Last September, around 3,000 Wendell residents and visitors from surrounding towns attended the town’s movie night at Wendell Park. Families enjoyed a showing of “Frozen,” and town leaders viewed the event as a positive economic impact on the downtown area.
During the latest Wendell board of commissioners meeting March 9, the decision to contract with The Total Connection for movie night dominated a portion of the discussion due to a deadline for rental equipment through Regina Harmon, who manages The Total Connection and who also ran the event last year.
Town leaders were not thrilled with contributing funds before drawing up a budget for the 2015-16 fiscal year.
According to Town Manager Teresa Piner, The Total Connection had requested a decision on whether the organization would host movie night again this year, and needed to reserve equipment in April for the September event.
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“I know that it’s a huge fee that we bring to our town, and we ask for everybody to get involved, from the schools to the community to businesses,” Harmon said during public comment period. “It’s another great event helping bring economic development to the town.”
Carol Hinnant agreed during the public comment period.
“That’s what we want Wendell to be, a place where families can have things to do,” she said. “And if you look around, there’s not a whole lot for people to do as a family. I would encourage you to approve. ... I believe you’re getting a bang for your buck with everything you spend on this project.”
Last year, commissioners passed a budget amendment that supported economic development – $22,000 that chipped in for movie night, the Harvest Festival, Wendell Wonderland and other events.
The movie night cost the town the most at $5,800. That money was paid to The Total Connection for equipment rental, advertising and 80 man hours and two of The Total Connection’s staff members, among other costs.
The board was not so quick to approve the request last week, and decided to table the discussion until the budget was drawn up and discussed. Mayor Tim Hinnant pointed out that the fund balance, or the town’s savings, was already nearly down to 40 percent, which is the town’s minimum limit. Because of that, the movie night would need to be inserted into the budget for fiscal year 2015-16.
“I’m not against the movie night,” he said. “But I’m having heartburn over the board is being asked to approve a $5,000 line item... when you have authority to approve (large projects). I think we’re doing something backwards.”
Tim Hinnant told Piner that he wanted her to take the responsibility of managing the most beneficial activities that would increase the town’s draw and value.
Piner said that the need to decide was not urgent, since she had talked with other vendors as well.
“If it’s not a drop-dead date, I’m going to have to agree with the Mayor,” said Mayor Pro Tem James Parham.
“We need to figure out if we have money,” he said. “What I would ask is this be part of our discussion when we have our budget talks, that we decide how much we put into economic development. This should not be the first budget item we address for the 2015-16 budget.”