D’town utility incentives revised, scaled back

By Chris Berendt

July 6, 2014

The Downtown Utilities Incentive Program has been tweaked to offer lump sum payments, rather than monthly installments, to new, eligible businesses that have been located in the heart of Clinton for a year’s time.

Having received approval for the program from City Council in May, the city’s planning staff has revised the program by outlining available incentive amounts for that 12-month time frame for specific types of businesses. Those revisions were considered and unanimously approved by Council at its meeting earlier this week.

The purpose of the utilities incentive program is to encourage and draw new business into downtown Clinton. As part of the program, the city would reimburse tenants for their first year’s utility costs, a groundbreaking program among the N.C. Main Street communities, of which Clinton is one.

Clinton-Sampson Planning director and Main Street director Mary Rose proposed the program to Council members earlier this year, and Council approved moving forward with the endeavor in May.

The program will reimburse a new or relocated business to the downtown for all water and sewer expenses for their first year of operation. The stipulation for receiving the money back would be that the owner or tenant would have to provide city staff with a business plan and a lease that is at least one year in length.

“You would pay your water and sewer bill for the first year,” Rose pointed out, “and at the end of that year, if you’re still there and you have met all the requirements, we will grant you back your water and sewer bill for the year.”

The Economic Restructuring Committee will review all applicants and participants to ensure requirements are followed. Initially, Rose said reimbursements would be granted for up to $200 a month throughout the year, meaning the grant could be as high as $2,400.

With this week’s approved revisions, the reimbursement process has been modified and set payment figures attached that are not as high as previously targeted.

The city will issue a one-time disbursal to eligible businesses. That disbursal will be made after one full year of operation, and upon confirmation from utility billing of payments being made in full.

Specific amendments to the program are the available incentive amounts themselves. According to the revisions, restaurants, believed to be on the high end of utilities expenses among businesses, will be eligible for $1,200, or $100 a month; retail for $600, or $50 per month; professional office/service at $360, or $30 per month; and all other permitted uses at $360, or $30 per month.

Planner Lyden Williams said the revision was to help with administration of the program.

“We ran into some problems crticially thinking about how we would make this program work,” Williams said. “It will be one lump sum payment made after a year of operation rather than monthly payments. These numbers were arrived at by averaging existing businesses in the downtown and their monthly water and sewer bills.”

Council unanimously adopted the amendment.

Before being deemed eligible, businesses must first present to city officials a business plan and evidence of their one-year stay.

“We do think that by requiring a business plan it ensures that people have taken time to think about it. And we require them to be there for a year,” Rose has said. “If you’re there for six months, I’m sorry.”

For more information on the program, contact the Clinton-Sampson Planning Department at 299-4904.

Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121. Follow us on twitter @SampsonInd.