GARLAND — Town leaders extended a contract Monday for its NC STEP program, which will be used to help with community projects until the end of the year.
During a special meeting, Garland Mayor Winifred Murphy presented a request to continue a contract to Dec. 31, which was later approved by her colleagues on the Garland Board of Commissioners. This means that NC STEP (North Carolina Small Town Economic Prosperity) will be allowed to spend more than $2,000 left in the pot, due to facade grants not being used, because business owners did not take advantage of the program.
“We were dependent on business owners and contractors,” Murphy said. “At the end of October, the majority of the money was left in that line item.”
Murphy said they would like to have the projects completed by the end of November and believed that business owners would not have enough time to finish facade improvements.
Therefore, a couple of the new uses will include trash receptacles for Front Street and for artist Robert Hall to place the town seal on a mural, next to the Sampson County Sheriff’s Annex, near Rotary Park.
“It would be horrible if we got to the end and not finished what we started,” Murphy said.
NC STEP was developed by the NC Rural Center and the Department of Commerce to help towns facing economic hardships. Murphy said Garland was one of 11 applicants selected for the program. More than 30 towns applied.
“They chose Garland because they felt like we were in desperate need and we still are,” Murphy said. “This was just the icing on the cake because there’s so much more to do.”
Prior to Monday, commissioners made a decision not to extend the contract because they were unsure of how the money was being spent. The action resulted in the meeting and Murphy giving a rundown of what NC STEP did for the town. In an email to town officials, George T. Collier, a program manager for the North Carolina Department of Commerce, urged the town to review their current contract.
Following the meeting, Murphy had only several hours to submit the extension since Monday, Nov. 16, was the last day to submit the information. Financial revisions were sent to state officials, which including moving money from one pot to another. Monday was the last day that Collier could accept the budget amendment requests. Prior to the meeting, he thanked the town for their work through the program.
“Your activities have been unique and I know they are very special to your towns,” stated Collier. “We commend the efforts that you have put into each of your NC STEP projects and want to see full completion of those projects.”
Garland began working with the program and its coach in 2012 to create a long-term economic development strategic plan and implementation for it. A leadership team developed three strategies to improve the town. The strategies included business support; property improvement and management support; and investment and resident attraction. Overall, Murphy indicated that NC STEP was a lot of work, which required accuracy when submitting information to state officials.
“We had to make sure everything was right, even the little bitty receipts,” Murphy said.
Through the work of NC STEP, residents and nearby Sampson County residents were able to enjoy events such as Easter egg hunts, Halloween gatherings and Christmas festivities. The look of the town improved as well through projects such as the mural and tree planting, which was supplied through a partnership with Lowe’s Home Improvement.
According to the 2015-2016 budget message, Garland received $100,000 through NC STEP.
“I feel that it’s in the best interest of the town to fully utilize the finds that were allocated to us,” Murphy said.
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.