers to handle things like bank transactions, cloud computing and health data, to name a few examples). The central question among council members was whether the likelihood of another crypto mining company entering the city is large enough to outweigh potential lawsuits and likely restrict other types of data processing centers. On April 9, the council heard a proposal from its planning department that would increase the separation distance of such centers from houses and schools from 2,500 ft to 3,000 ft. The proposal would also delete the option for modular facilities, or sites where the building is not constructed on site. The council unanimously decided to send the proposal back to the department with directives to increase the distance requirement to 3,400 ft, remove the modular facility option, and impose operating hours and decibel requirements.

Also at its April 9 meeting, the council extended its agreement with the Little League Softball World Series through 2027. The decision comes as city officials are doubling down on "sports tourism" as a strategy for economic growth. Earlier that day the council heard a presentation on a desired sports complex. It’s the second such presentation from the consultancy firm Victus Advisors. Last time, Victus recommended constructing a modern softball/baseball complex and the board requested they come back with an analysis of adding soccer/lacrosse fields to the proposal.

Importantly, the new presentation showed a net operating gain for the city. That forecast differs from Victus' earlier one, which showed the operating at a loss each year. What changed in the new presentation are reduced salaries for Parks employees to be more in line with the department's recommendations and an additional "$5 tournament parking fee" that is estimated to rake in more than $500,000 a year. Without the parking fee, the complex would operate at a loss, according to Victus' presentation, though revenue from hotel stays and sales taxes are not included in that chart. The likely next stage is the creation of a task force to explore the issue further.

At its first meeting of the month, the city council heard the first presentation of the 2024-25 proposed budget. The presentation did not mention taxes and whether they'd change. The proposal did show an increase in city-managed funds by $15 million, for a total of $175 million.

Lastly, the Greenville City Council approved its portion of "Project Gen," an economic partnership between the city, county, state and local nonprofits to attract a solar panel manufacturer to Pitt County. Last month, the Vietnamese company Boviet Solar selected Greenville as the site for its second manufacturing facility after touring more than 60 other locations nationwide. In a statement, CEO Jimmy Xie said it was an easy choice given the site's proximity to ECU and Pitt Community College. Also sweetening the deal is more the $44 million in tax incentives and grants from state, county and city governments.


In the last roundup, PRE reported the City of Jacksonville was looking to impose further regulations on tobacco and vape shops. Since then, city officials have approved new restrictions on where such shops can be located and law enforcement has begun cracking down on businesses. The Onslow County Sheriff's Department announced it's investigating more than 70 shops, alongside Jacksonville PD and Naval Criminal Investigative Service. Called "Operation Vapor Trail," the crackdown focuses on the illicit trade of controlled substances and tobacco products from vape stores and has led to arrests and charges, according to a WITN report.

At its April 2 meeting, the council authorized the upset bid process for the sale of 18.5 acres in the Jacksonville Industrial Park to SunCap Property Group. Details on SunCap's project were scant from Transportation Director Anthony Prinz, who cited disclosure agreements. What he did share was that SunCap plans to construct a large building on site with a parking lot and that there'd be an "operational fleet." SunCap is a commercial real estate developer that specializes in industrial warehouses and distribution facilities and has developed properties for FedEx, Amazon, and Frito-Lay.

Jacksonville started its budget process at its April 16 meeting. Topline figures are that the city's tax rate would remain at 60 cents per $100, a $4 increase to the recycling and residential sanitation rate, a marked drop in capital expenditures, and an increase of 5% to city salaries.


The City of Goldsboro is moving forward with PFAS testing and possibly solutions if levels are above newly enacted EPA regulations. At its April 15 meeting, the council granted the firm CDM Smith the authority to act on the city's behalf to pursue grant funding and conduct pilot testing. PFAS is a class of industrial chemicals known as "forever chemicals" because of their durability and long lifespans. The chemicals are used in many water- and fire-proof products and have been linked to various negative health outcomes.


Kinston is the latest city in Eastern North Carolina to adopt a social district downtown, where people can carry and drink alcohol freely. The council quickly and unanimously passed the ordinance so it could promptly go before the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission for final approval. There was not much discussion when the measure passed in April, but council members spoke at length on the measure at its March 19 meeting.

Kinston's Planning Director Elizabeth Blount said, "When I grew up in Kinston, it was called Magic Mile. I want us to reignite the magic of downtown."

The district will consist of a six-block area of downtown, bordered by Queen Street, Gordon Avenue, Mitchell Avenue and Peyton Avenue. If approved by the ABC Commission, the proposal could go into effect as early as July 3rd, and Kinston will join Greenville, Washington, Wilson and Goldsboro as one of the handful of cities in ENC with a social district.

Ryan is an Arkansas native and podcast junkie. He was first introduced to public radio during an internship with his hometown NPR station, KUAF. Ryan is a graduate of Tufts University in Somerville, Mass., where he studied political science and led the Tufts Daily, the nation’s smallest independent daily college newspaper. In his spare time, Ryan likes to embroider, attend musicals, and spend time with his fiancée.