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In the wake of Monday's shooting, NHC commissioners will tap $350 million in hospital sale funds to address school safety

Board of Commissioners Chair Julia Olson-Boseman during Friday's joint meeting with the county's school board.
Board of Commissioners Chair Julia Olson-Boseman during Friday's joint meeting with the county's school board.

The county’s board of education and board of commissioners held a joint meeting this morning to discuss school safety -- the conversation was held in the wake of a shooting at New Hanover High School at the beginning of the week.

Commissioners and school board members were joined by Mayor Bill Saffo, District Attorney Ben David, Sheriff Ed McMahon, Judge J.H. Corpening, and others.

All agreed that violence in the schools is a crisis — but it was less clear what could be done to stop it.

Below: The joint meeting of the New Hanover County boards of education and commissioners.

County Commission Chair Julia Olson-Boseman said the county has the financial will and wherewithal to tackle the problem.

“Kids are being shot at school, this is a crisis. They’re being shot in the streets, it’s a crisis. So I would like to make a motion, that allows the county manager to access part of, not all of it, whatever amount is necessary from the $350 million we have set aside to address this crisis in our community,” she said.

Olson-Boseman referred to the $350 million in cash reserves that transferred from New Hanover Regional Medical Center to the county when it was sold to Novant Health; unlike the $1.2 billion that’s now being managed by an independent community foundation, this money is available to the county commissioners to use at their discretion.

Related: New Hanover will invest the remaining $350 million from NHRMC sale, apart from the $1.25 billion community endowment

Olson-Boseman framed the available funding as a vindication for her support of the hospital sale.

“I got a lot of flack for selling the hospital, but I did it to help us — to get better healthcare, absolutely — but we also have a pot of money that we’re sitting on that we can access when we have crises in our community," she said.

The motion passed unanimously. No financial or program specifics were identified, but Olson-Boseman noted that the county would invest in “strategic and deliberate ways with evidence-based programs and initiatives to make a real and meaningful difference.”

It's not clear if the motion — which was apparently an audible call by Olson-Boseman with no written document attached — will exempt County Manager Chris Coudriet from the usual restrictions on discretionary spending without board approval. Under the county's current regulations, a county manager can spend only up to $90,000 before a vote from the board is required (for construction, there's a much higher limit of $500,000).

The county intends to work with the school district, law enforcement and court system, the city of Wilmington, and other community partners.

Ben Schachtman is a journalist and editor with a focus on local government accountability. He began reporting for Port City Daily in the Wilmington area in 2016 and took over as managing editor there in 2018. He’s a graduate of Rutgers College and later received his MA from NYU and his PhD from SUNY-Stony Brook, both in English Literature.