By County Manager, Chris Coudriet
Time truly does fly, or at least it feels like it does.
While it’s hard to fathom that six months have passed since we turned the calendars, June is a significant milestone for those of us working in the public sector, as it marks the end of the fiscal year. And as always, with every ending comes a new beginning, which means that on July 1 the newly adopted budget for Fiscal Year 2023-24 will be in effect for New Hanover County Government.
Our Board of Commissioners reviewed the recommended budget from staff on May 15, then held a public hearing on June 5 and voted to adopt an amended budget with a tax cut. The adopted budget has a total spending plan of $588.3 million, with the General Fund spending at $441.5 million.
Throughout the budget process, two things became very clear – our Commissioners were committed to continuing the services and amenities offered in New Hanover County. They also believed it was possible and important that this budget reduce the property tax rate so our citizens can keep more of their hard-earned money, especially as the cost of living continues to rise. A half-cent reduction was approved, bringing the property tax rate for our county down to 45 cents per $100 of assessed value, keeping New Hanover County among the ten lowest county tax rates in North Carolina.
Even as the property tax rate sees a reduction for the third straight year, the budget continues to provide funding for the things that make our community a desirable place to call home and meets the needs of our growing population.
At the forefront for our Commissioners was continued support for public education. In the coming fiscal year, $128.7 million has been allocated for public schools. That amount makes up nearly 30 percent of the recommended spending plan for the county’s General Fund.
Based on projections, New Hanover County Schools and our local charter schools are expected to have an Average Daily Membership (ADM) of 27,432 students in the coming school year. The budget provides an ADM funding rate of $3,434 per student, which ranks eighth (out of 100 counties) for local school funding per pupil in the state. This funding includes the county’s commitment of supporting our amazing classroom leaders by continuing to provide the $9,000 teacher supplement that was established in Fiscal Year 21-22 – the fourth highest teacher supplement in North Carolina.
We know students need quality teachers, but it is equally important to have high-quality support staff and trusted adults in our school buildings who do more than teach. The budget funds 61 School Resource Officers, 47 school nurses, as well as 35 school-based mental health therapists who provide coverage for all elementary and middle schools. We also have 22 community resource coordinators in our schools through Port City United funding to three non-profits who offer intensive case management and connect students and families to the resources they need.
Also included in the allocation is $10.2 million for capital needs, which is a $5.5 million increase over what was provided last fiscal year, so the schools can begin working on many of their much-needed projects. The board is committed to fund their full capital needs in subsequent years as well, and – just like this coming year – it will be based on what their capacity is and what they can reasonably take on and accomplish.
From a county perspective, we are also funding important capital projects, with a total of $73 million allocated to major improvements and investments. This includes construction of two new fire stations in Castle Hayne and off Gordon Road, renovations on a facility that will be a medical detox and crisis stabilization complex off Robin Hood Road, water and sewer infrastructure in the northern part of the county and plans for a new library branch in the Northchase area, just to name a few.
The budget also provides financial support for programs that foster a safe, thriving and sustainable community for all. One of the biggest needs from that perspective is building a strong stock of affordable housing. Included in this budget is $3 million for affordable housing initiatives, marking the second installment of a five-year, not less than $15 million plan previously approved by our Commissioner to make this possible.
Additionally, $1.6 million will go to support 50 non-county agency funding requests, along with just over $1 million for 14 economic development organizations. Combined, this money has the potential to support organizations that can help meet the needs our residents face today and create a more stable future for themselves and their families with well-paying employment opportunities.
We will also see $15.2 million from the county’s Revenue Stabilization Fund and Mental and Behavioral Health Fund get put to good use. This money was created from the sale of NHRMC and will support the county’s current tax rate and fund important work related to the community building plan and programs outlined in the Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Strategic Plan. We will also see funds from the opioid settlement used as part of this year’s budget to advance the county’s Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Strategy. This framework is a catalyst for change that has the potential to impact the lives of those affected by substance use and mental health disorders.
All of this is only a snapshot of what the budget will fund in the coming fiscal year. While it’s difficult to succinctly cover everything, I’m proud of the planning and thought by our staff to build a budget that carries forth our Commissioners’ goals of supporting our community, enhancing our quality of life and addressing the needs of today while also looking ahead at what’s to come.
I invite you to learn more about the county’s budget at Finance. NHCgov.com.