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CAPE FEAR MEMORIAL BRIDGE: Updates, resources, and context

"What were you thinking?" Tensions flare over proposed tax hike at Leland council meeting

Hundreds of residents sit and watch a Leland mayor and council meeting in the chambers. Many are standing along the walls. One elderly woman sits on the floor in the center of the frame. An elderly man seated in a chair to her left stares at the camera.
Nikolai Mather
Hundreds of Leland residents showed up for the mayor and council meeting on Thursday to protest a proposed 70% property tax hike.

Hundreds of people showed up for a Leland mayor and council meeting last night to protest an "unbelievable" budget proposal. If passed, residents would see a 70% property tax increase.

There was a common refrain during the Leland mayor and council meeting, which took place last night. Every few minutes, residents rubbing shoulders in the crowded, standing-room only meeting chambers would call out, "Speak up! We can't hear you!"

That's because council members' microphones kept cutting out. In the lobbies outside, hundreds of others huddled around TVs and cell phones with the volume way up, shushing others when the din got too loud. Town employees switched mics and tried to project their voices when talking about how Leland's $56 million budget would improve IT services for the town.

Mayor Brenda Bozeman gestured towards the mics.

"And the IT money, that would solve this?" she said, to scattered laughs.

It was a moment of levity in an otherwise tense and grueling public meeting where 59 people signed up to speak on the proposed budget — which would introduce a 70% property tax increase. If passed as-is, the average resident would pay hundreds more in annual property tax.

The chambers were packed with hundreds of residents, with many standing in lines against the wall or sitting down on the floor. It took the council about two hours to get to the public comment period for the budget. In the meantime, meeting attendees heckled, spoke out of turn, and, in two instances, grew faint and had to get some air.

Just before the budget public comment period opened, Bozeman asked the council to make a motion to hold another budget workshop on April 9. The motion carried. That meeting will also be open to the public.

After that, the public comment period stretched late into the night.

"Even if you needed all these things, why not stagger it over five years, allow the revenue to increase through growth," said resident Tom Mahoney. "I feel like a parent whose teenager comes home after doing something so off the wall that you throw your hands up and you just shake your head and go, 'What were you thinking?'"

The meeting concluded five hours of proceedings.

Nikolai Mather is a Report for America corps member from Pittsboro, North Carolina. He covers rural communities in Pender County, Brunswick County and Columbus County. He graduated from UNC Charlotte with degrees in genocide studies and political science. Prior to his work with WHQR, he covered religion in Athens, Georgia and local politics in Charlotte, North Carolina. In his spare time, he likes working on cars and playing the harmonica. You can reach him at nmather@whqr.org.