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Group to tour service districts around the state

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The task force charged with determining the feasibility of a Municipal Service District in downtown Wilmington will embark on an overnight field trip to Winston-Salem, Durham and Raleigh to study the MSDs in those cities Jan. 26-27.

Ed Wolverton, Wilmington Downtown Inc. executive director and MSD task force member, said task force members, elected officials, and interested downtown residents and business owners are invited. The purpose of the trip will be to learn from nearby municipalities about MSDs and how they function. Wolverton said the three cities were selected from a number of cities within North Carolina with MSDs.

“Durham and Winston-Salem were selected because they just recently created districts … so they seem to be two naturals for us to talk to,” Wolverton said. “Raleigh’s has been in place for  a while but a couple of the task force members are very aware of what they are doing so it made sense to talk to them as well.”

Municipal Service Districts are districts created within a municipality around a geographical area that share a need for supplementary services like enhanced security, landscaping, public facilities, and ordinance enforcement, outside that which the municipality can provide. MSDs usually rely on additional property taxes to fund the supplementary services.

During the trip Wolverton said the group would learn why the MSDs were founded, how they operate and the services they provide. Although downtown Wilmington may not compare in size to the three cities selected, Wolverton said the services provided in those MSDs are similar to the services outlined as the most desired by those who responded to the task force’s recent survey of downtown stakeholders.

“In looking at the service needs that emerged from the survey we did last month each one of these cities is providing some combination of those services,” he said. “It is great for the task force members to see the ability of these districts to be so flexible in implementing programs that help the business owners and residents in these districts.”

So far Wolverton said the reaction to the prospect of creating an MSD in downtown Wilmington has been as he expected given the additional property tax the MSD would require.

“What I am finding is there is a certain core group of people that, no matter what, they are always going to be pretty strongly opposed to any kind of increases,” Wolverton said. “Then there is another group of business owners that understands they get a much more direct benefit from this because the programs can be targeted for them.”

Wolverton said the downtown residents have been more skeptical of the benefits of an MSD so far.

Following the field trip Wolverton said the task force would be working to establish the exact outline of where the MSD map would be drawn, what services would be provided and the organizational management of the MSD.

Another public meeting about the MSD will be held March 12 and the task force has been asked to present Wilmington City Council with its findings by May 1.

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