Monday, April 15, 2024

Leland to consider 70% property tax increase to fund roads and public safety

Leland town budget proposal includes a 16-cent property tax increase. (Courtesy photo)

LELAND — The Town of Leland has announced its 2024-2025 fiscal year budget proposal, which if approved will hike up the property tax rate from 23 cents per $100 valuation to 39 cents to pay for road work, police and fire equipment, and new personnel.  

READ MORE: Strike out! Baseball stadium not moving forward for now in Leland

Leland has not raised taxes since 2022. The average home value in Leland is $322,600; with the proposed tax increase, a homeowner with that value would pay over $500 more in property taxes.

Per a special council meeting held this month, 50% of Leland budget funds come from property taxes, with the other half coming from sales and use tax, fire fees, municipal vehicle tax, franchise tax, and interest income.

The 70% proposed tax increase will generate $10.88 million of new revenue, Leland council member Bill McHugh said on a phone call Thursday. 

Port City Daily reached out to council members Richard Holloman and Veronica Carter who did not comment. 

“All of this additional tax rate revenue is directly earmarked for the expansion of services,” McHugh said. 

More than half is going to public safety and infrastructure. Out of the town’s $56 million total budget, fire and police have the largest share, 33%, with each getting $8 million. Repaving roads will be roughly $5 million

“Public Safety and infrastructure have always accounted for large portions of the Town’s budget,” stated communications manager Jessica Jewell when asked about the historical budget allotment in Leland.

McHugh explained Leland was switching over to purchasing emergency vehicles, like a $1.3 million fire truck, as part of a wider effort to replace older vehicles in the fleet. The new budget also calls for five additional firefighters with a salary of $550,000.

The police department will be expanded by five more personnel: one lieutenant, one patrol sergeant, and three patrol officers. These five officers have a collective price tag around $1 million. McHugh said this number included vehicles, uniforms and onboarding. 

To illustrate the need for more officers, McHugh said a single traffic stop “can tie down as much as half the force,” if two or three officers respond to the same area. The police force currently consists of 40 officers charged with serving the 20-mile area.

Another major part of the budget will pay for the resurfacing of 4.68 of the town’s 98.38 miles of road over a period of 20 years, projected to be $5.5 million in total. McHugh said $4.5 million for the resurfacing comes from the tax rate increase and the remaining $1 million from the state gas tax from the Powell Bill — a North Carolina Department of Transportation program that funds roadwork based on municipality population and miles of street managed by the town government. 

When asked if the road resurfacing was related to the growth Leland was experiencing, McHugh said it wasn’t. Though, Leland has witnessed considerable growth over the last two decades. 

The most populous town in Brunswick County, Leland’s population increased by 22.4% from April 2020 to July 2022, according to the Census Bureau. In 2010 there were 1,527 people residing there; by 2020 it had increased to 22,908. The last Census estimate from 2022 gives a current population of 28,591, a jump of 5,683 people in two years. 

Instead of addressing issues caused by growth, McHugh pointed toward a long-term vision in the budget, such as setting aside money for the contingency fund and emergency management. 

“What we’re trying to avoid is waiting until our critical infrastructure, like our roads start crumbling, and then panicking to come around and try to repair it all at once,” McHugh said. 

McHugh framed the proposal as keeping the roads in good condition overall rather than isolated piecemeal repairs. 

“Previously, we have been resurfacing small portions, maybe as much as half a mile a year, and primarily focusing on repairing the existing roads,” McHugh said. 

A budget handout at the Leland special council meeting on Jan. 29 listed specific roads to be addressed and associated estimated costs. McHugh said some of the developments with streets requiring work were paved as far back as 2008. 

The most expensive street to resurface is the estimated $2.5 million needed for Grandiflora Drive near Magnolia Greens. 

Around $1.25 million will go toward fixing up John Sneed Lane, while the road with the lowest resurfacing price tag is the $35,000 estimate for Eric Court, a residential cul-de-sac. 

Beyond the resurfacing, a complete rebuilding of Kay Todd Road, a rural road which brackets the House of Pickleball sports club, with the railroad tracks running parallel, will require around $3.5 million. A design for the future 2026-2027 resurfacing has a price tag of $150,000. 

The budget proposal’s 20-year iterative road resurfacing meshes neatly with the Leland 2045 Comprehensive Plan. In a world where everything runs with clockwork smoothness, road work in Leland would conclude in 2044, a year before the plan’s end date. 

Leland 2045 was adopted in 2021 and remains the town government’s overarching strategic guide. The plan was created from merging preceding plans including the Founders Park Master Plan, Leland 2020, and the Pedestrian Plan. 

“Town Council and staff have been discussing the FY2024-2025 budget in public meetings since September,” Jewell said, “and received very little public comment related to the budget since then.”

During the recent controversy over the ultimately-denied construction of a baseball stadium, more than 2,000 Leland residents signed a petition, and at least some of their concern was fueled by sentiments that the town’s money and time would be better spent on shoring up infrastructure, as well as anxieties the stadium would result in higher taxes. The town may be getting both higher taxes and infrastructural work in the new budget. 

The town government will be holding several meetings to take public input. The next is a budget open house on March 5 to publicize budget information, followed by an opportunity for public feedback at the March 21 town council meeting.

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