City Council adopts FY21-22 budget, approves funding for drainage projects, golf course renovation

Published: Jun. 15, 2021 at 6:14 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 16, 2021 at 12:01 AM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Wilmington City Council leaders voted unanimously to approve the final elements of the FY21-22 budget at its regular meeting Tuesday night. The new budget goes into effect July 1.

Affordable housing and infrastructure improvements are prioritized in the $242.2 million budget.

The adopted budget also included a merit plan of 3% salary and benefits to enhance the City’s compensation plan and a 25% increase in stipend allocation to the Mayor and Council members.

Mayor Bill Saffo said that even with the stipend allocation increase, the pay for Council members and the Mayor is still low compared to cities similar to Wilmington. According to Saffo, the increased stipend will make getting involved in local government more accessible to everyone.

“One of the unintended consequences of having very low Council pay and even low Mayor pay is that you might have people that want to be involved and get involved into local politics or local government, but may not be able to afford to do that,” Saffo said. “I think that, you know, we’re still 6 out of 7. I think we’re making the adjustment necessary but we’ve waited awhile before we did that.”

Saffo also said developing the budget has been a very public process.

“For the past six months, city council, staff, and community members have weighed priorities, balanced the numbers, and come up with a final product that reflects our community’s priorities. These investments will improve our quality of life and make real progress on critical issues,” he stated in a release.

The city also reduced it’s tax rate by approximately 12 cents after New Hanover County’s revaluation, which increased property appraisals by approximately 36%. The new tax rate is still slightly above revenue neutral, so the average homeowner will see an increase of about $36 on their tax bill, according to the city.

“We had a responsibility to reduce the tax rate which we did by 12 cent,” Saffo said. “We also have to take into consideration that we’re one of the fastest growing cities in the state of North Carolina with a lot of people moving here. Public Safety is a big issue, infrastructure is a big issue, affordable housing is a big issue. To go a little bit above revenue neutral, a half a cent above revenue neutral, I think it was responsible.”

New Hanover County recently approved a budget that resulted in a significant rise in property taxes.

Funding approved for drainage projects

City leaders also approved over half a million dollars in funding for the next phase of the Clear Run Branch Drainage Improvement Project.

Council approved a contract amendment with Moffatt and Nichol of Raleigh for Phase 2 engineering design in the amount of $463,267 and also the purchase of easements on University of North Carolina at Wilmington property owned by the State of North Carolina for the project at a coast of $210,000. Part of this project includes acquisitions on a total of 57 properties.

The $11 million project addresses longtime flooding challenges along New Centre Drive between South College Road and Racine Drive. The flooding issues stem from excessive upstream water that flows into Clear Run Branch, located behind Clear Run Drive in Wilmington.

City Council leaders gave the green light to the first phase of the Clear Run Branch Drainage Improvement Project back in September.

Another item approved on the consent agenda was a task order to identify drainage improvements for five drainages/watersheds generally bounded by Masonboro Loop Road to the west, Orchard Trace to the north, Masonboro Sound Road to the east, and Shorewood Hills Drive to the south. A total of $170,095 was assigned to the task order for a professional land survey, preliminary engineering design and community outreach services.

Gold Tee renovation approved for Wilmington Municipal Golf Course

The ordinance appropriates $144,000 from the golf course’s undesignated fund balance for the project.

The gold tees are the most-used tees on the golf course, according to the ordinance, with 40% of total rounds being played from the tees.

The tee renovation project will expand the tees from an average of 700 square feet to an average of 2,500 square feet.

According to the ordinance, “The current tees are severely worn because they are simply too small to accommodate the number of rounds being played from them.”

Green light given to feasibility study to evaluate crossing alternatives at busy intersection

Council member Rivenbark proposed a resolution to consider a feasibility study to evaluate potential solutions to provide a better bicycle and pedestrian crossing on College Road near UNCW’s campus. The resolution was approved unanimously.

According to the resolution, “Completion of this feasibility study is consistent with City Council’s adopted Focus Areas, including Create a Safe Place, Support Efficient Transportation Systems, Engage in Civic Partnerships, and Provide Sustainability and Adaptability.”

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