Coudriet described his proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1, as balanced and “consistent with the direction of this board.”
“It’s not a secret that I am asking–or recommending–to the board to raise the property tax,” Coudriet said. “I could only do that knowing with 110 percent confidence that we had analyzed literally every line item and had driven out unnecessary costs to make sure that this is the tightest budget possible, recognizing that I’m asking the board to redirect $15 million of taxpayer money into the general fund.”
If approved by commissioners, the county’s property tax rate would increase to 60.4 cents per $100 of property valuation to fund the $306 million general fund budget. The budget includes debt obligations for voter-approved schools and parks bond referendums from 2006 and 2008. Included in the $306 million general fund is $54 million in bond repayment.
If the 5-cent tax increase were to be approved, that would equal $15 million in debt repayment, Coudriet said.
“Not one dollar raised will go to fund the general fund; it will go exclusively to debt service…in this case, general obligation indebtedness,” he said. “I hope 5 cents is not a surprise to anyone in the community.”
Not included in Coudriet’s recommended budget, however, is any repayment toward the $160 million schools bond approved by New Hanover County voters in November 2014.
Coudriet’s recommended budget transfers $6.7 million from the county’s fund balance to the general fund for capital outlay and other one-time expenses.
“We are finally in a position where fund balance can be used–truly–for one-time expenses,” Coudriet said, adding the appropriation is within the county’s fund balance policy.
The board’s public education allocation–for New Hanover County Schools and Cape Fear Community College–is recommended at $124.5 million. The public school system is recommended to receive $71.1 million in operating expenses–a $3.8 million increase from the current fiscal year–$3 million for capital expenses and nearly $20 million for debt repayment. Coudriet recommended $12.2 million for operating expenses and $17.5 in debt repayment for Cape Fear Community College.
Coudriet’s budget also includes $500,000 for economic development to attract “more, better paying jobs,” he said. He also recommended an additional $25,000 (above the county’s contractual obligation) for the county’s contribution to the Wilmington Film Commission and an additional $50,000 for Wilmington Business Development.
“It’s important that the film industry knows that we are here, that we are vibrant, that we are viable, and this, I hope, will help put a shining star on our film commission and what (director) Johnnie Griffin and others are doing,” he said.
While Chairman Jonathan Barfield said he had hoped for “spirited public discourse” among board members about the proposed budget, commissioners, for the most part, reserved their comments for an upcoming work session.
Commissioners scheduled a budget workshop for 2 p.m. May 14 ahead of the board’s regularly scheduled agenda review meeting at the county government complex, 230 Government Center Drive, Wilmington.
Caroline Curran is the managing editor of Port City Daily. Reach her at (910) 772-6336 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @CGCurran