New Hanover County, City of Wilmington and Town of Wrightsville Beach officials have adopted budgets for the 2014-15 fiscal year, outlining the local governments’ approaches to tax rates, employee raises and more.
While both the county and city budgets increased by 1.1 and 2.4 percent respectively from the 2013-14 fiscal year, Wrightsville Beach’s $12.4 million budget dropped 3.1 percent.
The Wrightsville Beach Board of Alderman adopted the budget on June 12. The New Hanover County Commissioners approved a $327.2 million budget June 16 and the Wilmington City Council approved a $144.8 million budget June 17.
The city budget included a 1 cent property tax increase, bringing the rate to 46 cents per $100 of value. The county budget maintained its tax rate of 55.4 cents per $100, but county manager Chris Coudriet told commissioners to expect a 5 cent bump in the 2015-16 budget to accommodate growing debt service and a shrinking tax base.
The Wrightsville Beach budget maintained the 13.3 cents per $100 tax rate. Town manager Tim Owens, who heads the budget planning process, said a rate increase was not discussed despite high expenditure needs.
“There was really no need to do that. We might have to dip into our reserves, depending on how the year goes. We’ve got $175,000 loaded in the budget from our savings account,” Owens said.
Wrightsville’s tax rate last increased in the 2012-13 fiscal year budget. It was previously 9.9 cents per $100 of value.
The Local Government Budget and Fiscal Control Act, which establishes rules for the municipal budget planning process in North Carolina, dictates that all municipal budgets must be balanced. In response to requested needs from department heads overshadowing revenue projections by $1.2 million, Owens and the board cut line items and raised other fees: parking rates raised from $2 to $2.50 per hour, parks and recreation fees and yard waste pick-up fees increased.
Parking fees bring the second largest chunk of revenue to the town’s general fund with $2.45 million in anticipated revenue for the 2014-15 fiscal year. Without parking fees, the tax rate would have to jump to 23 cents per $100 to keep the budget balanced.
A larger portion of the town’s total budget is set aside for public safety at 45.4 percent compared to the 30 percent of the city’s total expenditures and 17.8 percent of the county’s total expenditures.
Owens said the town has a greater demand for public safety than other towns of its size due to the summertime population swell.
“Our costs for service are a lot more intense than a population of 2,500 full-time residents because of the amount of visitors we have and the activity surrounding them,” Owens said.
Within the $4.66 million allocated for public safety, the Wrightsville Beach Police Department receives $2.72 million, the fire department receives $1.58 million and $346,813 was set aside for ocean rescue. The fire department received an additional $11,225 for emergency preparedness.
Both the city and county budgets pledged funds to bring employee salaries to ranges competitive with the market level. The county set aside $825,000 to boost 411 salaries while the city implemented step two in a multi-year strategy to boost salaries that have been frozen since the recession.
City and county raises will be effective when the 2014-15 fiscal year begins on July 1.
Owens said the board will consider a merit increase for all town employees in December.
“We had a 2 percent merit raise loaded in the budget for all full-time employees. We’re going to take a look at that mid-year to see how our revenues are going and our expenditures are going,” Owens said, adding that typically the town spends less than it anticipates.
“Hopefully we’ll be conservative on our revenue estimates and not spend all our line items. That’s what typically happens,” he said.