Lower Property Taxes Among County Budget Highlights
New Hanover County started a new fiscal year on July 1. With that start comes an adopted general fund budget of $329.4 million and a continued focus on the county’s strategic priorities. The adopted budget is a 4.2 percent increase over the FY17 adopted budget, and – by using money the county has effectively saved over the years – includes the first real property tax cut for county residents in 14 years. The tax rate will decrease by 8.5 percent, cutting property taxes by 2.36 percent. For the fourth consecutive year, the county has also reduced the landfill tip fee from $50 to $48, while continuing to provide innovative services and programs. Below are several funding initiatives in this year’s budget I feel are worth highlighting.
Publicly supported education is, perhaps, the most critical component of our community’s long-term success. The adopted budget shows the county’s commitment to ensuring superior public education in the classroom and educational facilities by:
- Increasing county funding to the New Hanover County school district for the fifth year in a row, raising funding to $2,700 per student, which is above and beyond state and federal funding levels. The county also funds all public school facilities and new construction. In fiscal year 2018, funding to the schools will increase more than $2.3 million for a total of $100.3 million, inclusive of debt.
- Funding pre-K expansion to add 45 new openings – the equivalent of three classrooms – for three- and four-year-olds, giving them a structured learning environment and preparing them for kindergarten.
- Continuing to support Cape Fear Community College by funding the operations and maintenance of facilities – including three new emerging technology buildings that opened June 29 – for a total of $28.2 million, inclusive of debt.
Public Safety & Emergency Response
The adopted budget moves the county’s strategic goal of superior public safety forward in a number of areas by:
- Increasing funding to the sheriff’s office for youth intervention and gang prevention initiatives, a crime specialist to work in collaboration with the Wilmington Police Department, and additional mental health resources at the county jail.
- Providing additional funding to the LINC, Inc. jail diversion program after a successful, small-scale pilot program and national recognition for its innovation. The program will expand to assist 20 men and 20 women, redirecting them from the criminal justice system to community-based treatment and wrap-around support.
- Initiating a Quick Response pilot program through the county’s Fire Rescue, which will help decrease response times by having trained responders in vehicles located in target areas during peak times to respond to medical calls. To help fund programs like this, county residents outside of the city limits will see a Fire Services District rate increase this fiscal year.
Public Health & Quality Of Life
The county is committed to the health of our community, and to enhancing the quality of life for residents. Several initiatives in the adopted budget help to facilitate this goal, including:
- Constructing a Health and Human Services Building that will bring the Health Department and the Department of Social Services under one roof, to improve efficiencies and enhance the customer experience, funded by New Hanover Regional Medical Center.
- Developing a bike and multi-use path along Military Cutoff Extension to provide safe connectivity for residents and ensure an alternate form of transportation when the extension opens.
- Purchasing land on Pages Creek that will provide parking and easier water access for paddle boards and kayaks, adjacent to an existing county-owned property that has been largely underused because of access challenges.
Economic Development & Nonprofits
Economic development remains a strategic priority for the county, as is funding organizations in the community that are having a direct impact on our citizens. The adopted budget includes:
- Non-county agency funding that totals $1.468 million, an increase of $310,000 from FY17, to assist local nonprofit organizations in their cultural, recreational, economic development, and human services work.
- Economic development funding that will encourage private investment and job creation, with $690,000 in incentives, $525,000 to fund fire flow to the water system on US 421, $60,000 for a preliminary engineering report evaluating water service expansion to Castle Hayne, and more than $687,000 in various economic development investments.
The county recognizes that employees are our greatest asset, so the adopted budget also includes funding for market and merit increases to eligible employees. It is also important to mention that the county will continue to enhance benefits and wellness services to our employees so that we can reduce and contain healthcare costs.
I encourage you to review the adopted budget in brief on the county’s website to learn more about the strategic investments that the county is making to keep our citizens safe, healthy and secure.