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County commissioners consider tax cut as revenues increase

County Commissioners heard the first presentation of the upcoming budget on Monday
Published: May. 16, 2022 at 3:09 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Taxpayers in New Hanover County could pay less for property taxes in the upcoming year. On Monday morning, county commissioners discussed the proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2022-23 which starts on July 1.

“The recommended budget prioritizes people and the community, while also decreasing the tax rate by two cents to 45.5 cents per $100 of assessed value. The spending plan helps to address current community needs, strategic initiatives, and board priorities like public education, workforce housing, public safety, community building, and equitable resources for residents,” according to the county’s presentation.

While it is a tax cut, County Chairwoman Julia Olson-Boseman said she wants to do more.

“I don’t think two cents is enough I think we need to do a five cent tax decrease to get us back down to revenue neutral, I think it’s a good budget other than that. We have that 300 million that is sitting in the revenue stabilization fund and we need to get it back into the hands of our citizens and we need to do that by having a lower tax rate,” she said.

From pickleball courts to funding for students and teachers in county schools, the $507 million budget addresses the needs and wants of county residents.

As the county attracts more residents and visitors the economy continues to thrive; in turn, providing additional revenues through taxes. For example, the budget assumes a 6.5% increase in sales taxes from a budgeted $85.5 million in FY22 to $105 million predicted for the upcoming year.

So how can spending increase but taxes go down? It comes down to the growing population and increasing tax base.

Essentially, when more people move to the county and buy homes or start businesses, the county’s tax base grows. In the past year alone, the tax base has grown by nearly a billion dollars bringing the total tax base to $48.8 billion.

That’s an annual growth of nearly 2% for the year.

However, the biggest increase in revenues is predicted to come from sales taxes in the upcoming year — jumping 20% from roughly $86 million to $105 million in just one year.

Schools and public safety make up the bulk of expenditures with the county suggesting an appropriation of $120 million towards New Hanover County Schools or nearly 30% of the total budget.

That $120 million is roughly $1 million lower than the current fiscal year, and about a $20 million increase from just five years ago.

With around 26,555 students in the school system, New Hanover County is planning to allocate $3,434 per student, when combined with state and federal funding, that comes out to around $10,300 per student. It’s an increase from previous years in New Hanover, however; it is below the national average of around $15,000 in 2019-2020, according to research from the Education Law Center. It is close to the state-wide average of around $10,600 per student.

Commissioner Rob Zapple said the student spending is something commissioners seem to be in agreement about, but there are other things he hopes get addressed, including pay for staff.

“Is there some way in there to use that kind of budget funding to help line up the school budget so that we can find a way to get the TAs — teaching assistants — and those others in that category bumped up to a living wage,” he said.

A public hearing will be held on Monday, June 7 at 4 p.m. so those who want to weigh in on the budget can offer their thoughts to commissioners before the budget is approved.

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