Adopted Budget Saves Taxpayer Money and Makes Strategic Investments
By County Manager Chris Coudriet
New Hanover County’s newly-adopted budget leaves more money in taxpayers’ pockets – $5.1 million to be exact – all while increasing funding for our public schools, adding more resources for school safety and mental health, supporting initiatives to help fight the opioid crisis, and making strategic economic development investments to improve our county.
The fiscal year (FY) 2018-19 budget was adopted unanimously by the Board of Commissioners on Monday, June 4 and will begin on July 1. It is a direct reflection of the commissioners’ priorities, and puts the county’s strategic plan into action.
The adopted general fund budget is $332.9 million, a 1.9 percent increase over the revised FY 18 budget, as well as a fire district fund of $15.4 million and Environmental Management fund for recycling and solid waste of $23.5 million.
The budget includes an ad valorem tax rate of 55.5 cents per $100 of value, which is a 1.5 cent tax cut and is the second straight year of tax cuts for the county (last year’s was a 1.38 cent tax cut). The combined savings for the county’s taxpayers over these two years will be nearly $9.8 million.
That’s a significant savings, and I am pleased that this budget meets the board’s priorities and the needs of our community while also cutting taxes and saving our citizens money. I have included several key components of this year’s budget below, and you can also view the adopted budget in brief on the county’s website.
Investments In Education
New Hanover County’s Commissioners are committed to funding the public school system over and above what the state provides. These funds are not mandated; instead, they are a means to help ensure our children have the best opportunities to learn and grow. It’s important to note that New Hanover County is in the top 10 percent in the state for local public school support.
Since FY 14, the county has increased public school funding from $86.7 million to $108.7 million in FY 19. That’s an increase of more than 25 percent, while the school district’s population has grown by 7.54 percent during those five years.
This year’s budget is fully funding the Board of Education’s request of $2,800 per pupil, $3.696 million in capital, and $487,422 for the second-year pilot expansion of pre-K classes for 45 children. It also includes $26.2 million of debt service payments for the school system.
In addition, the FY 19 budget includes $26.4 million in support for Cape Fear Community College, including $15.5 million in debt service. Publicly supported education is an important element in the success of this community, and our commissioners have shown their commitment again in this year’s budget.
Investments In School Safety
In February, Chairman Woody White convened a school safety roundtable with local leaders to discuss the safety of our schools. This meeting helped to inform and identify the gaps and needs in our schools, and resulted in an additional $1 million in this year’s budget for school mental health, safety and personal health resources.
This investment includes one additional school detective to address school threats and five additional school resource officers (SROs) from the Sheriff’s Office. There will now be three dedicated SROs at each high school, at least one SRO at each middle school, and shared coverage at all elementary schools in the county.
Funding for three additional school-based mental health therapists will provide access to mental health services for students at all public schools. This will increase the number of therapists from 13 to 16, in addition to the existing counselors and social workers in the school. Two school nurses will also be added, so every public school has a nurse onsite for at least 30 hours each week.
Conversations will continue around how to improve school safety and access to mental health resources for students, but these new positions are a significant step to help ensure our students remain safe and well.
Investments To Address The Opioid Crisis
The opioid crisis is affecting so many in our community and it has become a priority of commissioners to address this crisis through evidence-based programs and investments in public safety.
The FY 19 budget includes $100,000 for a federal prosecutor in the District Attorney’s Office to focus on local cases related to gangs and drug charges. It also includes debt service payments for the construction of Trillium Health Resources’ Healing Place facility that will serve men with substance abuse disorders and $315,360 for TIDES, an evidence-based program to treat pregnant women addicted to substances. In addition, the county will continue funding $265,000 for Leading Into New Communities, Inc.’s (LINC, Inc’s.) treatment and diversion program for men and women.
I hate we have this problem in our community but I am glad we have a board that supports solutions.
Investments In Economic Development
Economic development remains a strategic priority for the county. In FY 19, we will move into the second phase of Project Grace with a request for proposals and financial analysis, as well as a space allocation and concept design for the existing Cape Fear Museum site to be converted into a collections and research center. In addition, county-owned land on Blue Clay Road will be analyzed for its site suitability to establish a private sector business park.
The county is also investing $430,000 for economic development agencies and partners, $100,000 in performance-based incentive payments to Fortron, a 50-50 cost share with the City of Wilmington for a workforce housing staff position, and $875,000 in capital investments that include fire flow to the U.S. 421 corridor, a Wrightsville Beach infrastructure improvement near Johnny Mercer’s Pier, and a Wave Transit compressed natural gas bus match of funds.
This funding will help encourage private investment, bring more diverse and higher-wage jobs, and create an environment for our community to thrive.
In addition to these important elements of the budget, commissioners increased their investment in county employees by providing a market and merit salary increase, and implementing a living wage standard. This ensures that full-time employees will earn a minimum of $31,200 per year, or no less than $15 an hour for authorized, part-time standard-hour employees. This increase helps to reinforce that our employees remain our greatest asset.
Our community is growing, and the investments we make today matter for our future. I believe this budget is a clear reflection of the commissioners’ priorities and the community’s needs and puts the county’s strategic plan into action to move us forward.