Wednesday, April 24, 2024

No property tax increase proposed in Fiscal Year 2020 Wilmington budget

City of Wilmington's City Council will vote to approve the annual budget next month. (Port City Daily photo / Michael Praats)
City of Wilmington’s City Council will vote to approve the annual budget next month. (Port City Daily photo / Michael Praats)

WILMINGTON — Property taxes won’t be increasing for Wilmington residents if the proposed (and balanced) budget is approved by as written City Council in June.

Laura Mortell, budget director for the City of Wilmington, offered City Council a first look at the budget on Tuesday.

When it comes to the priorities of the city, offering competitive compensation for employees, continuing core infrastructure upgrades, working to prevent youth violence, and of course — focus on affordable housing.

Mortell also said the budget would maintain current levels of services as well as continue to fund infrastructure maintenance related to projects in the Transporation Bond, Parks Bond, and 80/20 Capital Plan (which provides 80% financing and 20% “pay-as-you-go” funding for capital improvement plans).

The total budget comes out to just a little more than $200 million with 39% of that coming from property taxes, Mortell said; 18% of that would come from charges for services, and 14% from local sales tax.

So where is this money being spent? Unsurprisingly, the biggest portion of the budget is directed towards public safety with 29% of the revenue going to these services while 15% goes towards capital projects.

A projected increase of nearly 3% over the Fiscal Year 2019 budget in property tax revenues is expected, following a trend of growth over the past several years Mortell said. The city is also counting on a 6% increase in sales tax revenues over FY19’s budget — but not everything is on the rise.

Mortell said the city is preparing for a 0.5% decrease for each year past the proposed budget as the economy is predicted to slow.

Florence’s impact on the General Fund

Since Hurricane Florence impacted the region last September, Mortell said city staff and budget planners agreed that a property tax increase should be avoided at all costs.

“Staff thought it was imperative and consistent with City Council feedback that we avoid a property tax increase. As such the recommended budget has an Ad Valorem tax rate of $0.498,” Mortell said.

Florence had a significant impact on the city’s General Fund balance she said, and the true total is still yet to be decided.

At the year-end of FY18, that is, pre-storm, the unassigned fund balance was around $34,600 or 31% of the total General Fund budget.

After Florence for FY19 that dropped to $20,400 or 14.9% of the $136,800 General Fund budget, Mortell said.

Affordable housing programs

Once again affordable housing has made its way into the conversation at the City of Wilmington. The proposed budget would address several programs that help with affordable housing and would increase a $123,000 increase in funding.

“The FY20 budget allows for $773,000 — an increase of $123,000 to continue to fund programs aiding low-income homeowners for rehab programs,” Mortell said.

Funding for the city/county Ad Hoc committee on affordable housing is included in the budget in the form of $60,000. Funding for the Homeownership Opportunity Program (HOP) is $470,000 while $103,000 would be dedicated to rehabilitation programs.

City Council has not yet approved the budget for Fiscal Year 2020 but will likely do so in June as it will be effective as of July 1, 2019.

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