New Bern residents could avoid tax increases again next year

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The last time New Bern residents saw a property tax increase was in 2019-20. The tax rate went from $0.46 to $0.48, where it is now.

The City of New Bern’s more than $130 million annual budget was presented Tuesday night to the New Bern Board of Aldermen for the upcoming fiscal year.

New Bern department heads and staff began compiling budget requests in January. The city will hold a public hearing at its May 24 board meeting for residents to voice their concerns or share their support and will seek to pass the budget at the June 14 meeting.

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The budget will come into effect on July 1, 2022 and end on June 30, 2023.

The city’s operating amount is not the same every year and depends on many factors. However, the adopted operating budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year has increased nearly 5% from the prior year, keeping pace with the growth New Bern continues to see.

The current proposed budget shows a 4.7% increase to run the city, which means the city has increased its budget by nearly 10% over the past two years.

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City staff proposed a total operating budget of approximately $139,946,333, up $4 million from last year and over $6 million the year before. City Manager Foster Hughes cited the increase in the proposed budget due to inflation, the cost of goods and services and fuel costs, among other things.

Last year, Hughes said the city was able to generate an additional $627,000 in property tax revenue and $1.4 million more in sales tax revenue.

Still, utility and tax rates could stay at current levels, as residents may not have to pay for the city to increase its operating budget.

As of 2016, New Bern has had one of the lowest property tax rates in eastern North Carolina. The current budget proposes to keep the rate at $0.48 compared to Greenville, $0.52; Kingston, $0.73; Washington, $0.53; Havelock, $0.59; Wilmington, $0.49 and Wilson, $0.57, according to city data.

Additionally, the municipal service district tax could also remain the same at $0.13 for all downtown property owners. The MSD was designed as an additional tax to be used for public improvements.

However, if unexpected changes arise, city staff have the opportunity to raise these concerns with the council to possibly modify the necessary changes. The board would need four votes, a majority, to approve any changes.

“As we’re in the middle of an election year, we’ve tried to go with a base budget,” Hughes said during the presentation. “There are capital items here that the new board can look at.”

Throughout and before the COVID-19 pandemic, the cost of living for residents has increased significantly. Local municipalities have tried to combat the problem by offering wage increases to their employees.

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In the proposed budget, the city will seek to include a 5% cost-of-living increase for all staff, as well as a 0-2% merit increase based on employee evaluation through December 31.

Employee salaries

The city is also conducting a salary study which is expected to be completed later this year. An additional salary increase by the middle of the following fiscal year may also be added depending on the results of the salary study.

“Our people are one of our greatest assets,” added Hughes. “One thing we’ve seen across the board is that wages are going up everywhere with local governments. We’ve also had issues with the private sector raising their rates. We’ve lost some very skilled people going to the private sector. We have to keep pace.”

Journalist Trevor Dunnell can be reached by email at tdunnell@newbernsj.com. Please consider supporting local journalism by signing up for a digital subscription.

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