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This week in government: New Hanover County Board of Commissioners and School Board, Wilmington City Council

New Hanover County and Wilmington

This week local officials will cover a potential sales tax increase, ending Covid-related emergency rules, waving the white flag on Short-Term Rental regulation, and a host of contentious school issues.

Board of Education - Tuesday, May 3 at 5 p.m.

The Board of Education will cover a number of contentious issues, including grading policy, seclusion and restraint of students, ‘town halls,’ decorum, and the budget.

  • Grading policy - There has been a good deal of debate over the policy of raising the grading ‘floor’ to 50%, meaning that, for example, a quiz with no right answers would receive a 50, not a 0. While 50% is still an F, it pulls down the student’s average by considerably less overall. Proponents say the policy helps students recover from pandemic-related learning loss; critics say it punishes students who have worked hard to improve their own scores.
  • Seclusion data - After months of pressure from advocates who want to see the practice of seclusion ended, the district is releasing demographic and school-level data showing who is being secluded and where. Critics of seclusion have argued that, in addition to other problems with the practice, that seclusion disproportionately impacts minority students.
  • Town hall and decorum - The Board’s recently adopted policy allows for several ‘town halls’ annually, giving the public a chance to speak to the board. However, the policy allows for a number of formats. The Board’s first ‘town hall’ was an extended ‘Call to the Audience,’ which does not provide an opportunity for back-and-forth discussion between the public and the Board, something some members have asked for. A related topic is the board’s conduct, which continues to be an issue despite have lowered the temperature somewhat over the last several months. 
  • The Budget – The Board is planning to ask the county for additional funding in the upcoming year, including roughly $17 million for increasing support staff salaries and $1 million in capital funds. The county commissioners are expected to reject this request – but it’s not clear what the next steps will be.

The Board of Education meeting will be held at 1805 S. 13th Street. You can find the meeting agenda here.

City of Wilmington - Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.

Short-term rentals: A recent North Carolina Court of Appeals decision has apparently put the final nail in the coffin for the City of Wilmington’s attempts to regulate short-term rentals (including its attempt to charge a fee to STR operators). The courts ruled, repeatedly, that state law unambiguously made the type of regulation imposed by the City illegal – despite the city’s protests that the state law didn’t apply to it.

Related: Wilmington no longer requires short-term rental registration following court decision

While the City could still appeal the decision to the state’s Supreme Court, staff are also proposing that the city return over $500,000 in STR fees it as collected so far and the city has quietly changed its website page for STR regulations – suggesting that the cost of continuing to fight the case in court may be too rich for the city’s blood.

Middle Sound Loop: The city will consider a request for voluntary annexation of roughly 4.8 acres off of Middle Sound Loop. The land is currently in the unincorporated county and is zoned low-density; the annexation would allow a rezoning request to the city’s High-density multiple-dwelling residential district (Conditional District) for a 72-unit multi-family senior housing development. Neighboring residents have protested the potential move, citing traffic concerns as Middle Sound Loop effectively narrows to a ‘one-way-in, one-way-out’ intersection on a highly congested stretch of Market Street in Ogden.

The City Council meeting will be held at Wilmington City Hall, 102 North 3rd Street at 6:30 p.m. You can find the agenda here.

NHC Commissioners - Monday, May 2 at 4 p.m.

State of emergency: Commissioners are expected to end the state of emergency adopted shortly after the Covid-19 pandemic hit the New Hanover County area. As reported by Port City Daily, County Manager Chris Coudriet is recommending dropping the state of emergency, saying that while he was not saying the pandemic was over, the “need to use police power” was.

The state of emergency has allowed the county to move more quickly, both financially and logistically, but has been the target of political pushback; currently, several conservative candidates in the 2022 primary election for the Board of Commissioners are campaigning on ending the state of emergency.

‘Public transportation sales tax’: The process of putting a sales-tax increase on the local ballot is complicated and Monday’s public hearing is only one step.

Related: New Hanover County wants public input on proposed ¼-cent 'transportation sales tax'

Commissioners will consider the public input, along with other factors, and vote whether or not to place the increase on the ballot. If the ballot measure receives more than 50% of the vote in November, it will still be up to commissioners to take a final vote to institute the increase – a vote that could take place before or after a new board is sworn in in December if incumbents Rob Zapple and/or Julia Olson-Boseman are unseated.

According to the county, the proposed sales tax would generate $144 million over ten years if approved, coming from an additional 25 cents on every $100 purchase in New Hanover County — with some exceptions, like groceries, gas, and prescriptions. Currently, the combined state tax and county sales tax in New Hanover is 7%, with county tax at 2%. The proposed increase would raise that combined rate to 7.25%.

The current plan would divide the money up, with roughly 40% going to bike and pedestrian paths in the city and county, 15% going to rail realignment, and 45% going to WAVE and Bus Rapid Transit. That could change at the will of the commissioners in the future — but the funding would have to be for public transportation, and couldn’t be used to substitute for existing funding for programs.

The Board of Commissioners meeting will be held at the historic New Hanover County Courthouse, 24 North Third Street, Room 301, at 4 p.m. You can find the meeting agenda here.