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Budget requests drive city council to criticize county

Screencap of a presentation slide. It says the total change in tax rate from 2021 to 2022 is $0.1176, which equates to an annual increase of $35.99 on a median house valued at $258,913.
A breakdown of the 2022 tax adjustments for Wilmington citizens.

Wilmington’s city council members again aired grievances about the city’s inequitable relationship with New Hanover County at the Monday, April 19th agenda briefing.

City Council heard from nine different local agencies pleading for a budgetary allocation in next year’s budget. The city is currently giving $1.14 million to outside agencies, or nearly 1% of overall spending. That’s almost double what city policy recommends. And the new requests totaled another $1.1 million.

The outside agencies requesting funding varied widely, and include funding for new service routes at the Wilmington Airport, a bronze statue at Cameron Art Museum, several programs aimed at the youth, and interventions for young adults returning from incarceration.

Wave Transit also asked for financing for two projects: one would purchase and install generators, and the other would implement a ticketless, phone app fare system.

The request for $350,000 drew some frustrated comments out of city council, particularly after WAVE Executive Director Marie Parker mentioned that a request for funding from New Hanover County went unfulfilled.

Councilor Kevin O'Grady said, “So once again we have a party that doesn’t want to participate. OK.”

After hearing from the YMCA that residents of both New Hanover County and Brunswick County were benefiting from services the city alone paid for, Councilor Charles Rivenbark, Jr. expressed similar criticisms.

“Passing comment, is if you live outside the incorporated city limits as a taxpayer, you’ve got a hell of a break. That’s all I can say," Rivenbark said. "We’re going to bring this thing to a head, and maybe we need to start talking about consolidation, consolidating some of these programs.”

He went on to say the city is being forced to provide many services traditionally fulfilled by a county.

Budget Director Laura Mortell said citizens are set to see a “significant reduction” in their tax rates, as the county’s reappraisals set property values 32% higher. To account for that shift, the tax rate will drop about 24%. The new tax rate will lead to a $36 annual increase on a home valued at $258,000. That increase gives the city an additional $10 million for financial year 2022. The tax rate may change slightly, however, depending on whether the council chooses to fund the outside agencies which made requests at the meeting.

Editor’s note: During the agenda meeting, the budget director accidentally misspoke. The city later clarified the rate would drop by 24% not 12%, or the equivalent of 12 cents.