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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Carolina Beach looking at 9% property tax increase, council cites inflation

Carolina Beach’s 2024-2025 draft budget includes a proposed property tax increase — possibly 2 cents on top of the town’s current rate of 21.5 cents per $100 dollars, a 9% hike. (Port City Daily/File)

CAROLINA BEACH — Local governments are in the process of developing next year’s fiscal roadmap, and Carolina Beach town departments and nonprofits have made requests they hope to include in the town’s 2024-2025 budget.

READ MORE: No property tax increase in Surf City budget, but sewer costs are rising

Carolina Beach released its draft 2024-2025 budget requests for town departments Tuesday, totaling $22.6 million in general fund expenses. The requested budget is $2 million more than 2023-2024.

At an open house Tuesday, council member Jay Healy told Port City Daily the draft budget would also include a proposed property tax increase — possibly 2 cents on top of the town’s current rate of 21.5 cents per $100 dollars, a 9% hike. The town’s last rate change was in 2021, when rates decreased from 0.245 to 0.215.

In a town email following an April 23 budget workshop, Mayor Lynn Barbee first raised the possibility of a tax increase and said he would try to avoid it if possible. He cited inflated costs of goods and services as the main reason for additional revenue needs.

“I’m not going to sugar coat it,” he wrote in the email. “It’s going to be tight and a small tax increase may need to be considered.”

Healy said Tuesday the town had not raised taxes in several years despite an average inflation rate of 8% in 2022 and 4.7% in 2021.

“The cost of everything is going up,” he said. “We don’t get a break on it, we have to pay more.”

Healy noted the proposed increase would still be lower than most other coastal municipalities; currently, Kure Beach has a 0.265 rate, Oak Island is at 0.28, and Topsail Beach at 0.34 rate. Surf City announced a few weeks ago it would not raise taxes; it’s at 41 cents per $100. 

Wrightsville Beach has the lowest property taxes among local municipalities at 9 cents per $100 dollars of value, enabled in part by parking revenue

“Over my tenure, I take some flack for pushing to maximize revenue streams such as parking and for supporting projects that redevelop our central business district,” Barbee wrote in the April report. “If we do not, the tax burden will continue to shift toward residents.”

Earlier this year, residents pushed back about the town charging for off-season parking; the council agreed to scale back those months. However, to make up for that revenue loss, it raised its parking rates from $5 to $6 an hour and $7 in premium lots. The town anticipates $2.9 million in total parking revenue for 2024-2025, up from $2.68 million in 2023-2024.

As well, the county conducts a property revaluation every four years. The last revaluation took place in January 2021, so the next one is in 2025; this could inflate revenue more.

At an April budget workshop, Town Manager Bruce Oakley said the town’s property tax revenue — $6.6 million in 2023-2034 — has steadily increased while sales tax revenue has flattened out somewhat. 

Projected property tax revenue for 2024-2025 is $7.4 million. Oakley told PCD each penny in increased rates would bring in about $315,000. He noted the town expects additional revenue from an increased tax base due to developments and property improvements as well. 

Oakley added the town is a bit tighter for next year’s budget than he would like it to be — in part due to delays on refunds for town purchases. As such, many departments’ requests will not make it to the final plan.

“What you see is not necessarily what you’re going to get,” Oakley said. “‘Cause there are going to be a lot of requests in there. Once we get the revenue numbers, we’re going to go with a sharp pencil.”

The police department’s requested budget for 2024-2025 is $4.3 million, up from $3.9 in 2023-2024.

Police Chief Vic Ward’s requests include additional funding for the town’s forensic lab — forensic investigations have been allocated $20,000 for the past three years — and a new six-year contract for Axon body cameras. The department’s last $24,500-per-year contract was covered by recently expired grant funding. Ward is seeking town assistance and new grants from the Bureau of Justice Assistance to cover the expense. 

The chief also expressed a desire to provide the Cordico wellness app service to officers, designed to help first responders in high-risk occupations connect with mental health resources. 

“My first 25 years, you never heard the word wellness,” Ward said, applauding agencies for taking it more seriously. “I mean if somebody died, [it was] suck it up, get back to work.”

Barbee expressed support for the request, noting police officers often witness traumatic events.

“It’s taken us a few centuries to realize that,” Ward said. “But we see stuff human beings aren’t supposed to see, and it does have a big effect on you.” 

Fire department Chief Alan Griffin requested a fire truck replacement, wage increases, a bigger uniform budget, and living quarter improvements to accommodate over ten new volunteer firefighters who joined this year.

The fire department’s total requested budget is $2.4 million, up from $2 million in 2023-2024.

Most of the town’s departments are financed by the general fund, but a separate balance covers utilities, which comes from water and sewer service fees. The requested utility fund for 2024-2025 is $10.5 million, up almost $500,000 from 2023-2024.

Public utilities Director Mark Meyer’s funding requests included the $166,187 replacement of the Lewis Drive lift station, a new pickup truck, a new superintendent, and $28,000 to paint the town’s centennial logo on the Dow Road water tower.

Meyer also requested the town issue bonds to fund new projects, including the headworks wastewater treatment plant, with funding also coming from Kure Beach. A 2 million-gallon water tank at the Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point terminal in Brunswick County will also be considered. 

The town has been considering building new water infrastructure in the U.S. Army-owned land since at least 2022.

“That was a big subject in our last meeting we had with Rouzer’s office,” Barbee said at the April meeting, noting the town was seeking the local congressman’s support if necessary to help coordinate with the military on the project.

Deputy town manager Ed Parvin noted MOTSU had shown interest in previous water tank plans with the town, as it would help provide fire-fighting services.

Public Works supervisor Tony Burnett-Millage asked for funding to lease two vehicle replacements, renovations to the community building on Cape Fear Boulevard, and an array of stormwater project improvements. 

Parks and recreation department’s 2024-2025 request totals $1.67 million, with director Eric Jelinski asking for an improved picnic shelter at Lake Park, new cardio equipment for the town’s recreation center, and a basketball court expansion and sidewalk and electrical box repairs at Mike Chappell park. 

The planning and development department sits at a $1-million request, an increase from $775,867 in 2023-2024. In his presentation for the department, director Jeremy Hardison requested to rename the agency to the “community and development” department, as he wants to put more emphasis on community outreach in the coming year.

In May, council heard budget requests from local nonprofits, as well:

  • Carolina Beach Inlet Association: $7,500 to assist with operations
  • Federal Point Historic Preservation Society: $9,000 for archival preservation
  • Friends of Fort Fisher: $5,000 to support maintenance of Fort Fisher
  • Island of Lights: $3,000 for tourist events
  • Katie B. Hines Senior Center: $27,000 for roof repair and insurance
  • NC Aquarium Society: $10,000 for Fort Fisher aquarium exhibits and renovations
  • Pleasure Island Sea Turtle Project: $6,000 to survey and monitor nests
  • Pleasure Island Chamber of Commerce: $35,000 for activities and events
  • Pleasure Island PAWS: $2,000 to provide treatment to feral cats

Barbee and council member Joe Benson said Tuesday they consider the impact increased taxes would have on retirees with fixed budgets and other residents with tight finances. Benson noted he wasn’t certain he’d support the tax increase.

“There are people on this island, believe it or not, who are going month to month,” Benson told PCD Tuesday. “So I would take their word very seriously.”

Oakley told PCD council may reject or amend the proposal, which could cause spending cuts. He added council may direct him to seek funds from other sources, such as borrowing from the town’s reserves.

A public hearing is scheduled for the proposed budget May 14. The town manager will present the finalized budget on May 28 and it will be voted on June 11.


Tips or comments? Email journalist Peter Castagno at peter@localdailymedia.com.

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