The second and final reading of the City of Wilmington’s fiscal year 2014-15 budget was unanimously approved by Wilmington City Council during its Tuesday, June 17, meeting.
Totaling $145 million with a one-cent property tax increase, the budget includes increased funding for police officer and firefighter salaries, and a readjustment of the pay scales of those two public safety departments.
However, what the budget does not account for is the possible loss of an estimated $1.7 million in privilege license tax revenues that the city could lose after the repeal of privilege licenses by the North Carolina General Assembly and Governor Pat McCrory earlier in June.
While the bill allows for a majority of municipalities to collect revenues for privilege license taxes billed for July 2014, the City of Wilmington is one of only about seven municipalities statewide that bill for the annual privilege licenses on May 1. With that cycle, the city would only be able to prorate the 2015 privilege licenses bills for two months, from May 1-July 1, and those revenues are currently included in the city’s 2014-15 budget.
After council’s meeting, city manager Sterling Cheatham said the city is assuming legislators will provide Wilmington and the other municipalities caught in the loophole with the same one-year buffer. If not, Cheatham said the city would either have to reduce spending by $1.7 million throughout the year or find another revenue source to account for the difference.
The lack of revenue provided by privilege license taxes was also discussed during Wilmington Police Chief Ralph Evangelous’ presentation on an application for a $1.2 million Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant.
“Everyone wants better services and they should have them but in our state legislation’s wisdom they have said we should have a smaller tax base and now all we really have are property taxes,” said Councilman Kevin O’Grady.
The COPS grant application approved by city council would pay for the hiring of eight new WPD officers by providing around $1.5 million in funding with the city’s required 25 percent match of $305,401.
If awarded the grant, Evangelous said his plan would be to deploy the eight new officers in the south side area of the city, known as District 3, which lies just south of downtown and west of 17th Street. That effort would follow the same violent crime reduction plan that was implemented by WPD in downtown Wilmington and has reduced violent crimes by 69 percent in 12 years in that area, Evangelous said.
Compared with the downtown district, District 3 has almost 11,000 more calls for service, higher response times, 500 more calls per officer per year, 500 more traffic wrecks, 48 million more square feet and only two more officers assigned to the area.
Evanglous said WPD could begin implementing the District 3 plan this year if his department is awarded the COPS grant.
Wilmington City Council also set a public hearing date to gauge public interest in a $44 million general obligation streets and sidewalks bond order that would address transportation needs throughout the city.
The bond would cover $55 million worth of projects with an additional $11 million coming from additional revenues that would come from the necessary two-cent property tax increase to pay for the bond.
Council set the bond order public hearing for its Tuesday, July 8, meeting.