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Editorial: City Council takes right action with incentive grants

Would a business invest a few hundred thousand dollars to get millions in return?

No doubt.

That’s why, despite exceeding the amount budgeted, Salisbury City Council members made the right call Tuesday night by giving five downtown projects $306,269 in incentive grants.

The council will invest a small sum compared to the total that local business owners plan to sink into downtown projects, improving the look of downtown and paving the way for new offerings. Its millions will come through increased taxes paid over a number of years.

Consider Gianna Moscardini’s proposed renovation and expansion of Salty Caper Pizza as an example. Moscardini received approval for a $75,000 grant and plans to invest $291,539.21, according to Tuesday’s agenda packet. Said another way, the council is incentivizing Moscardini to complete the project by providing 25% of his proposed investment.

Another example: the council voted to give $106,774 in total grant funding to Joshua Barnhardt to aid in a $603,700 proposed renovation of 112-114 E. Innes St. to create loft apartments and relocate Barnhardt Jewelers — another worthwhile project.

Mayor Al Heggins was wise to raise concerns about affordable housing on Tuesday. We cannot price the middle class out of downtown.

But denying incentive grants will not change the realities about downtown Salisbury — it’s more expensive to own a business, complete renovations and buy or rent an apartment.

Among other things, that’s a result of the municipal service district tax downtown and the fact that downtown real estate is simply more coveted. So, prices are a result of demand.

Councilwoman Karen Alexander made the most salient point, saying it was rare that the council would see so many applicants in one year. The economy is good, people are interested in and excited about fixing up buildings downtown, and city government should encourage that.

“It just seems a pennywise and a pound foolish,” Alexander said about the prospect of not funding all projects.

In cases where there are a number of worthy projects requesting funding, the council should continue considering exceeding its budget.

Councilwoman Tamara Sheffield noted that there are concerns about a recession bubbling to the forefront of the national conversation. The economy will not always be as good as it is now. And for that reason, among others, the council shouldn’t put a non-negotiable, hard cap on how much it’s willing to contribute to worthy projects.



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