09/07/12 — Council denies two cafe permits

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Council denies two cafe permits

By Ty Johnson
Published in News on September 7, 2012 1:46 PM

The Goldsboro City Council denied two requests concerning Internet cafes at its Tuesday meeting while approving a slate of measures by consent, including the awarding of four downtown business incentive grants in the amount of $4,800 each.

A conditional use permit for a gaming establishment on at the northwest corner of the North William Street and Hooks River Road intersection and a rezoning request for the northwest corner of the South Berkeley Boulevard and East Elm Street intersection were denied by the council due to setback and parking requirements for Internet cafes that the requests violated.

In other business, the Downtown Goldsboro Development Corp. had its request for the council to fund two additional business incentive grants approved, with Director Julie Metz explaining during the council work session that the grants are one of downtown's best recruiting tools.

The grants came under fire during the public comment period ahead of the council vote with Bob Jackson expressing concern with the city giving taxpayer money to private businesses.

"When we do a grant, where does the money come from?" Jackson, the chairman of the Wayne County Republican Party asked. "If it's the taxpayer's money, I would hope we would not be in the business of picking winners and losers in businesses."

The business incentive grant program was first funded in November 2008 with money out of the General Fund. New and existing businesses that intend to open up downtown can apply for the grants, which pay $400 monthly for a year beginning after the business has been operating for six months.

After a preapplication process which prioritizes certain businesses for the grants, finalists are evaluated by members of the Downtown Goldsboro Development Corp. Economic Structuring Committee. The committee then awards the grants to the selected businesses.

The program has since shifted to use only money out of the Municipal Service District fund, a fund built from extra tax on properties downtown.

This year there were seven preapplications which were whittled down to five finalists. Four applied for the grants and were all recommended for approval, although only two were fully funded. Those went to The Laughing Owl restaurant and Thistle Bee Quilt Shoppe.

The council Tuesday night was being asked to appropriate an additional $9,600 from the MSD fund to award two additional grants to Central Lunch restaurant and For the Birds, an art-based business.

Jackson, however, was taking issue with the awarding of public funds to businesses at all, saying he didn't believe the city could "buy jobs" through the grants, and pointed out that the city doesn't make the same offer to existing businesses that may be finding it hard to get by.

In fact, there is a grant program for existing businesses, one the Wayne County GOP benefited from in 2001 when it was awarded a facade grant in the amount of $1,319.70.

While the business incentive grants are reserved only for new businesses or existing businesses downtown, the facade grant program reimburses property owners for 50 percent of the money spent on improvements to facades of buildings within the MSD. An older program, Ms. Metz said Thursday it has been funded from MSD funds from its beginning.

Jackson then reused rhetoric he shared with the council at the Aug. 20 meeting, complaining about the city's decision to not lower the tax rate in advance of the 2011-12 budget.

The council determined in June 2011 to leave the rate at 0.65, despite property revaluations that would have allowed the city to collect the same amount of revenue as 2010-11 at a rate of 0.5942.

Jackson said that making conditions better in Goldsboro through lower taxes would bring about more businesses, noting that he believed fewer businesses had come to Goldsboro due to high taxes.

"I believe when we extend our finances to businesses like this, we are shortchanging someone else," he said, adding that, if no one else, the grants were shortchanging taxpayers.

Jackson could not be reached for comment at GOP Headquarters Thursday afternoon or this morning.