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New Hanover County Begins Next Fiscal Year Budget Process

Vince Winkel
NHC Chief Financial Officer Lisa Wurtzbacher (r.) explains the proposed budget.

New Hanover County staff are in the midst of budget season. They are hammering out the 2019-2020 fiscal year numbers, so that county commissioners can approve them before the new year starts on July 1. The  commissioners are bullish on the financial health of the county.

New Hanover County commissioners gathered a few days ago for their first budget meeting, to discuss priorities.

“We're in remarkably good shape heading into this budget cycle.”

That’s commissioner Woody White. He says despite the hit from Hurricane Florence, the county is doing very well and he wants to keep it that way.

“I want to make sure that we maintain the level of spending for education that we've achieved over the last six years we've increased funding for education, not debt, I'm talking about staff, classroom, Pre-k, the things that make a huge difference in the lives of young people. We've increased that 22 percent in six years. That's incredible.”

The county’s projected budget for the new fiscal year is $344.1 million. That’s up from the current year’s $332.86 million.

Commissioners say there will most likely not be a property tax increase. Property taxes were actually decreased last year.

County Manager Chris Coudriet credits firm policies for the region’s strength.

“So let's say the last six and a half years been very intentional about what the fiscal policies of the county would be very clear about what its priorities are and let's fund those and in perhaps not fund other things. We had benefited from growth in the economy. This is a great place to be. People moving in construction. So there are a lot of things that are in the environment that have led to really good shape.”

Meanwhile revenue estimates for 2019-2020 are estimated at $330 million. That’s lower than the $344.1 million budget. However, Coudriet says county staff are and have always been conservative on tax collection revenues, and he’s confident there will be no shortfall.

As for debt, the county is expecting to pay $63 million in its debt service for the new fiscal year. But Chief Financial Officer Lisa Wurtzbacher says debt is not necessarily a bad thing.

“No, no, it's not as long as you keep it at a manageable level, which is why we enacted our debt policy. So there are certain limits that we have that we say we're not going to take on more debt and if we're going to exceed this limit, um, we have three limits that we look at and that is the outstanding debt per capita. So how much debt is each citizen taking on essentially, um, and then we have an outstanding debt to assessed value.”

All the commissioners had education at the top of the list, as a priority for funding. Especially at the pre-k level. Commissioner Rob Zapple.

“Education. You heard me speak today about the pre-k and support for that. Our goal is the county to get to 75 percent. I hope over the time that I'm in this term that I'm in of four years of county commissioner, we’ll see the day where we can have 100 percent so that every child or every family that wants their child, their three-year-old to have a pre-k education, he can get it here, in New Hanover County.”

Budget work sessions begin in March and should end in May. The goal is to adopt the new budget in mid-June.

For WHQR News, I’m Vince Winkel.