The county commissioners on Tuesday changed course on funding for the Pantheon Business Theater project.
After hearing considerable opposition from the public over the past several weeks, and taking their own opinions into consideration, too, the commissioners decided to pursue using Economic Development Income Tax funds for the proposed project.
“I made a promise to a lot of people that I'd listen, and I have been listening,” commission president Kellie Streeter said. “And it's pretty clear … that Rainy Day is not the preferred funding mechanism.
“That's really the big problem I hear.”
Streeter added she did agree it wasn't the correct source, and proposed amending the previous plan passed on June 19 to state EDIT funds should be used as the county's share of the cost of the project.
During their June meeting, the commissioners considered a proposal from the county council to pay for the project — which seeks to transform the historic theater at 428 Main St. into a co-working space and small business incubator — over the course of several years by utilizing, in part, funds from the county's annual payment from Duke Energy, which amounts to about $400,000 a year through December 2025.
Those funds are deposited directly into the Rainy Day Fund.
But Streeter and Trent Hinkle took issue with that plan and stood behind an alternate funding proposal, presented by Streeter, that stated the county's share of the roughly $2.5 million project — about $1.2 million — should come from state grants first, if the county is successful in receiving any, with the remainder to come from the Rainy Day Fund.
While their resolution didn't include any reference to the Duke payment, it still sparked a heated discussion involving members of the public, who voiced their opposition to the Rainy Day Fund being used at all, since the Duke money was “lumped in” with the Rainy Day money.
But in the days following that June 19 meeting, Streeter clarified there was no Duke money in the Rainy Day Fund at all; while it is first transferred into that fund, it's immediately transferred out, per a resolution passed by the county council, and put into the General Fund.
In the end, the commissioners' amended proposal was passed on first reading on a 2-1 vote at the June 19 meeting, with commissioner Tim Ellerman opposing due to his objections with using Rainy Day funds.
But before commissioners officially vote on the change — they could either amend the proposal or withdraw it and start anew — they will have to amend the current EDIT spending plan.
The three-year plan, which was adopted by the previous commissioners, expires at the end of the year, so it's due to be re-evaluated anyway.
County attorney Yvette Kirchoff suggested holding off on the Pantheon funding proposal until they get their ducks in a row and evaluate the EDIT plan.
At their next meeting, she said, they could then completely rewrite or amend the proposal to specify that funds will come from EDIT and pass it on second and third reading at that same meeting.
This route will also give the commissioners time to confer with the county council about the funding mechanism.