The New Hanover County Board of Commissioners have moved forward with a $458 million budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year that includes a property tax rate of 47.5 cents per $100 valuation, compared to last year’s 55.5-cent rate.
Commissioners passed the budget in a 3-2 vote, with commissioners Rob Zapple and Deb Hays dissenting. The budget will be implemented July 1, when the new fiscal year begins.
“We have clear priorities and sustainable investments in this budget to make our community better and ensure every single resident – from our youngest to our oldest – has the resources and support they need to thrive,” said New Hanover County Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Julia Olson-Boseman in a news release. “Our tax rate will be lower than most other counties our size, and will make important investments in public health and safety, economic development, parks and trails, and county employees who serve the public and make our work possible. This budget also makes a strong and clear commitment to public education, which represents about 38 percent of the county’s overall budget.”
Despite the new tax rate being lower than in the last fiscal year, some property owners will have higher tax bills because of a recent revaluation that resulted in an average increase of more than 30%.
That led Hays and Zapple to want to wait to explore more options until the next New Hanover County Board of Commissioners' meeting, June 21, to approve the budget.
“I just thought there were other ways to do it other than to go to the property owners and taxpayers to shoulder the burden, that there’s enough money flowing through the school system as well as the county between our sales tax revenues and all the money from the American Rescue Plan, CARES Act, etc.," Zapple said Tuesday of his vote. "So I was really just wanting to take the next two weeks to see what ways we could put that money to work and not necessarily have to go after a property tax increase."
This year’s budget includes an increase in funding for education and some economic development and nonprofit activities.
The new budget will invest $121.5 million in the county’s public schools system, increasing per-pupil spending to more than $3,400, adding three more county-funded Pre-K classrooms and increasing teacher supplements from an average of $4,183 a year to an average of $9,000 a year, according to the county release.
County officials said in the release that the increase places New Hanover as top in the state for teacher supplements.
Zapple said the budget shows better support for the county’s school teachers than previous budgets, giving them the tools to be successful.
“I'm pleased about the expansion of the Pre-K school program. There is study after study, and now we have enough experience in our own schools, that the statistics show that if you want to move the needle … that a Pre-K program is so important, in that it allows children coming from whatever background to be able to enter into kindergarten or first-grade on a level playing field,” Zapple said, adding that there will be a total of six Pre-K classrooms now funded by the county.
The budget also allocates $22.5 million to Cape Fear Community College for operating expenses and debt service.
According to the county, the budget supports 35 nonprofit agencies with more than $1 million in funding. It also provides more than $816,400 in economic development initiatives.
Adjustments were made to the overall county budget increasing funding from what was previously proposed for local economic development groups Wilmington Business Development (WBD) and Wilmington Downtown Inc. (WDI).
WBD, an economic development organization serving business recruitment and retention efforts for Wilmington, New Hanover and Pender counties, received an increase of $50,000 from the previously proposed allotment in the county’s recommended budget, bringing the group's total funding to $258,600.
The increase was mainly to support WBD’s ongoing work on the Blue Clay Road project, toward getting the county-owned site ready to serve industries, Zapple said.
“We’re trying to set up an industrial park or area out there and WBD has been instrumental in that,” Zapple said.
WDI, a nonprofit group serving businesses in downtown Wilmington, received an increase of $15,000 from what was previously recommended in the county’s budget, bringing its total allocation for the next fiscal year to $90,000.
Zapple said that the increase in funding is to provide more support for WDI and its programs, such as its new microloan program.
“I think this is one of those investments that is going to pay off large sums, especially in new businesses and the retention of businesses,” Zapple said.
Full changes to the budget including increases to several nonprofit groups can be found here. The county's full adopted budget will be available online in the next week, according to the release.
“I felt strongly then and do today … that we had multiple other ways to pay for that budget," Zapple said. "I do have strong support on my part, and I think all the commissioners do, [for] the investment in education and the teacher pay raise. The entire budget has many good items that really accomplish a lot of the goals that the commission and I want to tackle."
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