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"We're not gonna take it": Residents protest Leland tax proposals

A group of about a hundred mostly middle-aged protestors stand and sit on the grass outside Leland town hall. They're solemnly watching a speaker, who's just out of frame to the right. One of the protesters holds a sign that reads, "No land purchase, no salary increases, no $1,500,000 fire truck, no 55 foot tall buildings."
Nikolai Mather
About a hundred protesters attended a demonstration against tax increases at Leland town hall on Saturday.

During a rally outside Leland town hall on Saturday, political group Better Government 4 Leland criticized the town council's proposed budgets.

On Saturday morning, a group of Leland residents staged a protest outside Town Hall. Doug Field, who organized the demonstration with Better Government 4 Leland (BG4L) founder Rhonda Florian, shared a simple message that morning.

"No tax increase. Not 17% – 0%," he said.

About a hundred residents attended the rally against the Town of Leland's proposed property tax increase. The town council initially planned to pursue a 70% tax hike to support its 2024 budget. But after widespread public outcry, they changed course.

On April 9, the council agreed to explore options for a four-cent tax hike, or an approximately 18% increase. During Saturday's protest, Leland residents said that still wasn't enough.

"We have to fight it and say we are not going to take it!" said Leland resident J.R. Hildreth.

Emotions ran high. Demonstrators wore orange t-shirts bearing a photo of an angry armed mob, saying "Go ahead… raise our taxes." At one point, protestors held a phone up to a microphone to play the chorus to Twisted Sister's 1984 anthem, "We're Not Gonna Take It."

Some speakers lambasted town council members for introducing the rates in the midst of high inflation. Others, like Field, were frustrated with the way they said the council spoke to them.

A shot of a man's torso. He's wearing a traffic-cone orange t-shirt. The shirt has a drawing of an angry mob, with members holding pitchforks, knives, frying pans and a banner that says "People power." A speech bubble over their heads reads, "Go ahead... raise our taxes."
Nikolai Mather/WHQR
Better Government 4 Leland sold orange t-shirts at the rally, and encouraged members to wear them during Thursday's meeting.

"If they complain, we'll mount our high horses and in a condescending sneering manner, we'll lecture them, saying that we're picking their pockets for their own good," said Field, mimicking the town council members.

During last week's meeting, council member Veronica Carter shared her thoughts on what she viewed as an "incredibly disappointing" lack of civility from constituents.

"I hoped we could remember that we're going to be neighbors, regardless of what happens. And that we need to treat each other with a certain amount of respect and civility," she said. "That has not happened."

Florian brought up those remarks during the rally again.

"They whined about listening to the people who put them in office," said Florian.

The town council has already contested some of the claims BG4L members shared at the rally. One speaker mentioned that the initial proposal would give the town's administration department a 60% raise. Carter refuted that during the April 9 meeting, saying that it was a 60% increase to the overall budget line, not to the employees' salaries.

Leland Town Hall is closed on Saturdays. There were no town officials at the protest. But several protesters signaled that they would make their voices heard at the upcoming town council meeting.

The mayor and town council met for an agenda meeting on Monday and agreed to review the new budget proposal on April 18.

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.