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The Dive: The New Hanover County budget shortfall we aren't talking about much

New Hanover County Sheriff's Office deputies on motorcycles during the 2024 St. Patrick's Day parade in downtown Wilmington.
New Hanover County
New Hanover County Sheriff's Office deputies on motorcycles during the 2024 St. Patrick's Day parade in downtown Wilmington.

Every week, WHQR News Director Ben Schachtman sits down with The Assembly’s Wilmington editor, Johanna Still, to talk about our joint newsletter — The Dive. This week, it’s a look at an $18-million increase in the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office budget, which provided some interesting contrast to the protracted public debate over a comparable budget shortfall at the New Hanover County Schools district.

The Dive is a free weekly newsletter jointly published by WHQR and The Assembly. You can find more information and subscribe here.

The New Hanover County school district’s $20 million budget hole has been well covered, including here on The DiveBut there’s been substantially less said about a comparable $18.4 million budget shortfall for the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office.

The county’s proposed $108-million public safety budget, over 75 percent of which goes to the sheriff’s office, compensates for that. It’s actually slightly higher than the $100.5 million public school budget for the first time in recent history.

The sheriff’s office increase is driven largely by overtime pay for staff, in particular at the detention center, which has been dealing with staffing shortages. There are currently 35 open positions among a staff of roughly 600, and turnover has been high.

Two policy changes last fiscal year also increased overtime costs: raising overtime pay from 150 percent to 200, and compressing the overtime period from 28 to seven days.

The change caught the county off guard. As Chief Financial Officer Eric Credle acknowledged during a budget meeting last week, “We missed that one, for sure.”

So, for the upcoming year, the county has budgeted $11.4 million for overtime at the sheriff’s office. County officials hope that the overtime costs will level out in time, although they’ll still face challenges recruiting and retaining officers.

This budget conversation took less than 10 minutes, without the weeks of turmoil that accompanied the school budget discussions.

For The Dive, Ben Schachtman looks at the differences — and similarities — of issues in public education and public safety: New Sheriff Budget in Town

Ben Schachtman is a journalist and editor with a focus on local government accountability. He began reporting for Port City Daily in the Wilmington area in 2016 and took over as managing editor there in 2018. He’s a graduate of Rutgers College and later received his MA from NYU and his PhD from SUNY-Stony Brook, both in English Literature. He loves spending time with his wife and playing rock'n'roll very loudly. You can reach him at BSchachtman@whqr.org and find him on Twitter @Ben_Schachtman.
Johanna Still is The Assembly‘s Wilmington editor. She previously covered economic development for Greater Wilmington Business Journal and was the assistant editor at Port City Daily.