County commissioners approve first tax cut in 14 years - WECT, weather & sports Wilmington, NC

County commissioners approve first tax cut in 14 years

County set to cut taxes, give raises to employees. (Source: WECT) County set to cut taxes, give raises to employees. (Source: WECT)

New Hanover County commissioners adopted a budget for the upcoming fiscal year on Monday evening, which means property taxes will drop slightly for the first time in 14 years.

“[Cutting taxes] is a promise that we made last year, and a promise citizens expected us to keep and we are keeping it while still meeting our obligations in all areas of the budget,” said County Commission Chair Woody White.

The current tax rate is 62 cents per $100 of assessed property value. Adjusting for the increased property values across the county, a “revenue neutral” tax rate would be 58 cents, but the tax rate commissioners adopted puts property taxes at 57 cents. For someone with a $200,000 home, that means property taxes would drop from $1,240 to $1,140.

Overall, the fiscal year 2017-18 budget is 1.7 percent higher than last year with employee raises, public safety, education expenses, and investment in economic development contributing to rising expenses.

Commissioners decline pay raise

As part of the budget, commissioners approved a 4 percent salary increase for all employees, including a 2.5 percent cost of living increase, and an additional 1.5 percent available for merit raises. However, commissioners voted 3-2 to exclude themselves from a pay raise. Commissioners Rob Zapple and Jonathan Barfield opposed that move, saying they are already the lowest paid employees in the county.

Some non-profit funding cut

There was a huge turnout at the commissioner's meeting Monday night, mostly by members of the non-profit community advocating for continued county funding. Most non-profits kept their funding, totaling about $1 million. But four had at least some of their county funding cut.

The First Tee had county funding cut from $20,000 to $10,000, Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration had funding cut from $10,000 to $5,000, Wilmington Area Rebuilding Ministry had funding cut from $10,000 to $5,000, and Lenny Simpson Tennis & Education Fund/One Love Tennis had funding cut from $25,000 to $10,000.

Two economic development organizations also had their funding reduced. Cape Fear Resource Conservation & Development, Inc. lost all $9,000 they previously received in county funding. And Wilmington Downtown Inc. had its funding reduced to previous levels of $25,000, down from $65,000 last year. 

Outcry from the public did persuade commissioners to restore funding to four other groups that had been slated for cuts. Those agencies were The Good Shepherd Center, Continuum of Care for Homelessness, Recovery Resource Center and Wilmington's Residential Adolescent Achievement Place, Inc.

Spending increases

Regarding public safety, county planners set aside money for a jail diversion program and increased personnel for the sheriff’s office. The fire department also will spend over a million dollars to replace a fire engine, radios, and other emergency equipment.

There is a $2 million increase for education expenses. The increases will save AIG program spots which help gifted children in public schools, fund a pre-K program, and cover expenses related to the CTE (Career Technical Education) High School.

Additionally, the budget includes $650,000 for economic development programs, and $745,000 for economic incentives to employers like PPD, Castle Branch, GE and Live Oak Bank that have met hiring benchmarks.

Much of the economic development and incentive money was approved years ago and is simply being paid this year. Other money, like $372,000 in expenses related to the Wells Fargo Championship, has been approved more recently.

The budget also includes money for extending water and sewer along Highway 421, and $1.8 million for equipment purchases for Environmental Management. However, tipping fees are going down for the fourth year in a row to $48/ton, compared to $59/ton several years ago.

“It’s a very solid budget that meets our core mission,” White said.

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