Local Governments Proposing 2020-2021 Fiscal Budgets Amid COVID-19

Local Governments Proposing 2020-2021 Fiscal Budgets Amid COVID-19

Local Governments Proposing 2020-2021 Fiscal Budgets Amid COVID-19 Featured

By / Local News / Tuesday, 26 May 2020 16:47

By WILLARD KILLOUGH III
Managing Editor

NEW HANOVER CTY - New Hanover County and area municipalities are proposing budgets that seek to hold the line on property tax rates. Carolina Beach, Kure Beach and New Hanover County have all announced their proposals for the 2020-2021 fiscal budget due to be adopted by June 30th to begin July 1st.

The Kure Beach Town Council will hold a public hearing on Monday, June 8, 2020 at 6:00 p.m. at the Kure Beach Town Hall. The meeting will be held via teleconference. To call into the meeting dial +1 919-371-6229, and then enter the Conference ID: 164 077 418#

The proposed budget includes the following highlights:
• No proposed tax rate or General Fund fee increases
• Changes to the water and sewer rate structure:
• Residential, Commercial & Ft. Fisher Water - 10% rate tier increase
• Residential, Commercial & Ft. Fisher Sewer - 10% rate tier increase
• Addition of one full-time employee in the Fire Department
• Changes to the stormwater rate structure:
• Residential, Commercial Stormwater - 14.8% rate increase
• Changes to the fee structure for duplexes to coincide and treat them as a residential property
• Cost of Living adjustment of 1.6 percent for employees
• Merit increase of 2.75 percent to reward employees who are performing above expectation

A copy of the budget message and the proposed budget ordinance and fee schedule has been submitted to the governing body and is on file for public inspection in the office of the Town Clerk. It is also available on the town’s website under “Administration Department” located at www.townofkurebeach.org/administration/documents-review

New Hanover County Manager Chris Coudriet has proposed maintaining the current county-wide tax rate of 55.5 cents per $100 of property value. Also, the County has delayed a previously proposed new storm water fee system that was set to begin this summer until a later date.

According to Wilmington City Manager Sterling Cheatham, the recommended 2020-2021 budget continues with the current ad valorem tax rate of 49.84 cents per $100 assessed value. Many, but not all, well-meaning services are included in the presented budget.

In Carolina Beach, Town Manager Bruce Oakley explained  Tuesday May 26th, there is no proposed tax increase in the budget and the tax rate will remain at 24.5 cents per $100 of value. Although sales tax and room occupancy tax revenues collected from hotels, motels and short term rental accommodations are projected lower than normal, the Town can expect higher property tax revenues based on rising property values.

Oakley explained the increased property tax revenue along with cuts in spending will help offset some of the loses. He explained during the Council's May 26th, workshop, "As you all know there is a lot of economic uncertainty right now. Preparing this budget was a little more difficult predicting revenues. What we have done is shown a budget that is a little lower than last year but it does not include a tax increase. Our utility fund is lower also but will have a 5% rate increase as required by a bond covenant. We are in this budget delaying some spending. We may cut a lot of projects. Delay a lot of things to see how revenues come in."

Oakley said a lot of projects will be delayed while waiting to see how revenues come in over the budget year. Hiring of positions will also be delayed at least until mid-year depending on available revenues.

He said there is a COLA (Cost of living) pay increase included in the budget proposal at 1.8% but, "We are also waiting until January to implement that in case revenues don't support it. We are going to closely monitor everything in this budget."

He said recreation projects such as rest rooms at Mike Chappel Park and other playgrounds have been delayed and, "We will still continue to look everywhere we can for funding to do these projects."

He explained the fund balance - a surplus fund for projects and situations such as operating expenses following a hurricane - is still forecasted with some expected growth for the this budget year and, "If sales taxes and the revenue come in a lot lower than we thought that obviously will be affected this year."

Oakley said some projects in the Water and Sewer Fund have been cut until they have a better idea of the budget impacts of COVID-19.

Oakley said at the next Council meeting he plans to offer information on hiring a company to conduct an efficiency study to review future budget savings.

Councilman Steve Shuttle praised Oakley for his proposal and said, "I think it's a tremendous job. The one thing I want to keep an eye on is where we finish this year, third quarter, fourth quarter, for the 2019-2020 budget to see how our revenues are tracking and where we will be as far as potential shortfalls and then the mystery question is what's happening at Freeman Park as far as revenues and projections."

Freeman Park is largely outside of the Town's jurisdiction but traditionally generates a lot of revenue for the Town via vehicle access fees. The Town owns the first 1,000 feet beyond of the end of Canal Drive. After that, parcels are privately owned. Private properties west of the front of the dune line are considered private while any portion of a property located east of the front of the dune line is open to public use under State Law as a public-trust  area. That includes the dry sand beach east to the high water mark. The wet sand beach belongs to the State of North Carolina. The Town has authority to manage the public-trust beach as a park. That was granted to them by the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners some years ago. There is a fee charged for vehicle access to drive on the beach front within the park. The Town doesn't charge people a fee to walk into the park. They can only charge for four-wheel drive vehicle access. The Town has the authority under State Law to “regulate, restrict and prohibit” vehicles driving on the dry sand beach within the public-trust area.

Starting last year, the Town began closing the park at times due to overcrowding and beach erosion making a large portion of the park unsafe for vehicle traffic and the ability for emergency services to access portions of the park.

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