Wilmington leaders pass 2021-2022 budget with new tax rate, increased stipends

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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Wilmington City Council passed the Fiscal Year 2021-2022 budget on Tuesday. It goes into effect on July 1.

The budget prioritizes affordable housing, advances transportation projects, enhances street rehabilitation, and secures the fund balance.

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“Having that money set aside is extremely important for us as a city to move forward as quickly as we can in the aftermath of a natural disaster,” Mayor Bill Saffo said regarding the fund balance.

It also includes a new tax property tax rate of $0.3808 per $100 assessed value. This is roughly 12 cents less than FY 2020-2021, however taxpayers will likely pay more out of pocket. New Hanover County reassessed property values for 2021, with appraisals increasing by about 36 percent.

“As a citizen and as a property owner I felt that with a 30 percent appreciation in property values that we had a responsibility to reduce that tax rate which we did by 12 cents,” Saffo said.

The city estimates the average homeowner will see an increase of about $36 on their city tax bill. Saffo says he believes the new rate is fair and will benefit the city and its residents, going toward various projects.

“We’re one of the fastest growing cities in the state of North Carolina with a lot of people moving here,” Saffo said. “Public safety is a big issue, infrastructure is a big issue, affordable housing is a big issue. To go a little bit above a revenue neutral, a half a cent above revenue neutral I think was responsible.”

Critics, like New Hanover County Republican Party Chair Will Knecht, feel this on top of an increase at the county level is unacceptable.

“What our city council and what our county commissioners should have done is said ‘you know what, there will be no tax increase and we start there,'” Knecht said. “And we tell staff that there will be no tax increase, you make the rest work and present it to us. That’s what should have been done.”

Also included in the budget is an increased stipend for city councilmembers. Council’s compensation will increase by 25 percent for 2021-2022, 25 additional percent for 2022-2023, and 11 additional percent for 2023-2024.

Critics feel the timing for this increase is inappropriate.

“We see restaurants closing, small businesses struggling to stay afloat and they vote themselves a 25 percent raise?” Knecht said. “Unconscionable”

Saffo says the raise stemmed from a budget office study, which found Wilmington paid its elected officials the sixth lowest out of seven comparable cities.

“One of the unintended consequences of having very low council pay and low mayor pay is that you might have people that want to be involved or get involved into local politics or local government and may not be able to afford to do that,” Saffo said. “We’re still six out of seven, I think we’re making the adjustment necessary.”

You can read more about the budget here.