County budget invests in important services, board priorities, and community needs
June 21, 2021
By County Manager, Chris Coudriet
The Board of Commissioners has been clear about what its priorities are for public education and teacher pay, the need for enhanced public safety, and new economic development and workforce initiatives. The county also has prior obligations and general government that must be funded, and we have to ensure sustainability and growth in the coming years.
All of those factors are what went into creating New Hanover County’s $458 million balanced budget for Fiscal Year 2021-2022. And that is what predicated the need for a tax rate of 47.5 cents per $100 in value.
This rate is eight cents lower than our current rate and five cents higher than revenue neutral. The revenue neutral rate is 42.5 cents after our 2021 reappraisal was conducted that showed property values about 33 percent higher than they were four years ago.
It’s important for our residents and business to understand that the county’s adopted tax rate is higher than revenue neutral because we can’t accomplish what we need to, what the community has said it wants to do, and what the board has prioritized, with a status-quo budget or revenue neutral rate. So the rate of 47.5 cents (4.46 cents of which is for debt service and 43.04 cents is for the general fund) is expected to remain steady over the next four years, and will ensure that we can sustain our work in the community and grow according to revenue and responsibility.
If we were to dip into our fund balance or revenue stabilization fund this year to cover a portion of expenditures in the budget, we would have to do that for the next four years as well – and it would deplete those incredibly important funds that we must have for emergencies. As a county that prides itself on good governance and fiscal responsibility, that would be counter to our policies and practices and not something I could recommend as county manager.
New Hanover County actually has the lowest tax rate among the 20 most populated counties in North Carolina and falls in the middle tier with regard to the average tax bill. Orange, Forsyth, Union, and Buncombe counties – to name a few – just completed their property reappraisal in 2021 like we did, and their approved or proposed tax rates for FY21-22 are 81.87, 68.8, 58.8, and 48.8 cents per $100, respectively.
And while our tax rate is lower than many of our peer counties, we will be doing even more for our community this coming year and increasing our strategic commitments in the community. With a $458 million budget, it would be hard to outline everything that is included, but I do want to highlight a few noteworthy investments…
Education funding makes up around 38 percent of the approved budget, and we are doing even more than just paying debt service and increasing our per pupil spending. You’ve likely heard about the increase to teacher supplements that will make New Hanover County the highest in the state (if not, you can read about it in Chair Olson-Boseman’s editorial here). This will do more than just pay teachers closer to what they deserve – the goal is to attract more qualified and diverse teachers to our area and that will benefit our students well into the future.
The county will also be implementing several innovative programs for teachers to grow professionally and to better their skills through training, including funding for five teachers at several hard to staff schools to receive National Board Certification. This will include their participation and release day costs and will result in a 13 percent pay increase from state.
Through the budget and American Rescue Plan funding, the county will be creating Workforce Rental Housing Assistance pilot project to provide residents who qualify under workforce housing guidelines – 60 to 120 percent of area median income – with rental assistance.
A Parks Resource Officer team will be added to the county, in partnership with our Sheriff’s Office and Parks and Gardens Department, for deputies to be established in our high-traffic parks, get to know patrons, be present for large sporting events, and create a constant presence for increased safety and security. Public safety overall makes up about 21 percent of the approved budget.
We will be moving forward with the construction of Hanover Pines Nature Park (formerly known as Battle Park), as well as several trails to create better connectivity in the county and enhance our quality of life.
New Hanover County will also undertake the strategic update of the 2014 Garner Economic Study to provide an understanding of how the effects of COVID-19 have impacted the local economic development landscape and to provide specific strategies and recommendations to advance the goals of the county’s Strategic Plan, which include leveraging public infrastructure investment to increase the tax base, increasing the diversity and number of high wage jobs in manufacturing, knowledge sector and skilled trades, and supporting the private sector’s need for talent to fill high wage jobs in new or expanding businesses.
We are further increasing investments in our economic development partners, including a three-year pilot with the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce to recruit, retain, and expand small businesses. This focus on small business growth will also further enhance Wilmington Business Development’s work that is already underway, and we will be investing even more toward the county’s Blue Clay Road property and preparing it to be a new industrial park in the northern part of the county.
This budget invests more than $2 million in nonprofit and economic development organizations in our area, who are doing incredible work. It invests in additional health and human services resources and services, fair pay and benefits for the county’s dedicated employees, and infrastructure and technology needs in the county so we can best serve our residents.
I could keep going about all that this budget funds, and the important – and much needed – work it will accomplish; but suffice it to say, it will help every single person in our community and has something for everyone in it. It’s not just funding the status-quo. It makes real and strategic investments that are going to make a difference this coming year and in the years to come.
I want to thank our Board of Commissioners for their leadership and clear, strategic priorities that helped to shape and determine the initiatives in the adopted budget.
And when you have some time, I encourage you to read through and see even more of the county’s investments in the adopted budget in brief at Finance.NHCgov.com.