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Leland town council unanimously approves 17% property tax increase

Leland resident Madge Matteo, an older white woman with dark hair in a blue jacket, speaks at the podium during a Leland town council meeting. She is standing round the side of the podium and has the microphone bent up and over the side in order to talk at the crowd with her back turned to the town council.
Courtesy of the Town of Leland
Leland resident Madge Matteo speaks at the podium during the public comment period. On Thursday, the town council voted unanimously to pass a 17% property tax increase.

Following months of backlash from anti-taxation activists, the Leland town council voted on Thursday to approve the $46 million budget. That plan includes a 17% property tax increase, or a four-cent increase from last year's rate of 23 cents per $100.

After much ado, the Leland town council finally has a budget for fiscal year 2024.

On Thursday, the Leland town council voted unanimously to approve a $46 million budget. That budget will mandate a four-cent property tax increase to 27 cents per $100. The move follows several months of protests and hectic public meetings, where many Leland residents criticized council members for attempting to increase the tax rate.

Leland initially considered a 70% property tax increase earlier this year. According to town leaders, the increase would largely
go towards road resurfacing, as well as to help the town's fire and police departments keep up with the town's rapid growth.

That iteration of the budget was, to put it mildly, not received well— hundreds of Leland residents spoke out at the budget's public hearing on March 21, and many others sent overwhelmingly negative feedback to the town online.

Town manager David Hollis went back to the drawing board for the month of April. His revamped budget, which he presented on April 18, featured a significantly lower property tax increase. But for some residents, it still wasn't low enough — several called for a 0% tax increase.

And though the vote was unanimous, this town council meeting was still far from peaceful.

"I'm not gonna say much more because I just listened to the vitriol and the comments and the rudeness — thank you, Rhonda [Florian] — from the folks in here while we're trying to address some of your concerns," said Mayor Pro Tem Bob Campbell, addressing Rhonda Florian, founder of Better Government 4 Leland, a group that's been protesting Leland's proposed tax increase.

Mayor Brenda Bozeman still struggled to keep the peace during the public comment period, which had 26 speakers signed up. The crowd repeatedly heckled town council and called for their resignation.

In fact, though the budget is now complete, many protestors from Better Government 4 Leland say they're not done with the town council yet. Earlier this month, Rep. Frank Iler introduced a bill that would allow for recall elections in the town of Leland. If that bill becomes a law, activists say they intend to use it to recall several town council members' elections.

It's unclear how that would impact the property tax hike. But for now, the town of Leland has a budget.

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.