City Council ponders spending budget on affordable housing

$1.7 million to go to Public Works relocation

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Aerial shot of downtown Greenville // Chris Brank Films

Greenville finished its financial year with a $5.5 million general fund surplus and some City Council members want to use part of it for affordable housing.

The surplus is the amount of money in the general fund in excess of the city’s requirement to keep 20 percent of its budget in reserve. The general fund pays for items that aren’t covered by special revenues such as stormwater fees, zoo admissions or accommodations taxes.

$1.7 million of the $5.5 million will to go pay for part of the cost of moving the city’s Public Works facility from on the banks of the Reedy River downtown to city-owned property on Fairforest Way. The city had originally planned to issue bonds for the $1.7 million.

Moving the public works complex will cost $25.6 million. Under the city’s financing formula, 29 percent of the total cost of the relocation, or $7.3 million, would come from the city’s stormwater fund. The plan had called for the city to borrow $1.7 million of stormwater’s share.

Councilwoman Gaye Sprague opposed using stormwater funds for the public works relocation, saying that while she supported moving public works and building a new city park on the site, they shouldn’t be Greenville’s top priority. She wanted the city to wait for a stormwater study to be completed before committing stormwater funds to the move. The Council agreed to reconsider the source of the $1.7 million after the 2015-16 budget year ended the end of June.

That leaves $3.8 million for Council to allocate on other projects. Councilwoman Jil Littlejohn wants to spend at least $2 million of that to further the city’s efforts to increase the amount of affordable housing in the city limits. Consulting firm CZB LLC told a committee working on a citywide affordable housing plan that Greenville is 2,500 units short and that it would take $10 million a year for 25 years to catch up, not keep up with demand.

Littlejohn said she’d like to use some of the surplus for land banking and home rehabilitation programs.

Councilwoman Lillian Brock Flemming said the city has never made a “true investment” for affordable housing from its general fund. “We have the opportunity to partner and make a substantial commitment,” she said. “Affordable housing is not just somebody getting free rent. It’s students getting out of college, or a lot of them are seniors.

Mayor Knox White said the city allocated money for affordable housing out of the general fund twice as matching funds for federal grants, setting a precedent. White said the city has an opportunity to do something significant with affordable housing in the Washington Street area because it owns property there.

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