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CAPE FEAR MEMORIAL BRIDGE: Updates, resources, and context

With little drama, Wilmington passed its quarter-billion-dollar budget. Here's a look at what's in it


Wilmington City Council passed a $242 million with far less fireworks or fanfare than the county wrought last week.

The new budget also includes a bit of a tax increase, but it's $36 on average, compared to a more than $150 increase at the county level. While the county drew more than a dozen detractors and passed with a split vote, the city budget passed unanimously with no verbal public comment.

The lack of drama drew comment from Councilman Kevin Spears. "We invited a lot of people to participate in this budget, and no one showed up," he said.

Mayor Bill Saffo highlighted the city's commitment to affordable housing.

"I want to thank the community members that we heard from that came to us and said we need more money for affordable housing," he said. "And this council supported that at $5.2 million dollars, which is the largest affordable housing amount in this area."

That money is focused on the Homeownership Opportunity Program, aimed at helping first-time homebuyers, and the Rental Rehabilitation Incentive Loan Program, which aims to renovate, purchase and reconstruct in-fill lots and rental housing.

The city is spending more than $29 million on capital projects, with more than half aimed at repairing and maintaining roads and constructing new sidewalks. Stormwater, parks, city buildings, and parking will also receive capital improvement money.

Police and fire departments came in at 15% and 8% of the total budget, respectively; that's about $36.9 million for police and $20.6 million for fire. The police budget is about 3% from last year, the fire budget is up about 2% — that's largely in keeping with inflation and population growth.

"We've supported public safety of our fire and police departments, I think was an outstanding job," Saffo said.

The city is also spending down the fund balance to bring it back down to the requisite 30% of the general fund. Because of its coastal location, Wilmington keeps a fund balance of 30% of the general fund for emergencies. But disbursements from FEMA and other federal agencies after previous hurricanes have filled that fund balance to the brim. In order to spend down the excess, $10.5 million will go from the fund balance to the rail realignment project, street rehabilitation, and affordable housing, with each getting a third of the money.

Council members also approved funding to pursue raising the minimum hourly wage for city employees to $15 and nearly $2 million for merit-based increases; council also approved a raise for themselves, up roughly 60% over the next two years. According to the budget, the council's stipend increase is intended to bring reach the average benchmark for North Carolina cities.

You can find a 200-page presentation on the fiscal year 2022 budget, which runs from July 1 of this year to June 30 of next year, including more details on departmental spending here.

The most detailed level of this year's and past years' budgets, often called 'line-item budgets,' isn't yet available, although WHQR requested those documents last month. Line item budgets show actual expenditures — everything from staples to salaries, firearms to expensed lunches. While they are public documents, they are also very large, and few if any local governments host them online.

Stay tuned for more analysis on Wilmington's budget when those documents become available.

Kelly Kenoyer is an Oregonian transplant on the East Coast. She attended University of Oregon’s School of Journalism as an undergraduate, and later received a Master’s in Journalism from University of Missouri- Columbia. Contact her on Twitter @Kelly_Kenoyer or by email: KKenoyer@whqr.org.