WILMINGTON –– The city of Wilmington on Tuesday adopted its budget of $ 241.8 million for fiscal year 2021-2022.
Up $ 35 million from the current fiscal year –– a 14% increase –– the new budget requires a slight increase in property taxes, which will cause the average homeowner to pay $ 36 more on its annual bill.
RELATED: With effective tax increase, commissioners approve a budget of $ 458 million, including increases in staff, commissioner and teachers
Recent New Hanover County reassessments have resulted in an average 33% increase in property values. The reassessment process requires local governments to publish the revenue neutral tax rate, which is essentially the rate at which residents would be taxed to keep revenues at the same level, while accounting for growth.
The city of Wilmington passed an effective tax rate increase of $ 0.0058 above neutral income – “to less than half a cent of the net neutral rate,” said the budget manager of the city. city, Laura Mortell, in a budget presentation last month.
The new municipal property tax rate of $ 0.3808 represents a reduction of $ 0.123 from the current rate, but will effectively function as a tax increase due to the reassessments.
For a house within city limits valued at $ 250,000 last year and revalued at $ 332,500 this year, municipal property taxes will drop from $ 1,246 to $ 1,266. The new county tax rate, $ 0.05 above neutral income, will bring in an additional $ 192 in county property taxes on that same home, from $ 1,387 to $ 1,579. Together, the total property tax bill would be $ 2,845, or $ 237 per month, up from $ 212 in total.
The City’s budget cites three reasons for the tax increase. First, the city plans to spend $ 29.8 million on its Capital Improvement Plan (CAP) – a 70% increase over the current year. Major projects included in the ICP include $ 8.3 million for street repairs and $ 3.5 million for railroad realignment efforts.
Second, the city intends to keep the balance of its unrestricted funds above 30% of general operating expenses, keeping a healthy cushion for emergencies.
Finally, the City is allocating $ 5 million to fund affordable housing initiatives. Of this amount, $ 3.5 will be used for one-off expenses resulting from the forthcoming recommendations of the joint city-county committee on workforce housing. About $ 1.5 million will boost the city’s existing affordable housing programs – a 156% increase from the current fiscal year. The Home Ownership Program will fund 15 loans and the Home Rehabilitation Incentive Loan Program will fund eight loans for low-income families.
The investment in affordable housing in the next budget represents the city’s highest amount of money ever allocated to the effort.
The budget also includes a commitment to raise the city’s minimum wage to $ 15 an hour and an investment of $ 1.95 million for a merit-based wage increase program for public employees. Fifteen additional functions are recorded, with 1,105 authorized positions. Rising health insurance rates will cost the city half a million more, with employees still seeing rate hikes on their side.
City council will receive an increase as part of a three-year plan that will increase elected officials’ allowances by 61% by fiscal year 2024. On Tuesday, council approved the increase in the mayor’s allowance by $ 15,228 to $ 19,035 and that of board members from $ 11,592 to $ 14,490 – – each representing a 25% increase. Allocations will increase by a further 25% in fiscal 2023 and by 11% in fiscal 2024, reaching $ 24,517 for the mayor and $ 18,663 for council members.
Likewise, New Hanover County commissioners also voted to increase their salaries, which Commissioner Jonathan Barfield Jr. said had been stagnant for 13 years. Compensation for Commissioners increased from $ 17,890 to $ 31,200, an increase of 74%. The president’s salary increased 49% from $ 26,074 to $ 39,000.
After approving the budget, Mayor Bill Saffo said he felt he supported the public’s stated wishes – “I think it was an exceptional job.”
“It didn’t happen overnight, folks,” he said. “This budget process took over five months.
Tuesday’s uneventful budget approval, without any public comment, marks a distinctive departure from last year’s process. Then at least five protesters from the George Floyd movement were arrested amid a heavy police presence.
City Councilor Kevin Spears noted the lack of public participation in hearings and workshops leading up to Tuesday’s budget passage. “We invited a lot of people to participate in this budget process and no one showed up,” he said.
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