Your tax dollars are being spent wisely
By County Manager Chris Coudriet
New Hanover County’s $399 million balanced budget for Fiscal Year 2019-2020 has been adopted by the Board of Commissioners. It focuses on investments in education, public safety, economic development and the community – both now and in the years to come.
The current county-wide tax rate of 55.5 cents per $100 of value will continue (it’s the third year in a row that the county has either cut or maintained the tax rate), and it also keeps the fire services tax rate for residents in the unincorporated county at 7.75 cents and the landfill tip fee at $48 per ton. So taxes will not go up.
The budget proactively addresses needs that we have now and looks to the future to ensure we are more resilient. It begins to replenish the county’s fund balance, which was affected by Hurricane Florence, and strategically funds important initiatives like the opioid crisis, workforce housing and public education.
It accomplishes a lot without increasing your taxes, but I think I know what you may be thinking: as a taxpayer, it’s not always clear how your money is being spent or what impact it is having. I can assure you that building New Hanover County’s budget is a thoughtful and deliberate process to ensure your tax dollars are spent wisely.
One of the most recent examples of strategic impact that comes to mind is our success with a Pre-K pilot program launched in 2018 with New Hanover County Public Schools. At that time, there were 400 at-risk children in our community on the Pre-K waiting list who wouldn’t have any exposure to a high quality day care or Pre-K curriculum before Kindergarten. That could cause them to fall behind, and affect them even later in life.
We took a hard look at that list and wanted to make a change. So our Commissioners funded an expansion of the county’s Pre-K to add three more classrooms for 45 at-risk three-year olds at a cost of approximately $476,000 each year (for a total of three years).
Your tax dollars are funding the wrap-around services for mental and physical health the students receive. They are helping us as we work with each family to build skills and educate parents, and they are creating a structured learning environment – with the North Carolina Pre-K curriculum – for three and four year olds to thrive.
The results have been outstanding. Every students’ performance over six different learning domains has improved and the percentage of students who are meeting or exceeding expectations within the individual measures continues to increase. These children will now be ready for Kindergarten – and that has lasting effects for the child, the family, and our entire community.
So in this strategic investment alone, your tax dollars have benefited 90 students so far, and 45 more three-year-olds will be enrolled in the 2019 school year – so that is 135 children you will have helped.
New Hanover County is using data like this to help inform our policy and funding choices. And that is just one example of the power of your tax dollars. This coming fiscal year, New Hanover County will:
- Provide $116.2 million to support public schools, which is a 6.9% increase in funding from last year. Read about the county’s funding to public schools here.
- Transition the responsibility of the Forensic Lab to New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office from the City of Wilmington, with a 60/40 cost-sharing arrangement to ensure we keep effective and efficient processing of lab results available locally.
- Fund more than $3.3 million in strategic economic development initiatives that will encourage private investment, bring more diverse and higher-wage jobs, and enhance our quality of life.
- Invest in workforce housing in partnership with the City of Wilmington, including $45,000 for a workforce housing study and survey.
- Support 29 human services community partners in the great work they are accomplishing locally, for a total of $977,000.
- Begin construction of the Healing Place substance use treatment center in partnership with Trillium.
- Provide a market and merit salary increase for all eligible county employees, because they are our greatest asset and are the people who make our county services possible.
There are numerous other initiatives that the county is funding, and so many ways that your tax dollars are making an impact and a difference. And we are accomplishing all of this without raising your taxes. We are being good stewards of your money, and I appreciate your trust in us.
I hope you will take some time to look through the county’s budget and learn more about the important work taking place.