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New county manager ‘jumping right in’ to tackle budget, jobs

Updated: May 24, 2021

Columbus County Manager Eddie Madden

By: Thomas Sherrill, The News Reporter

Making the drive from Elizabethtown each morning has been an unexpectedly pleasant part of the job for new Columbus County Manager Eddie Madden. Once in the office, however, the work begins, and for his first two weeks, there’s been no easing in.

“We certainly hit the ground running here,” Madden said. “I didn’t have the luxury of transitioning slowly.”

However, that transition has been very positive so far, Madden said in a Friday interview at his new office.

“Things have gone very well here; the staff and community have been very welcoming,” Madden said.

Named Columbus County manager Jan. 27, Madden started on March 29 after spending more than a decade as Elizabethtown’s town manager.

“I chose to accept the position because of the opportunities that are in Columbus County. After spending over 13 years with the Town of Elizabethtown, I was ready for a new challenge, and Columbus County seemed to be a good fit for me professionally and personally,” Madden said, explaining that he had a positive experience in Elizabethtown.

Madden said one big difference between the Town of Elizabethtown and Columbus County is the size of the organization and number of employees. But otherwise his workday is very similar.

How to make a budget in 45 days

With the July 1 deadline fast approaching, it’s budget season for municipalities, and Madden is making up for lost time.

“We’ve been heavily involved in the budget process, meeting with department heads in trying to develop a budget that we’ll be presenting to the board of commissioners in about 30 days or so,” Madden said.

As county manager, Madden has to consider requests from all Columbus County departments directly under his supervision plus requests from Whiteville City Schools, Columbus County Schools and Southeastern Community College.

The next month will bring tough funding decisions: the total number of dollars requested “far exceeds the amount of revenue we have in the budget,” Madden said.

Madden said his final meeting with the department leaders was Wednesday and his first preliminary look at the total budget was Thursday.

An unknown for the 2021–22 county budget will be the historic Courthouse. Madden said remediation work and bidding on architectural work will take place later this year.

“We’ll meet with the architect as early as this week as to how he will develop his final design and get it to the point of being ready for final bidding. That should take place before the end of summer,” Madden said. “Once we have that estimated cost, we can develop our budget around it.”

Madden believes that the renovation will start in 2021.

Madden seeks to continue the commissioners’ focus on reducing rent by moving county offices into county-owned buildings. The process has already begun, with plans approved for moving the Columbus County Board of Elections and Public Housing Agency from their rented spaces.

Some offices could relocate to BB&T’s north campus that commissioners agreed March 29 to purchase. A facilities analysis will help county government determine exactly how to use the new space, Madden said.

‘Poised for growth and development’

Developing a strategic plan is one of Madden’s goals, with enhancing partnerships and economic development as two of the cornerstones.

“From what I can determine, Columbus County is poised for growth and development, and we want to be ahead of that and make sure we’re planning appropriately and ready for the growth when it occurs,” Madden said.

Madden says he will strategize with local stakeholders and community partners, including SCC President Chris English, WCS Superintendent Mark Whichard, CCS Superintendent Deanne Meadows, the various mayors and town managers of Columbus County’s municipalities, the Columbus Chamber of Commerce and the court system to come up with future goals.

Those future goals will be part of Madden’s strategic plan, consisting of short-term plans and long-term plans, “with the short term being five years, but planning out as long as 20 years.”

Columbus County’s geography is a strength for economic development, Madden believes, due to its proximity to the State Port in Wilmington and the Cape Fear and Grand Strand coastlines, plus its location only two hours from Raleigh.

U.S. 74-76 is also an asset because, “Having access to four-lane highways is a must when trying to attract business and industry,” Madden said.

Tackling job growth with the help of Columbus Economic Development Director Gary Lanier and other community leaders is on Madden’s mind.

“Gary Lanier let me know today of a company that expressed interest in relocating here, but needed a facility to move into immediately, and we do not currently have any available space for a business or industry,” Madden said Friday. “We have no incubator space at all… having available buildings for industrial development is highly important.”

The federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 can likely aid that growth, Madden said. According to the Cape Fear Council of Governments, Columbus County government will receive an estimated $10,765,435 in the next two years.

“We’re meeting in the next couple months to see how those funds will be used for economic development,” Madden said.

Quality of life improvement is another component to economic development, Madden said, noting that a goal is expanding recreational opportunities.

“Economic development is on the tip of everyone’s tongue,” Madden said. “That includes infrastructure, development, water, sewer, high-speed internet, addressing our roadways and whatnot, so we’re well positioned for economic development growth going forward.

“I see great potential here, and I’m excited to be a part of it,” Madden concluded.

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