North Carolina Arboretum braces for potential changes in funding

Open letter to The North Carolina Arboretum members:

Arboretum donors, volunteers and members have been very generous in answering my appeal to sustain our staff until this week when the legislature comes into session. You have graciously done your part. Thank you.

This morning, the legislature convenes for its three-day session to address very difficult COVID-19 and economic issues. They will be considering an austere budget request that was formally approved by the UNC Board of Governors on April 17. That request includes emergency assistance for the Arboretum. Accordingly, legislative actions this week will determine which of two possible, but starkly different, outcomes will confront the Arboretum on Friday:

Option 1: Funding the UNC request on our behalf. The legislature would allow us to retain our program continuity and staff as we work through the reopening phases during coming months and gradually restore the viability of our programs as social distancing requirements allow.

Option 2: Failing to fund the UNC request. The Arboretum would begin contingency planning toward a substantial Reduction in Force among our 58 state employees whose positions are funded exclusively through cancelled or delayed programs. That number represents 66% of our staff. These actions, of course, would hit just as we are trying to reopen during the coming weeks.

The legislative actions in Raleigh during the next three days will represent a watershed event for The North Carolina Arboretum. Since losing about 40% of our state funding during the “great recession,” the Arboretum has built a growing portfolio of regional and statewide services based on entrepreneurship, hosting annually 500,000 visitors and educating 26,000 youth in school programs. These programs currently reach into 85 North Carolina counties.

We have researched the federal relief programs that could have been immensely helpful, but our non-profit Society is not eligible. The legislative session in Raleigh this week is our last remaining chance to retain for the foreseeable future the Arboretum as the robust institution we have known.

As I’ve stated in my appeals of recent weeks, the Arboretum has been anticipating a defining moment in Raleigh as May approaches. It’s here. We are fortunate to have the UNC System leadership working on our behalf. Any communications you may wish to have with representatives or senators must happen immediately.

I hope my next communication with you will be a pleasant one for everyone concerned, and that our General Assembly will be as responsive and helpful as you have been.

With gratitude for your generosity and support,

George Briggs, FASLA
Executive Director, The North Carolina Arboretum
President, The North Carolina Arboretum Society

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