City targets money-building options

by Sarah Melton

The Mount Holly City Council and Economic Development Committee met to discuss options to improve the city’s downtown through a business incentive program.

“We, as a city, have spent hours talking about, listening to it,” said Mayor Bryan Hough. “The next step we need to take is how do we use our resources to help people get here. How do we get them to our downtown? How do we help our merchants already there? How do we make use of our downtown and get new people there?”

The city council has set $200,000 aside for economic development over the past few years, but no discussions have occurred regarding what the money will be used for. In its May 17 meeting, the city council and Economic Development Committee tried to pin down how to use that money.

City senior planner Greg Beal had a few options to explore. The city could establish a Life Safety Grant to help alleviate some of the hardships faced by developers when trying to meet building and fire codes.

Beal also said the city could re-evaluate its fees for the installation of taps and meters. The city won’t install taps over 2 inches, but the charge is $3,000 for a 2-inch tap inside city limits. Meter setting fees range from $300 to $700.

“A lot of people say, ‘Why don’t we have more places to eat?’ and you know what I hear back?” Hough said. “’I got to spend X amount to get in there. That is taking all my capital to run my business. That is taking all my money when I walk in the door because the buildings don’t have sprinkler systems or hood systems.’”

Beal said that incentives should only be given to retail or service-oriented businesses that will increase the use and occupancy of downtown. Most towns don’t give incentives to civic groups, nonprofits or churches because while very important to the community, they do little for the commercial tax base, he said.

Councilman Jim Hope said the citizens of Mount Holly are “the base of our revenue.”

“I think we need to look for reasons to make it happen,” he said. “Now is the time to swing. Now is the time to hit this home run.”

Councilman Jerry Bishop agreed to putting money aside for an incentive program, but said there may be some years where the city has no extra money to give or might be unable to give the same amount as previous years.

“This city is very fortunate to have the leadership it has had over the past several years,” he said. “Our staff has been very frugal.”

City staff and the Economic Development Committee could handle the incentive program application, but the final decision would come from the city council. For any incentive program to be successful, all parties involved must work as a team, Beal said.

“The successful towns we looked at all had partnerships involved,” he said. “It wasn’t the city doing everything. It wasn’t economic development doing everything. It was everyone working hand-in-hand and I think that’s important.”

Beal will present different options for the incentive grant to the council at its June 13 meeting.

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