• Thu. Apr 18th, 2024

Leland finance director answers hot topic questions about proposed $56 million budget

LELAND, N.C. (WECT) – A 70% tax rate increase is leaving many residents with more questions about the Town of Leland’s proposed $56 million budget for the 2024- 2025 fiscal year.

If the current budget plan is approved, the new property tax rate would be 39 cents per $100 valuation, up from 23 cents. That could increase the cost of living by hundreds.

Town officials say that money would go to emergency services and infrastructure, and investing in the future, like building new roads and hiring new police officers and firefighters.

Over the past several weeks, WECT has interviewed town leaders and covered public meetings about the tax hike.

Now, we’re getting answers to your questions.

WECT sat down with Leland’s Finance Director, Carly Hagg, to answer hot-topic questions that residents have sent to our newsroom.

Q: Can you talk about what questions you’ve been getting from the public from residents in Leland? What were their main concerns about this?

A: “I think the main concern is the amount of the increase, 70% all in one year. I think if you break that down into dollars, it’s not as substantial as what 70% really looks like. So trying to get that information out there has been challenging. But, most of the questions that we’ve received are, what are these increases? What are the services that we are going to improve upon? Another big question we’ve got is why we can’t hold developers accountable for things that they think that a developer did or charge impact fees to developers, which is not allowed by state statute. We’ve gotten that question probably the most out of anything else.”

Q: Some residents are calling the Town of Leland’s administration “nontransparent over the inflated budget and exaggerated wish list.” How would you respond to those claims?

A: “This is this is council’s budget. We’ve been talking about this for over eight months. Every bit of information and how we got here is on available on our website. We have been answering every question that comes our way. I’m not sure how we could be more transparent. We’re really doing everything possible to get the accurate information out to the public.”

Q: Some people are calling it poor planning on the town’s part to propose such a high property tax rate increase. Why is the increase happening now? Why is that drastic jump happening in this fiscal year, as opposed to making small increases in years past?

A: “We’ve received that question a lot as well. This is the council’s decision to really propel Leland into the future. Where we’ve had a very low tax rate for a very long time, this new tax rate is going to do a lot of great things. It’s going to improve our services dramatically. I think counsel is ready to take that leap. That’s why it’s happening now.”

Q: What are the services residents can expect to see in the coming years due to this tax rate increase?

A: “The biggest change and the one that I think we’re most proud of is our five foundational items. So, salaries and debt payments have always been a part of it. But, the three new things are really focusing on our contingency fund, buying a fire truck every year to both replace old apparatus and then buying a new apparatus for new stations in the future. Then, also, our new initiative to replace 5% of our roads, resurfacing them every year to get all of our roadways on a 20-year life cycle. In the past, we’ve kind of been patching our roads as we go along. Now, we’re really going be able to focus on doing 5% of our roads every year, but that comes with a price tag.”

Q: How much does it cost to resurface a road?

A: “That’s going to depend on the road and the work that needs to be done. Sometimes it’s a full rebuild. Sometimes it might just be an overlay. Next year’s budget includes $5.5 million from various revenue sources to be able to resurface 5% of our roads.”

Q: When can residents start to physically see what they’re paying for in terms of infrastructure?

A: “We plan to do the planning all winter long. Then, our project manager will bid the project out next Spring to begin paving. The best time for paving is when the weather gets warmer. So, we hope to be paving around March timeframe next year.”

Q: In the 24-25 FY proposed budget, there’s a 57.7% increase in the administration department’s 401(k) town contribution. Can you explain why that is?

A: “The town contributes 5% of earnings to every employee’s 401(k). We’re required by state statute to do that for all sworn police officers. The town has decided to elect to do 5% for all staff members across the board. The Town of Leland has been doing that for over a decade and that remains the same in next year’s budget. It’s because the salaries are increasing. That’s a pure calculation of 5% of salaries are what we budget for.”

Q: There’s a 66.7% increase in the administration department’s salaries and wages. That equates to $830,445. Why are salaries increasing?

A: “That number includes salary benefits for 11 employees. There are a couple of contributing factors. One is there’s a brand new employee. There are also some positions that we had in the current year, budgeted for a half year. So, when we created the 23-24 budget, we had a January start date. So, now their full salary and benefits are being recognized in the next year. There is also a potential contract payment for contracts that were not previously assigned to the administration.

Salaries are increasing across the board. We have a professional staff and we earn a professional wage. We use the North Carolina League of Municipalities, they produce a salary benchmark every year, and we’re very comparable with others in the region. I’m not sure where the narrative came that says that our salaries are so absorbent.”

Q: What would you say to people who are hoping to or have moved to Leland for a cheaper cost of living?

A: “We’re going to provide a level of service that we are asked to provide by our town council. The cost of the services is rising. It’s not our intention to raise taxes for people or higher the cost of living, it’s our intention to provide excellent services to the citizens. That comes with a cost.”

Q: For those who can’t afford the higher property tax rate, are their tax relief options for them?

A: There are a couple of tax relief options. They’re on our website.

Q: What are your hopes for the March 21 town council meeting?

A: “Our goal is just to get accurate information out to the public. We want everyone to feel like we are being as transparent as possible. We want accurate information to get out. We are doing our absolute best to answer every question that comes in. I hope that every citizen that wants to give their opinion to the town council has a form to do that.”

Leland’s next town council meeting will be held on March 21.

Anyone who has any more questions about the 24-25 FY proposed budget can visit this website.

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