A little more, with a little less.
It sounds like an impossible task. But that was the challenge and opportunity presented to New Hanover County staff when talking with the Board of Commissioners about their goals for Fiscal Year 2022-23 budget.
Lowering taxes was a priority for all five Commissioners. Each of them expressed how important it was to keep money in the hands of our residents. By that same token, their words emphasized that it was equally crucial to continue and expand the services our county provides, while funding new initiatives that the Board has prioritized over the past several months.
Since those initial directives, our budget office has worked tirelessly to bring those two goals into a cohesive place. They listened to Commissioner feedback and discussed, at-length, the budget with every department throughout our organization, to make sure all the priorities of the next year would be met.
After all the hard work, I am proud to see each of those goals has been achieved.
On Monday, June 6, the Board of Commissioners approved a $508 million balanced budget for the upcoming fiscal year that lowers taxes, continues and enhances services, and provides the expansion of programs and priorities to enhance and improve life in New Hanover County.
Effective July 1, the tax rate will take a two-cent decrease, going from 47.5 cents to 45.5 cents per $100 in value. That places New Hanover County eighth out of 100 North Carolina counties when it comes to the lowest tax rate in our state.
Even with that decrease in the tax rate, the Board’s longstanding commitment to meeting the educational needs of our county still remains, as $120 million of the $421 million General Fund is designated for New Hanover County Schools, which is 28.5 percent of the General Fund. The district’s Average Daily Membership expenditure ($3,434/student) and teacher supplement ($9,000/teacher) remain among the best in the state. Additionally, the Board approved $23.9 million for Cape Fear Community College’s operating expenses and debt service. Combined, that means 34 percent of the General Fund is solely dedicated towards public education.
While education remains a high priority, a focus on community building, expansion of wraparound services and supporting our citizens during these uncertain times has become more important than ever.
Through a mix of escrow funds from the sale of the hospital, American Rescue Plan Act dollars and our fund balance, we are strengthening programs like Too Good for Violence and Elements, adding community resource coordinators to seven schools that will connect students and families with the services they need, and looking forward to seeing the work Port City United will do in our community to help individuals find a better path forward. Also, our partnership with the Northside Food Co-Op will bring a full-service grocery store to the Northside, a food desert for many years.
Other pieces to helping our community include the doubling of county-funded pre-K classrooms, approximately $1.2 million in funding for 37 nonprofit agencies to continue or expand their reach and nearly $1 million in direct economic development efforts to encourage investment in the private sector, support small business and further economic progress.
Each of those programs are crucial to helping our citizens with everything from mental health to jobs to food, but we know one of the biggest difficulties facing our community right now is a lack of affordable housing.
To that end, investments in our Workforce Housing Service Program will create a dedicated staff solely focused on the ensuring units are available and future projects help meet the needs of our ever-growing community and provide $3 million to directly increase and improve our community’s affordable housing stock as well as increase access to affordable housing. We all know that New Hanover County is an amazing place to live, but we must make sure it is an affordable place to call home for everyone.
Additionally, the budget provides more the $28 million in capital expenses for a host of new and important projects to meet the needs and demands of our community. Some of these include the design of a Northchase Library, the creation of new multi-use trails for better connectivity, a variety of park enhancements and design for a new fire station in Castle Hayne, just to name a few.
So, what does all this mean?
Like I noted before, a little more, with a little less.
You, the citizens, will have less taxes to pay, but you will still receive the same stellar services and amenities you have come to expect living here in New Hanover County. And, you will also see an expansion of new services that will help strengthen our community by providing resources that address a wide array of needs in our county. All of this is made possible by a robust and growing tax base, streamlined practices that help reduce costs and a focus on providing the best service in ways that minimize taxes and fees.
That was the task set before us when we started building this budget, and I am so grateful for the work behind the scenes to bring it to fruition. Our goal has been and continues to be being the model of good governance. We are proud to do just that and look forward to serving you in the upcoming fiscal year.